Women empowering women: Small business owners to share their stories

A counselor, an entrepreneur and a photographer. All three women business owners have overcome struggles, faced challenges and proved that hard work pays off.

The women – Cheryl Zinkievich of Renew Wellness Councseling, Shelly Wolanski of Empire Hemp Co., and Marie Bohn of Marie Bohn Photography – will share their stories during an invitation-only Women in Business event presented by Mancuso Business Development Group of Batava. The event is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Oct. 22.

The women were chosen as a testament to what it takes to launch a successful business.

Caring for whole person

Cheryl Zinkievich, 54, owns Renew Wellness Counseling at 26 Harvester Ave., Suite 106, Batavia. The wife and mother of two has been a therapist for 32 years.

She is a licensed clinical social worker with psychotherapy privileges, she’s trained in and practices cognitive behavioral therapy; solution based therapy; dialectical behavioral therapy; cognitive processing therapy; family therapy; acceptance and commitment therapy; and she’s a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor. Zinkievich worked in mental health clinics, universities, schools, primary care offices, and hospitals prior to opening Renew Wellness Counseling in June.

With the hope of creating a centralized location where she can connect with her patients and work with them to better meet their needs, Zinkievich pursued the launch of her new business, even though it was during a pandemic.

“People are being deeply impacted by everything happening in our world right now. While I must admit there were moments when I questioned my decision to open a business in the middle of a pandemic, I believed there was a need to be met in our community and I wanted to respond to that need,” Zinkievich said.

Now, more than ever, she said, there seems to be a real need for various types of therapy in local communities.

“My vision is a place where person-centered, individualized care is provided to the whole person in a way that is difficult to do in other settings due to governing bodies’ policies and regulations,” said Zinkievich. “Our mental health system is very ‘siloed’ and prescriptive, my practice aims to bring together a more comprehensive approach that includes both body and mind.”

Renew Wellness Therapy provides therapy to individuals experiencing mental health or relationship difficulties, including depression, anxiety, trauma, life transitions. Therapy is also geared toward individuals living with chronic pain or disease.

For those considering the launch of their own business, Zinkievich said, “Find what matters to you and develop your personal vision. Do your research and ask questions. Enjoy the process and walk through the moments you question yourself. The other side of that is pretty wonderful.”

Hobby becomes business

Shelly Wolanske, co-owner of Empire Hemp Co., was working for SUNY Geneseo under a grant through the Office of Addiction Services and Supports of New York. She had worked in the substance abuse field for many years. In her spare time, Wolanske had been making salves, using herbs that she grew and wild harvested and was successfully selling them at her boyfriend’s bike shop.

Her boyfriend, Chris VanDusen, co-owner of Empire Hemp Co. approached her with the idea of participating in New York’s Industrial Hemp Research Program in 2017.

“He said, ‘I want to apply for a hemp grower permit and put the CBD from the hemp in your salves.’ I thought he was crazy!” said Wolanske.

The pair founded Empire Hemp Co.

At the time, VanDusen owned Trailside Bicycles, in Hulberton, a bicycle shop on the Erie Canal. Once they added CBD to the salves, they flew off the shelves.

“I was really surprised because CBD was pretty unknown at the time and I really didn’t know about the power of hemp,” said Wolanske.

Having just finished her master’s degree in organizational leadership at Medialle College, Wolanske decided to switch careers from prevention to hemp. The pair then moved their operation to the city of Batavia in 2019 with the help of investors.

“In our new facility, we process raw hemp from local farmers using our state-of-the-art CO2 Extractor. We then manufacture CBD oils and topicals with the extract and sell our products wholesale, online and out of our walk-up window, at 34 Swan St. Suite 4, Batavia,” said Wolanske. “We do everything from start to finish.”

The hemp is grown in local fields such as Oakfield, Buffalo and Albion. It’s then brought to the Empire Hemp facility to be processed, which includes shredding the hemp to a coffee ground-like consistency.

They then decarboxilate the hemp by heating it up to change the molecules from CBDA and THCA to achieve CBD and THC conversion. The hemp is then put into their state-of-the-art CO2 machine and turned into CBD extract oil.

“We produce a very clean, golden, rich product,” said Wolanske.

From there, they make topicals and CBD oil using the extract. The topicals are used on the skin to help with pain relief and several skin conditions. The CBD oil is also taken orally to help with several conditions including pain and anxiety.

“The THC level in our products have to stay under .3 percent. We legally have to stay at that level.” said Wolanske.

The hemp process and hemp products produced at Empire Hemp Co. are regulated by the FDA’s General Manufacturing Practices. Each of the company’s products includes a certificate of analysis.

While there was risk in making a career change, Wolanske said she believes in the future of their business and products.

“I knew nothing when I first started. I had to learn everything because it was all so new. I had to learn the differences between hemp and marijuana while educating myself about the health benefits of hemp,” said Wolanske. “I’ve seen it first-hand. It’s so rewarding when you get return business, and you know our products helped someone. We learn new things every day.”

“Don’t disregard the possibility of a hobby becoming a business,” she said.

Doing what she loves

Marie Bohn of Marie Bohn Photography operates a successful photography business out of The Harvester Center in Batavia. Bohn, a wife and mother of three, is a portrait photographer who specializes in family photography. She also works with newborn and senior photography. She often works on-location in surrounding areas from Buffalo to Rochester.

“I have been working in the area, professionally, for five years now, but I’ve always had a love for photography since I was a child. That said, I didn’t really know anything about the exposure triangle until my true journey of photography began nine years ago when my second child was born,” said Bohn. “I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. My way of coping with it was to fill my time and my brain. Basically, a distraction from reality.”

Bohn researched photograph. She studied lighting, settings, Photoshop, styling, posing, and more.

“I would then take what I learned and photograph my children and my friends’ children. Every new thing I read about, I had to try,” she said.

Bohn’s love for photography continues to grow as she dived further into her craft.

“At the beginning, it was about photographing my children and documenting their growth and our lives together. When I started getting requests to photograph families, I then saw this as an opportunity to do what I love and earn a living, too,” she said.

Now, Marie’s calendar fills up “faster and faster” each year. She often meets new families, many of whom become repeat customers. She values finding the beauty in each photo session.

“You never know what image will be your last, and that is something that I take with me to every session. If the only image I get is one of everyone enjoying a moment together in one frame, that’s a win for me,” said Bohn.

While the COVID-19 virus has affected many during the past six months, Bohn noted people have been very understanding.

“I had to push many sessions back and put them on a ‘call list’ until I could start shooting again. Pushing back an annual family session was no big deal. It was the newborns that I hated missing. As a mother, I know how fast that newborn stage slips away from you and my heart broke that I couldn’t capture that fleeting time for those families,” she said.

She’s been shooting again since June and following sanitizing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When asked what words of encouragement she could offer to an entrepreneur, Bohn said, “Surround yourself with people who support you and will lift you up.

“All too often we get lost in the advice from others that we forget to follow our hearts and are afraid of failure. If you have a strong support system, you can go the distance,” she said. “If you fail, pick yourself up, brush yourself off and move past it. You can’t live in the ‘woe is me’ space if you want success in your life.”

Bohn shares studio space with her sister-in-law, Marcia Bohn, owner of Mbohn Bookbinding, at 56 Harvester St., Suite 310, Batavia.

Just do it

Marcia Bohn, 36, specializes in custom books, journals, albums, prints, and paper. She attended Buffalo State College, where she received a bachelor of fine arts in printmaking in 2008.

“After that I continued to create prints, papers and books and loved doing it and wanted to continue it as best I could. I started doing small local shows in Buffalo to see how things went. I first started with the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair, which was a great hit and gave me the confidence to continue,” said Marcia.

While many businesses have seen declines in business during the pandemic, Marcia Bohn found herself with more work.

“In the beginning I had lots of custom orders. Some were for custom stationary, prints, wedding albums, scrap books and journals. I think due to people being home so much and wanting to journal about their experiences. Or wanting to send something special to a loved one,” she said.

She encourages those interested in launching their own business to take the leap.

“If you’re thinking about starting your own business, do it! Even if you’re not sure where to start, that’s okay,” Marcia Bohn said. “It’s so much better to do it than to look back and think, what if? And make sure the people you surround yourself with are supportive. It really makes a difference,”

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Latest posts