They both have been named among the top 100 Women of Color. Both women also work to serve the community and evolve their entrepreneurship. But even with similar goals, their journeys took different paths.
The Courant spoke with Francine Austin and Tasha Ruth about how they created their own paths to entrepreneurship.
As a little girl, Austin was sure of two things: she loved the entertainment industry and serving others.
She said she knew, even at an early age, that she was born to become an entrepreneur.
“I was the person with the lemonade stand at the end of her driveway,” Austin said. “I was always an entrepreneur. … When we had the big (bake) sales in school, I was the one that would work with the teachers to organize (and) bring the baked goods around to each of the classrooms, (making) sure that everything looks just right, that presentation (of the baked goods).”
Austin said the training as a young girl translated into her work today in production for her company.
“All of it together was natural for me. … I would have showcases at my home as a young girl 10 and 12 years old, where I would have kids come to my home and I would organize it,” she said. “They would recite poetry. A lot of the moms (were) at home, and we would put on performances for them. I would orchestrate (and) plan (this). I (would) get the snacks. I set out everything just right. I’d create the graphics.”
Austin said that watching Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey on television also helped her to realize that she could live out her dream of giving back to others, while being in entertainment, as an entrepreneur. This led her to starting her organization, A Giving Heart.
“Oprah arrived and just shined a light on your ability to be all things … how you can still have a giving heart, because I realized at that time that I can live my dream (of) philanthropy, as well as (in) entertainment as an entrepreneur. I (can) still produce all my own things, use my skills for marketing, PR event(s), (and) production. All those things came together for the greater good of humanity. That’s what’s most important to me.”
Austin noted that she pivoted out of corporate America, before COVID-19, into entrepreneurship.
She said she “was working at corporate, because we’re all told (to) go to school, get a corporate job.
“That means you’ve arrived … you have succeeded. However, success was not defined for me by another corporation telling me, ‘Here’s this review. Here’s what you do. This is your life.’ I knew there was more inside me, something greater. There was a passion burning inside of me … always … to do something greater. I was always a visionary. I knew I had to step out on faith and do exactly what I was supposed to do.”
She has been an entrepreneur for more than 25 years.
After she left a corporate job, she began by opening her first hair salon and day spa in Bloomfield, with the goal of providing a safe haven for women of color to be pampered and talk about issues that mattered most to them. Many of her first clients were professional women of color, many of whom she had worked with, were fellow members of her Links organization, or friends she had grown up with.
“I knew I wanted a spa. Not so much a salon, but a spa, (as) there was no place at the time where women of color could go and be taken care of in a professional manner. We are told as women of color that we don’t deserve time to relax or self care,” she said. “This generation now (is) talking about it a little bit more. However, at the time, no one told women of color that you should have self care. Also, (when women of color would go to receive) those types of services in other establishments, you were discriminated against. So, you wanted to go somewhere where you felt comfortable, where someone understood you.”
Through the spa, she was able to cultivate conversations about philanthropy, service, new careers, and scholarship information for children.
As she worked on her spa and salon business, Austin said she was able to move into food on her next step of her entrepreneurial journey, which led her to television, after helping a young woman who wanted help selling a product at her business.