Minding Her Own Business
Three single moms push the envelope in entrepreneurialism
By Cassie Bustamante
Photographs by Bert VanderVeen
It’s often been said that motherhood is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Its emotional, physical and mental requirements make for a job description no employer would put on paper: “We need you to take good care of this child. Feed it, teach it, nourish it, make sure it’s socialized and set it up for success in the world. Oh, and there are no days off.” On the other hand, entrepreneurship can be almost as demanding.
And yet, plenty of women undertake both jobs at the same time, running households while simultaneously building and running their own businesses. An audacious few are doing it as single parents.
We talked with three mothers who own their own companies — a retail store, a service business and an e-commerce shop — while raising kids and doing so as single parents. These women are making their own way in the world, while showing their kids and other women what’s possible when you have a family, a dream and drive.
Owner of Scent Workshop
In the spring of 2017, Lindsay Hirth took a trip to Paris that would change the trajectory of her life. She’d already been toying with making soy candles at home, but during a visit to the City of Light, an idea ignited that would spark a candle and perfume making workshop in Friendly Center.
While soaking up la vie en Paree, Hirth attended a perfuming workshop and learned how to mix scents to create custom blends. She knew she could translate this new skill to candle-making. “I absolutely fell in love with it and I realized, number one, it’s not that hard to make a really great product if you have all these tools,” she says. “And number two, there was no place in the United States that had all these tools.” She called her new venture Scent Workshop.
Years ago, Hirth tried her hand at making soy candles when she noticed that commercial scented wall plugins were making her and her two children, now 14 and 10, feel ill. After researching, she discovered that many available products on the market are full of harmful chemicals. “So, I thought, well, how hard could it be to make my own soy candles?” She laughs, her blonde curls bouncing, and answers, “Turns out it’s really hard . . . There are a million things that can go wrong and I found all of them.”
That trip to Paris not only gave her the skills she needed to finally master candle-making. It also planted a seed. “This idea of starting a similar workshop in the United States but on a different scale, it became a whisper in my head and then it was a fire in my belly,” she recalls. “And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
A friend told her, “You have to do it.” But a conversation with her dad sealed the deal. He asked her, “What’s going to happen if you don’t do it?” Her gut response? “I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life.”
Hirth, who was and still is also working full-time, initially set up shop at Revolution Mill, using late nights after the kids were in bed to prepare for weekend workshops. Her goal? To create not only candles and perfumes, but a sense of community among participants.
“It was 21 strangers in a room and everybody is working on this thing, but they’re also connecting,” she recalls of those early days. “And I always loved that by the end of the workshop, it was so loud in there that I would have to shout because everybody’s talking.”
She adds, “And it’s not just connection to each other, but it was also seeing people connect to their inner selves.” In particular, she recalls a customer who, when told to close her eyes, (a practice Hirth uses to help customers evoke feelings) would not. She told Hirth later, “I am going through a really bad divorce and I knew that if I closed my eyes, I would just fall apart — I need something that’s going to make me feel strong.” Hirth reports that by the end of that workshop, “she looked three inches taller.”
While starting the business and mastering making the perfect candle were challenges of their own, Hirth didn’t know what hardships still laid ahead.
In 2020, something no business forecaster could have predicted happened: COVID. Hirth was sure that it meant the end for Scent Workshop, which was fully booked at the time. “I remember sobbing for days and then finally I just sat in front of my computer and pressed refund over and over and over,” she says.
Closing up shop in Revolution Mill but not ready to throw in the towel, she pivoted and boxed up at-home candle-making kits. The orders poured in, keeping her afloat.
And then, just a few months later, Brianne Van Hemert, one of Hirth’s best friends, decided to open a Scent Workshop in Galena, Illinois. Hirth suddenly became a franchise owner, setting up shop in Greensboro again. The Galena store opened in October 2020 and, one month later, Scent Workshop opened its doors at its current location for the first time.
With the help of her staff, Hirth took every precaution to keep the new space safe, mandating masks, sanitizing everything and limiting workshops to six attendees, which made it “hard to pay the bills.” But the community she’d cultivated within those very first Revolution Mill workshops showed up. “They’d say, ‘You didn’t give up, I am so glad you made it,’” recalls Hirth, blue eyes tearing up at the memory. “And those moments really motivated me to keep going because I knew I had this beautiful community of support that I didn’t deserve but was there.”
And then in 2021, Hirth faced another unforeseen challenge. She and her former husband decided to call it quits, impacting her business in the sense that there was no longer “anyone to share that risk with and that’s a little scary.”
Hirth says that starting the business in 2017 taught her well to prioritize and “to be really, really present in those segments of time” with her kids, a skill she’s carried over into her new family situation.
Now, the time she spends with her kids has become even more precious. “When the kids are there with me, I don’t get any work done because I don’t want to,” she says, adding, “And as soon as they go spend time with their dad, I am cranking out work.” Of course, she still has that fire in her belly which keeps her burning the midnight candle long after their heads hit the pillow.
While she hopes her kids learn from her example of time management, she also wants them to see what it looks like to chase your dream. “I want to show them that it’s OK to invest in yourself and grow something that you love,” she says. “And I think it’s important that they see there’s not just one path for a career and creating a life that you love.”
In fact, her daughter often indicates how proud she is of her mom’s business, her own little dream in sight. “She’ll say things like ‘When do I get to start working there?’ And I think,” Hirth muses, “‘well, I better make sure that this lasts long enough for her to be able to work here.’”
Of course, Hirth has hopes of her own to keep growing the business, with a goal of opening many more locations country-wide. She’s already garnered lots of interest from customers in Florida and Texas. And she’d love to eventually get to a point where she can comfortably quit her day job, making Scent Workshop her sole source of income.
No matter where the future takes Scent Workshop, Hirth says, “It’s nice to be able to look at something that I created that is still there even though so much has changed. And it’s more about looking at what the business has given me, too,” she pauses. “It’s given me all my best friends, it’s given me my village. And I don’t think I would have gotten through the last three years without them.”
For more information, visit scentworkshop.com.
President of Allwave Site Solutions
On December 6, 2011, 27-year old Soumya Iyer became a first-time mother, welcoming her baby boy into the world at Greensboro’s Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital. Just over three weeks later as the new year was ringing in, Iyer became a solo parent when her husband walked away. Ever since then, she’s been on her own, raising a son, running her own company while maintaining another career, and buying a house four doors down from her parents, who had emigrated from India before she was born. How has she done it all?
“I don’t have a choice,” says Iyer (pronounced eye-er) as she sits on her living room sofa in a casual chambray dress, bare feet tucked under her. With a son who’s fully in her care, she’s had to keep moving forward, often at a breakneck pace, and has done so admirably and humbly. “I still don’t think I’ve had the time to really be comfortable with my stretch marks. I just haven’t had a moment to deal with it.”
Thankfully, being born and raised in Greensboro has provided Iyer with a network of family and friends. “My parents are my other half. We still have dinner there every day,” says Iyer, who works from her own home. “In the morning, if I’m on a call and don’t have time to make a pot [of coffee], I will actually walk over there on the call and then come back rather than make a pot.”
Childhood friends have also jumped in to offer help. Shortly after moving into her current home in 2021, Iyer renovated her large kitchen and wanted to follow a timeless Indian tradition. “In Indian culture, you want the blessings of the elders,” she says, “but I don’t cook — I don’t know how to cook.”
Swati Argade, who babysat Iyer as a child, pulled the blessing event together for her by organizing a group chat, selecting a menu and assigning tasks to other friends. “That is what has kept me afloat,” says Iyer of her community, despite “not having that perfect world I thought of as a family. I am making my own normal.”
Even with her “great village,” at the end of the day, Iyer must lean on herself. “Do I have people that are keeping me from working in a vacuum?” she asks. “Yes, but nobody’s helping me with my bills and nobody’s helping me with the decisions. And that is very, very hard.” She does it all not only because she has to in order to put food on the table, but also because she loves her son with an energy that radiates from her body.
She points to a wall of photos featuring her son at age 6, her mother and herself, dressed in glamorous and colorful saris with gold accents. For a long time, she says, “I wouldn’t take pictures of us because to me it was sealing the deal that it’s just the two of us.” But, after seeing a friend’s portraits taken by a fantasy photographer, she decided to creatively re-interpret how she viewed her circumstance.
“I am the queen now. I am the head of the family,” she says. “And I wanted to be proud. And this is it. This is my family and we’re gonna seal the deal and that’s that.”
What does she hope her child learns from her example? “I hope that he sees as he goes on that there is not just one way to skin the cat,” she says, and that anything he can dream is possible. “It’s a very clichéd saying, but anything you put your mind to, you can do.”
In 2011, Iyer moved back from Atlanta where she’d been living to have her baby. Although she originally planned to return to Atlanta, she remained in Greensboro. She was working as business manager of the engineering company nsoro LLC reporting to her boss and mentor, owner Darrell J. Mays. She began her career with him as a college sophomore at Clemson — an internship that led to a strong professional relationship.
When it was clear that she was not going to be able to return to Atlanta and needed to stay in Greensboro where her parents could provide childcare as needed, she approached Mays about her job. “His answer was, ‘Soumya, I don’t care where you live. Do what you have to do, but I still need you on that 8 a.m. call . . . If I need you to travel, I need you to do it,’” she recalls.
She knew it would be hard, but, as she says, “Life is not fair. The only fare is f-a-r-e, right?” It was challenging, but one thing her career has taught her is to take things “just a day at a time. Solve the problems that have to be solved today today.”
Nsoro LLC grew as Mays — a successful entrepreneur with a proven track record — sold and acquired various businesses. In February of 2016, Mays started a new venture, Pensare Technology Group, bringing Iyer with him. But, he told her, it would mean a huge cut in salary in exchange for shares. As a solo working parent, she decided to do some consulting on the side to generate extra income.
Soon after, an opportunity arose through consulting client Mark Key, founder of Allwave Site Solutions, a company that installs equipment on cell phone towers. Then, in September of 2016, Iyer made the move to partner with Key while maintaining her job at Pensare. But, by 2017, she had bought him out. Allwave Site Solutions became a certified WMBE — a women minority owned business — something Iyer is incredibly proud of.
Just a few years later, Iyer, with an eye on scaling, approached her then subcontractor, Joel Banos, who co-owned Skytell Wireless Services with his wife, Lindsey. Her idea was to buy him out while keeping him aboard because she recognized in Banos, who now holds the title of chief executive officer of Allwave, a skill set that complements her own. “He’s really good at managing the guys [on our crews]. He’s really good on the site,” she says. “And I am very good at strategic planning and growing the business.”
She credits her mentor, Mays, for teaching her the lesson of hiring those who are smarter than you, saying “If I am the smartest person in the room, we all have a problem. You better get out of that room fast.”
Following Mays’ lead on growth through acquisition, Iyer has her sights set on doubling Allwave in size and revenue, and stays open to the idea of selling.
When Mays sold a division of Pensare Technology Group in 2020, Iyer was hired by the acquiring operating company, now named Calian Corp, in the IT and Cyber Solutions division as VP of customer success and service delivery. “It was like cutting the umbilical cord,” she recalls of moving into a new role with a much larger corporation, boasting about 4,500 employees.
And she’s got her own mind set on reaching C-suite level while making changes that will support other working women in the corporate world.
Starting at a smaller level, she’s hired a woman whose young twins can often be heard on calls. “We have to give grace to our mothers,” she says, fully understanding the juggling act. “The work she is doing is so impressive! And I am able to bring it to light.”
Already, under her leadership, change is brewing. Recently, Iyer was asked to cochair an internal women’s employee resource group. While she expected only a few to attend the first panel, 40 people showed up.
With one bare foot in front of the other, Iyer is making waves in her company, career and at home, providing a good life for her son, filled with opportunity. “It is scary, but my child adores me,” she says as tears spring to her dark brown eyes. “I hope he sees that I am trying for him.”
For more information, visit allwavesites.com.
Owner of Some Call Me Crunchy
Fifteen years ago at age 23, Erienne Jones began experiencing debilitating migraine headaches. Medicine eased the pain, but left her feeling lethargic. A few years later, a seemingly endless battle with vertigo arose, making her job as a teaching assistant and her grad school coursework a challenge. Finally, relief came in an unexpected way, setting her on an entirely new path, one that showed her that sometimes the most beautiful things in life are born of pain. Through self care and entrepreneurship, Jones discovered that taking care of business also means taking care of yourself.
Looking at Jones now, she is the picture of health with long, thick and shiny, dark brown hair, bright blue eyes, and radiant skin. She’s proud of how far she’s come, often showing her smiling visage on social media while promoting her natural face and body care online store, Some Call Me Crunchy. But that was not always the case.
When she first sought treatment for migraines, doctors prescribed Topamax. “It just made me feel horrible,” she says, cringing at the memory. “I had no appetite . . . I was scrawny.” When vertigo struck a few years later, doctors ran tests only to inform her that it was a symptom of an ongoing silent migraine — basically a migraine without the accompanying pain.
Desperate to feel better, Jones was willing to try anything and learned about Whole30 from some friends at her gym. She went on the 30-day eating program that eliminated processed foods through nutritionally balanced meals. “Within 30 days, the vertigo had gone away completely,” she recalls. “And I had had it for months and months.”
Thinking there might be a connection between her health and cleaner living, Jones began researching not only what she was putting into her body, but also what she was putting on her body and in her environment.
On a grad student budget, naturally made products were harder to access, so Jones decided to try her hand at making her own lotions, deodorants, facial cleansers and house-cleaning solutions, adding essential oils for a touch of aromatherapy. In just months, she noticed many changes for the better. No longer on prescription drugs, her migraines had eased up, her energy was back and her skin was on its way to looking better than ever. Before, she says, pointing across her jawline, “I had cystic acne from here to here.”
Excited about the results she was seeing and, more importantly, feeling better, she documented her experiences on a blog she called Some Call Me Crunchy, long before it would evolve into the online shop it is today. She continued blogging as a hobby while earning her master’s degree in library and information science and beginning her career as a Guilford County school librarian in 2013.
Meanwhile, she gave birth to two children, daughter Harper, now 8, and son Elias, now 5. Eventually she left her job to stay home and raise her kids, but, as she recalls, “That was the hardest job I have ever had.”
Knowing she needed something more to feel whole, Jones, encouraged by friends who swore by the products she shared with them, decided to try to sell her products online. While finding the time to dedicate to a new business was somewhat challenging, Jones discovered that the success of entrepreneurship changed how she viewed herself. “It made it so that I was filled up and I was able to love on my kids.” It proved to be just the thing to make her feel she was not only taking care of her children, but of herself: “Doing my business in and of itself is a form of self care for me.”
What had started as a quest to feel her best began to take root locally. She started selling at the Corner Market, located in Lindley Park (at that time) while her blog grew into a platform to market and sell her goods.
According to Jones, Greensboro is the “perfect-sized town” for a business like hers to bloom. While she now sells online and offers shipping, much of her customer base was built locally and remains here. “It’s small enough just to have these touch points with people and these connections with people,” she says.
Jones has also welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with local businesses, setting up pop-up shops at The Tasting Room. She’s also creating custom essential oil candles for her own online store with Scent Workshop, a candle-making shop in Friendly Center, plus selling paintings by local artist Thea DeLoreto and stickers from Tiny Plant Market. “I just didn’t know how much that would mean to me,” says Jones of both her community and collaborations, “how much the people that I met through my business would just be such a big deal for me.”
In addition to Scent Workshop, her products can be found locally at Vida Pour Tea. She recalls popping into Vida several years ago with Harper, who spied Some Call Me Crunchy products on the store’s shelves. “She was just so excited for me that I was almost in tears,” recalls Jones, who hopes that owning her own business inspires her kids to pursue their passions. Already, Harper, who dresses in bold colors and patterns, exhibits her mother’s creative spirit.
Surprisingly, it was through journaling and poetry, of all things, that she resolved the conflicting emotions involving motherhood and divorce into acceptance and respect for who she was. “I have been going through a divorce and just losing myself a little bit through that,” says Jones. “But all in an effort to find myself again, I have discovered poetry.” (Her poem, “New Year, New You,” can be found in the January 2023 issue of O.Henry.) Eventually, she worked up the courage to share her written words on Instagram, where her themes of motherhood, grief, self love and acceptance resonated with her followers. Now, her printed poems are part of her seasonal collections.
These days, Jones, reenergized and renewed, can be found curled up in bed with her kids as they read through the Harry Potter series together. With shared custody of her children, she values her time with them more than ever, making every minute count. After being apart for a few days, she says through happy tears, “They come back to me and I am just overjoyed to be with them. It’s such a gift.”
Now, as Jones moves forward as a single mother, this business of self care, which evolved organically and carried her through some of life’s hardest challenges, must support her financially. But if she has learned anything from the last 15 years, it’s that some of life’s most beautiful surprises sprout up through the cracks of the most painful of circumstances.
For more information, visit somecallmecrunchy.com.