The SBA Celebrates Womens Small Business Pandemic-Partnership Success

Pittsburgh District Office  -March 2022

u s small business administration

The SBA Celebrates Womens Small Business Pandemic-Partnership Success

By Dr. Kelly Hunt

SBA Western Pa. District Director


Photo of District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt


Tea. Candles. A good book. Some would say it’s a perfect combination for a quiet evening at home during the pandemic. Melissa Vertosick would agree.

A chance meeting at a maker’s market brewed up sales and marketing opportunities for the area tea maker. Vertosick, owner of Leaf & Twig, teamed with a local bookstore and North Ave. Candles owner Amanda Fenner, creating monthly gift boxes – each containing a book and custom-blended teas and candles.

“When the pandemic hit, my business basically closed,” explained Fenner who supplies her literature-inspired candles to booksellers. “My sister suggested creating the boxes because we were all stuck in our houses, and they went viral.”

Their stories amaze me. Both are mothers with young children who said their passion for teas and candles initially started as a hobby and transitioned into a small business. Each gained wholesale agreements when business liaisons visited their booths at a maker’s market.

I hear incredible women-owned small business success stories like this each day.

My agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has been helping women entrepreneurs, like Fenner and Vertosick, for more than 40 years. Our Women Business Center (WBC) network is expanding each year, mirroring small business startup trends. Recent data indicates women-owned small businesses are a growing segment with minority females becoming entrepreneurs at a faster rate than any other group. Locally, the Chatham University Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, (CWE) a WBC, offers free and confidential business consulting to area women with Saturday and evening hours to better accommodate the needs of balancing both family and career. The Center helped Vertosick with start-up guidance through one of their many entrepreneurial classes.

“CWE is so proud to work with women to help turn a hobby or passion into a viable business,” said Anne Flynn Schlicht, director. “Through our technical assistance counseling, entrepreneurial training programs and network of women business owners we create the foundation for women to launch a business and the connections to collaborate with other business owners for growth.”  

The successful duo is adding a new line -- quarterly book-inspired custom tea and candle sets. “I think partnering is beneficial to all parties,” Fenner said. “Our businesses are complementary with many customers buying and enjoying the same products.”

She’s right. Too often small business owners believe working with competitors is counterintuitive to their branding and growth. All small businesses need to market themselves, and what better way than pairing candles and teas or chocolates and flowers? In fact, success breeds success. A positive small business experience creates an economic ripple effect, leading consumers to continue supporting small businesses in both Main Street shopping districts and online.

Fenner and Vertosick’s pandemic-initiated partnership not only is registering new customers but fueling their creativity too. “Next, we’re celebrating the book Alice in Wonderland,” added Vertosick. “I’m putting together a juxtaposition of things that shouldn’t work together but do, such as citrus and florals for my teas.”

Find your local Womens Business Center and light up your entrepreneurial idea by visiting


Illustration of three people and buildings with the following text, Women’s History Month. The SBA logo is at the bottom.