Failure is not an option for several Hartford female entrepreneurs who participated in an inspiring panel discussion on Wednesday, February 17 hosted by the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center (EC-WBC) and the Hartford Chamber of Commerce.

Panelists included:


WBC Program Manager Milena Erwin, who moderated the event, jumped in by asking the entrepreneurs why they launched their businesses.

Motivated by books and political unrest, Khamani Harrison sought answers at Black-owned bookstores. She opened The Key Bookstore in 2018 as a means of “helping people be part of community—bookstores are an important part of community,” she noted.

Legacy Lineage Founder and Head Teacher Nichole Hawkins always wanted to own a daycare—and ran one in her home from 2008 to 2018. In an effort to rethink how to reach more families in the community, she participated in the reSET Impact Accelerator and, when COVID-19 hit, she pivoted again and developed an online learning platform.

Hartford native Dinika Hightower is a licensed massage therapist. When the pandemic hit and she couldn’t offer in-person massage, she pivoted and rebranded herself as what she calls “a relaxation specialist.” She launched NorthEnd Rose Scent Studio, a line of aromatherapy, with the goal of offering “therapy in your hand.” When her first products immediately sold out, she knew she hit the right target market.

Divine Restoration Owner and Founder Davine Manson is a “domestic violence thriver” who was spiritually guided to start her business. She had the idea to create a domestic violence center and resource for at-risk women for several years.


Hartford plays a key role for each of the entrepreneurs. Milena questioned why that was.

“Hartford is my home,” said Dinika. “I wanted to show that something good could come from Hartford.

I wanted to showcase Hartford has great potential and you don’t need to go to suburbs to find wellness.”

As a parent, Nichole’s kids were bussed to school outside of the city. She worked in Hartford providing childcare and investing in others’ children and recognized, “I had to build a community around me to be part of the solution.”

Davine chose to locate her business in Hartford to give back to community. “Hartford failed me,” she admitted. “When I needed these resources, there was nowhere to go. I wanted to help women and start in my own backyard.”

Khamani is a University of Connecticut Environmental Engineering graduate from Southern California. She noted that she loves the tightknit sense of community in Hartford and how people are willing to work with each other. “This place is like no other,” she said. For Khamani, being near so many higher education institutes was “a perfect place for a bookstore.”


When Milena questioned the team about failure, Khamani was quick to respond. “I don’t accept the word whatsoever,” she asserted.

Others agreed, in different ways.

“Failure isn’t final, it’s a learning  experience. You fail if you stop there,” said Nichole. “Success is also not final,” she pointed out.

For Davine, “Fear of failure means not even trying when things don’t work.” Failure also offers opportunities, she noted. “Look for blessings in disguise—look for another route.”

“Failure is based in fear. Be afraid and do it anyway,” advised Dinika.  “You don’t have to do it alone,” she emphasized, “There is guidance.”


Milena noted that every panelist was an inspiration. “You’ve all taken challenges and you’re thriving,” she said. “You’ve shown others they can, too.” She added, “These types of failure-to-success stories show how we can support one another, help each other develop, and uplift our community.”

The challenges of 2020 affected all the women entrepreneurs—many were able to adapt and flourish through it  all.

Nichole noted that she appreciated the lessons learned. “It created new opportunities for growth, which can have a ripple effect,” she said.