By Shelley Hill Young
Hilary Johnson had everything she had wanted. She had quit her corporate marketing job with MillerCoors and moved to Charleston to start her own event-planning business. As the owner of Gusto Group, she produced events such as Charleston Beer Garden and the Lowcountry Hoedown. She had freedom and independence.
Yet, she says, she found herself feeling isolated and alone. She was planning large-scale parties, but she says she lacked a sense of community as a business owner. Most people she knew who owned businesses were men. She wanted to connect with other women business owners to find out if their experience was similar to hers.
“I kept thinking there have to be more women that own businesses, but where are they?” she says.
Eventually, she says, as her business grew, other women began to seek her out, asking for advice about how she had navigated the many challenges that arise when you’re running your own business.
“It started to open my eyes to this conversation about shared knowledge,” she says. “I wanted to be in a capacity to truly help other women entrepreneurs grow their business.”
At the same time, she was discovering that the event-planning business was more volatile than she had anticipated. She found she didn’t love the work anymore. It was a difficult decision, but she decided to sell the events, close Gusto Group and launch Hatch Tribe, which offers a space for women entrepreneurs to connect and cultivate their businesses.
“I created what I wanted to see,” she says. “There was not a collective community (for women business owners).”
The first Hatch Tribe event attracted 60 women. They spent more than an hour asking questions and listening to each other. She learned that women were seeking a robust network of other business owners who would support their efforts, who would show up, if needed. They also wanted resources that would help shorten their learning curve.
Hilary says helping other women entrepreneurs is important because entrepreneurship, when successful, provides women resources. Women who have financial independence can more easily improve their communities, help boost economies and fight for equal opportunities.
Two years later, there seems to be a groundswell of female entrepreneurs in Charleston.
“What’s changed,” says Hilary, “is we’ve gotten active about getting together.”
And, she says, women entrepreneurs have become more deliberate about supporting each other. As business owners, women can choose the partners with whom they want to work, and they can turn to the other women in their network, which helps build a robust economy.
“I can choose to work with other women in my tribe,” she says. “It builds connection in a way that is so powerful.”
If you’re interested in joining the Hatch Tribe, visit www.hatchtribe.com.
Women Entrepreneurs’ Social
6 to 8 p.m. April 12
Still Soul Studio, 579 King St.