— Chanda Maldonado, Chambers Welding & Fabrication, Corp.
— Vinicio Jonatan Liriano, Ideis Design Architecture
— Felicia Jackson, CPR Wrap, LLC
— Velma Wilson, Cleaning Solutions, LLC
The welder, Chanda Maldonado
"I'm Chanda Maldonado of Chambers Welding & Fabrication.
I've been in business since 2015 and we offer welding classes for women, but men can attend too. We do projects like wine racks and shelves.
This summer, we're launching summer camps for middle and high schoolers.
I started my career in the military as a nurse. I joined because I was a single mom at a young age and my whole family was military.
After discharge, I went into oncology and I did that for five years. I worked with stage four cancer patients, and it was really hard — I needed a different career path.
I ended up landing in HR. I conquered that and loved it.
But I didn't want to continue to travel and be so involved at work that I wasn't in my child's life. Entrepreneurship gives you the ability to set your own schedule, to go home early when you want to or stay late when it's necessary. And I didn't have that flexibility in any company I've ever worked for. My time was always managed by others and I didn't like that.
I wanted to own my own business, and once I told my guy about it, he was like, 'Well, what should we open?' I asked, 'What are you good at?' He has 20 years of experience in welding, and we opened a welding company.
I remember the first thing he said to me was: 'As a woman in a mostly male field, this is going to be the hardest thing you'll ever do.' I said, 'No, it won't.'
You have to understand that you're going to be uncomfortable as the only woman in the room. You can't look at it as a disadvantage.
The reason my business works is because it's in Chattanooga. In my hometown, the stereotype of me being female and a minority would've held me back. Here, I'm intriguing.
You have to say, 'I am the only female. That means I bring something to the table nobody else does.' Whether you're the only minority female, or the only Hispanic whatever you're the only of, bring that to the table."
The architect, Vinicio Jonatan Liriano
"I'm Vinicio Jonatan Liriano. I'm an architect.
In 2011 when the economy went down, there was no work for architects all over the United States. At one point, about 40,000 architects in the country didn't have jobs. A lot of firms downsized from 60 architects to 20, or from 10 to only two, and I got cut.
But ultimately that's good, because I'm on my own now and the sky's the limit.
At first, I worked as a contractor: 'Got work for me for a week? I'll work for you for a week and you just pay me as a contractor.' Next thing I know, I'm working full-time on contracts. After doing that for years, I wondered if I should do my own thing. It was hard, but I stopped getting contract work and launched Ideis Design Architecture. I went to school to be an architect, not a business leader, so I had zero business skills.
I graduated from the (Chamber-run) INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center, which helped, and I'm always learning.
I'm happier. Yeah, I put in 60 to 80 hours every week. I don't mind doing that at all. I enjoy what I do and that's why I've found ways to continue my career as an architect.
I'm more excited for the future and I'm thinking big. I'm thinking about something international. That was my dream all my life — to have an international company. We'll see what happens."
The inventor, Felicia Jackson
"I'm Felicia Jackson, inventor and founder of CPR Wrap, and I've been in business for two years after spending 20 years in the medical industry.
I'm located in the INCubator and loving every minute. They were one of my first clients; they purchased several wraps for the facility.
My son had a choking incident as a toddler after my older daughter gave him a piece of candy – he's 17 now — and that put me on my business journey. When I first told my husband I had decided to start this business, he didn't know I'd already quit my job, so I'm not sure if that's good or bad.
I thought I was going to be working in physical therapy forever. But I started thinking about something else, and I knew I had to at least try. So, I went down from a two-income home making great money to nothing. I never paid myself. People said I was crazy.
I'm an inventor and that's a blessing. I think that's a gift I was sitting on for years, not knowing what to do with it, but now I do. You hear people say it's a rarity for an African-American woman, especially a female, to be an inventor. But it's like breathing to me.
My dream is to be global. I got a call from Italy today: 'We want your product.' I mean this doesn't even seem like my life right now.
I have blinders on because I have a goal and I haven't met it yet. I don't know if I'll ever meet it, but the journey is out there. It's out there and it's for all of us to conquer."
The entrepreneur, Velma Wilson
"I'm Velma Wilson, and I own a commercial janitorial business called Cleaning Solutions.
I've been in business for 18 years, and I've been a Chamber member for probably 17 of those.
I've been here (Chattanooga) all my life. Prior to starting Cleaning Solutions, I was Regional Director for the American Cancer Society's cancer prevention programs. I had territory in Northern Alabama, Nashville, Chattanooga and the surrounding areas. And I really loved my job until I had to travel so much on a daily basis. Because my entire territory was within driving distance, I was always in my car. So, I'd pray and ask the Lord, 'What else can I do?'
I've always wanted to start a business, I just didn't know what type of business. But I knew within my heart it was time. My husband cleaned a couple of buildings on the side for extra money, and I thought, 'I think we can start a business and take this to another level.' Well, we went from three buildings to 30 now, and that's what got me started.
I didn't know anything about starting a business; I just quit my job and started.
But I mostly worked in the business and not on the business. It took a long time for me to realize, 'I need help.' I could hire the laborers, but it was management help I needed. I was wearing 10,000 hats all the time. Plus, if somebody doesn't show up in our business, we have to fill in for them and get the cleaning done. Finding the right talent is important, but hard.
So, I got in my car one day and I'm fussing at God, 'Why? Why'd you open this door for me to do this? I can't hire these people, blah, blah, blah.' And by the time I settled myself down, I heard a voice say, 'Have you ever thought I sent them to you for a purpose?' My husband and I started a program at Silverdale Detention Center to give the inmates hope and teach them what to expect once they are released. We wanted them to know we all were created with gifts and talents and with some mindset changes, they could very well have a second chance in life."