Announcing The 2020 Rhode Island Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year! Plus An American Business Women's Day Conversation

Rhode Island District Office  - September 23, 2020

u s small business administration

2020 Rhode Island Woman-owned
Small Business of the Year

Blakely Interior Design 

Janelle Blakely Photopoulos
Owner and Creative Director 

Janelle Blakely Photopoulos

Janelle Blakely Photopoulos is the Owner and Creative Director of Blakely Interior Design, an award-winning Rhode Island interior design firm that specializes in designing vibrant residential interiors in New England and nationwide. Located in North Kingstown, her firm provides a wide range of design services, specifically catering to full-service interior design clients for new construction homes and renovations. Blakely Interior Design has been operating for eight years, employs six full-time staff, has doubled its revenue in the last year, and has long-passed the million-dollar revenue mark, a rare feat in the design industry. With all Janelle’s success, it is hard to believe that nine years ago her dream was just that, a dream. 

After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in marketing, Janelle went to work for telecom giant AT&T. After many successful years in corporate America, Janelle left her job to start a family. Additionally, she craved a career that was rewarding and would fuel her creative passion.  She followed her entrepreneurial heart by enrolling in Rhode Island School of Design and began immersing herself in the technical aspects of interior design. For five years she juggled design school with three young children, all the while developing her design business.  

“When I found my true passion in design and decided to go to RISD, I was initially disappointed that I had spent my undergraduate years studying a field I didn’t end up in. In retrospect, my undergraduate marketing degree at Syracuse has helped me immensely in growing a healthy and prosperous business. I am so grateful for the journey as it has put me exactly where I am meant to be,” said Photopoulos. 

After founding Blakely, Janelle completed the Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, where she received a crash course “mini MBA” education in entrepreneurship. The program helped guide her next steps as a small business owner.

In the beginning, Blakely Interior Design was a shop of one. Janelle strove to provide great design coupled with quality service, and word of her outstanding work spread quickly. As more opportunities presented themselves, Janelle began looking for ways to expand her business. She approached BankNewport and was able to secure an SBA-backed loan. “As larger, more significant projects started coming our way, we needed to staff up to support them. In a luxury service industry like ours, it’s important to have the bandwidth to provide a high level of service. Our SBA loan allowed us to create more jobs and be prepared for the momentum I saw coming,” said Photopoulos.

As the demand for her service increased, it became apparent that she would have to expand her operating space. Janelle reached out to an SBA funded resource partner, SCORE, for counseling and assistance with the purchase of a building. With the help of her SCORE mentor, she was able to weigh all the factors that came with such a large purchase. Ultimately, this guidance led her to decide to expand her existing studio into the adjacent unit. This recently completed expansion doubled the square footage of the design studio, accommodating a larger design library, more workspaces for her growing team, and a new storage warehouse for inventory. “Having the warehouse space is key for expanding profit margins because it allows us to purchase accessories for clients at a higher volume and lower price,” said Photopoulos. 

Although the demands of parenthood and a flourishing business would occupy much of her days, Janelle also found time in 2018 to launch the Rhode Island chapter of Savvy Giving by Design (SGDB). Savvy Giving is a national nonprofit made up of a coalition of professional interior designers. SGBD’s mission is to provide comfort, support, and healing to families with a child facing a medical crisis by transforming the interior spaces of their homes at no cost to them. “Our environment can dramatically impact our mood, health and overall well-being,” said Photopoulos. “We’re committed to bringing hope to those in need by giving them an oasis in which to heal,” she added.

For Janelle’s entrepreneurial savvy and ability to build her business she was awarded the 2020 Rhode Island Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year. It is that savvy that would allow her to pivot and continue operations when COVID-19 hit, and business was down 75%. Photopoulos applied for and received a PPP loan from BankNewport which allowed her to keep her staff on payroll and continuing to serve her existing clientele.  

As Blakely Interior Design approaches the decade mark of being in business, it is easy to see why Janelle has found success. Her mission is to transform her clients’ lives by transforming the way they live in their homes. Every room is a unique canvas connecting a space and its owner, and her vision does not stop there; it goes well beyond designing homes, inspiring people to live vibrantly in their everyday lives. Janelle is currently in the early stages of developing products that support her design aesthetic and inspire a vibrant life, a challenge she accepts with open arms.

Start, grow and expand a business with SBA, American Business Women’s Day

Rhode Island's Top Business Women Share Their Insight

Yesterday (Tuesday, September 22nd), the Rhode Island District Office helped celebrate American Business Women's Day by having a discussion with several award winning women in business.  The conversations focused on various topics that include overcoming adversity, helping each other succeed, thriving in typically male-dominated industries, and more.  Keep reading to see the highlights of our discussions.

Harmony Oschefski

Small Business Person of the Year

Harmony Oschefski
the bodhi spa 
(Newport & Providence)

On what it means to be an American business woman:

"To me, at its core its the freedom to create, the freedom to choose, the freedom to be in control of my own destiny. Ultimately, that is what is most important to me and my family."

Rhode Island & New England Financial Services Champion

Angie Laperriere
Assistance Vice President, Business Assistance Manager and Lending Officer
SEED Corporation

On helping other women succeed in business:

"Every day I get to work alongside powerful, intelligent, driven woman.  Being part of a woman-run and dominated organization and connecting with women in the small business world is very rewarding and I feel so fortunate. I truly believe that when women support each other, incredible things can happen - and I see that first hand every day."


Angie Laperriere

Rebecca Twitchell

Rhode Island & New England Microenterprise of the Year

Rebecca Twitchell
President & Founder
half full, llc

On overcoming adversity:

"My insecurities kept me from trying to forward my career at a younger age. Realizing, understanding, and embracing what made me unique is what helped me with half full. We lead with vulnerability and we lead with active listening. If you can have confidence in your strengths it makes you untouchable." 

Rhode Island Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year

Janelle Blakely Photopoulos
President & Creative Director
Blakely Interior Design
(North Kingstown)

On following your passion: 

"There was a little spark within me. One that knew I had something greater and more creative to give beyond my days at Corporate America and the car pool line. There's no better feeling than looking back after nearly 10 years of building your dream, with your family right by your side, and realizing it wasn't your dream at all. It was your destiny."

Janelle Blakely Photopoulos

Kaitlyn Szczupak

Rhode Island Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Kaitlyn Szczupak
Owner & President
S&S Transmission & Auto Repair

On being a woman in a field historically dominated by men:

“A female who owns and operates her own auto repair facility is not something you hear of everyday. Being a business woman in a field historically dominated by men is empowering to me! That empowerment has fueled my passion to work in a field that allows me to offer quality services everyday. It proves to not only myself, but ALL women, that anything is possible as long as you put your heart, mind, and soul into it.”