IC woman receives small business award


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Kristen Sharma can’t stop smiling.

That’s because the local businesswoman just experienced the “highlight” of her life.

Sharma, 44, was selected as the 2010 Iowa Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, and the Iowa City native traveled to the State Capitol Wednesday to receive her award.

Each year, The Iowa Small Business Development Center chooses a woman who significantly changed her life and improved the lives of others.

“I think I’ve done both,” Sharma said, her bouncy blond hair framing her face.

The self-motivated mother of two said she has her life in order, and she’s helping others do the same.

While Sharma has started seven successful businesses, she was nominated for her newest ventures: the East-West School of Integrative Healing Arts and A Massage Oasis.

Established four years ago, East-West provides massage-therapy training. But the school also provides business-type classes so students have the skills to run their own business. Sharma created A Massage Oasis in 2009 as a means for students to “get their foot in the door” after graduating from East-West, she said.

Taking over the massage school was the biggest financial investment for Sharma, but she pooled her resources to make it happen.

“When you’re compelled to do something, you find a way to do it,” she said.

Before finding success, she dropped out of college and took an unfulfilling desk job at a bank. She began dabbling in art, which led her to interior design. Then, she became a consultant for a life coach. Helping others moved her toward massage healing.

She now operates several A Massage Oasis locations, including at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center.

“You don’t have to be stuck in a dead end,” she said.

Throughout her journey, she sought help from the UI Small Business Development Center, a service providing the basic knowledge to start a small business.

Paul Heath, the director of the Small Business Development Center, nominated Sharma for her success.

He said she fit the criteria as someone who has been a role model, because more than 100 students have graduated from her massage school.

“She’s persistent and a serial entrepreneur,” he said.

Husband Sunil Sharma said creativity and innovation drive her work. “Following the textbook” isn’t his wife’s thing, he said. Instead of getting into business for financial gain, she has focused on others.

“She is in business to help people,” Sunil Sharma said.

And she does make a point of prioritizing what’s important in her own life.

Sacrificing spending time with her two sons was not something she was willing to do. She said she wanted to avoid becoming one of those people who get so tied to the business, they forget about their home lives. By starting her own ventures, she has the freedom and flexibility to spend time with her friends and family, while still maintains thriving businesses.

“I’ve got the best of both worlds,” Sharma said.

And that balance is what keeps her happy.

“Happy business owners are usually successful owners,” she said.

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