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Exploradio brings you captivating stories about science worth discovering and examines powerful questions worth answering.

Richmond Heights Candy Store Owner Finds Sweet Success Despite Unique Barriers to Women

Photo of Elisabeth Sapell posing in All City Candy

Women face unique challenges when starting a business, from getting a loan to getting taken seriously in the marketplace. Women start businesses half as often as men nationwide, but studies suggest female entrepreneurs are less risky for investors than men.

In the first in an ongoing examination of entrepreneurship, Exploradio looks at the role women play in the start-up economy.

WKSU’s entrepreneurship intern Lucas Misera reports.

For candy-lovers looking to satisfy a craving, a shop in Richmond Heights is worth a stop.

All City Candy sells sweets from big brands like M&Ms and Jelly Bellies to chocolate treats made in-house.

Elisabeth Sapell is the founder and CEO.

“It’s the thing that made people smile, so I thought, ‘Okay, if I can make people happy and it’s colorful, okay. Let’s give this candy store thing a shot,’” says Sapell.

Striking a Balance
Sapell has known since childhood she wanted to start her own business. Her father had owned and operated his own grocery store, but he preferred his daughter focus on starting a family instead of a business.

She did start a family – six kids and a husband, to be exact – but that didn’t dampen her entrepreneurial spirit.

“It’s challenging, I’ll be honest with you. There are times - no, it's all the time - that this business is like my ninth child. And I will tell you this ninth child of mine - or seventh child, sorry - gets more attention than my other kids,” says Sapell.

Juggling the role as a caretaker at home and running a business is a reality that many women face. Carmella Williams, director of the Women in Entrepreneurship program at the Youngstown Business Incubator, helps female entrepreneurs find that balance.

“They wait until their kids are grown and then they pursue their dreams. They might have elderly parents who they’re caring for plus waiting for the kids to get out of high school and go to college. The class I have now, they’ve waited for all these things, have less responsibility so to speak, and now they’re actually going after their dream,” she says.

Williams says it often means starting a business later in life.

“I’m saying 50 is like the new 30.”

Motherhood can delay the age at which women launch their entrepreneurial careers, but those maternal instincts can help them care about their businesses in ways men don’t.

Photo of the exterior of All City Candy in Richmond Heights
All City Candy's company vehicle parked outside of the shop in Richmond Heights.

For Sapell, that means blurring the line between her duties at home and All City Candy.

“Yes, I definitely feel a maternal instinct. I lay awake worrying all the time, just like I do when my kids are having a rough day or when struggling with something. It’s hard to turn it off," she says.

Don't Call it a Hobby
Sapell credits some of her success to her husband’s support, but other men have not been quite as encouraging.

“I remember another business owner said to me, “Is this your hobby?” says Sapell.

She kept her cool in the moment but spoke candidly afterward.

“As soon as we walked away, I said to my husband, ‘Is he freaking kidding me?’ If anybody knows me, I don’t do anything as a hobby. When I do something, I go 100 percent in.”

Run-ins with her male counterparts didn’t stop there, though. When trying to open her second shop in Mentor, her commercial bank was hesitant to give her a loan.

“When I went to open a second location, I really thought it was going to be difficult getting another loan since the first bank that I got this loan from said no, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ And they weren’t even taking me seriously," says Sapell.

It took enlisting the help of a loan broker to pitch Sapell’s business plan in order for her to get enough capital to expand All City Candy. The broker got Sapell the funding she needed, but his service came at a fee of one percent of her total loan value.

Bias as a Barrier
While Sapell is frustrated by how women are treated as business owners, Case Western Reserve University’s Roman Sheremeta finds bias against women is common.

His colleagues conducted a study where a man and woman were each given a relatively simple task to complete, and people bet on who would more effectively accomplish it. Sheremeta says the bettors favored men.

“Not surprisingly, people would just put more investment into men. There’s that bias; men are going to get more because they’re perceived better than women," he says.

Photo of a sign inside All City Candy
A sign that reads "Woolworth Candy Shop" hangs inside All City Candy in Richmond Heights.

Sheremeta argues that from a lender’s perspective, he would bet on a woman over a man.

“She already overcame tons of prejudice and biases that go against her. Usually, these women who are selected to present these ideas, they’re already not only the best, but they had to conquer a lot of things.”

Sapell knows she’s a safe bet.

“I constantly work on a weekly, monthly basis to improve myself as an entrepreneur solely to grow this business,” she says.

Sapell has one word for how women can successfully compete in a tilted marketplace: passion.