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Breaking Barriers and Building Empires: Dr. Shanelle R. Dawson

In the heart of April, recognized as International Black Women’s History Month, we turn our spotlight to Dr. Shanelle R. Dawson, a trailblazing entrepreneur whose journey embodies self-belief. As a entrepreneur, Dr. Dawson has shattered glass ceilings and redefined success on her own terms.

How would you describe the core values and mission of your business(es)

Dr. Shanelle: Here at ACCESS Dental Laboratories (ADL), we commit to amazing customer service, phenomenal team dynamics, excellent communication, outstanding leaders, exceptional work culture, superior products, innovative technologies, and we adhere to our mission of adding value. At ADL, we stand on trust, integrity, fairness, honor, equity and community uplift.

What are some key lessons you’ve learned about yourself throughout your entrepreneurial journey?

Dr. Shanelle: I started my first business in 2009; ACCESS — Academic Coaching and Consulting, Empowering Students for Success. I studied, I planned, I researched, and I learned. I did everything on my own. I was a one woman show. My first contract earned $100 per week. This included lesson planning, supervising, organizing, instruction, and data collection. Yes, $100 per week for all this. I received a $50 raise after my first year. I worked every weekend. In two years, I missed two weekends. I chose to be with my daughter when my granddaughter was born. I worked hard from 2009 to 2015. Then it happened, I realized I was worth more than the pennies I was earning. I severed ties with the organization and decided to restructure my business.

Six month later, I got my first six-figure contract. I used the profits from my consulting company to start ACCESS Dental Laboratories. This company was a partnership but I provided the startup capital and wrote the business plan. I’m the majority owner and most people had no idea because I never spoke about it. I did not want to overshadow my partner. When ADL opened, I took a back seat to support my partner while he oversaw all day to day operations. I remained silent. What I didn’t realize at the time, I was actually shrinking myself. I did very little promoting. I rarely visited the facility. I poured myself into other ventures. I basically stepped away from ADL. I didn’t want to make waves and I didn’t want to disappoint.

My greatest lesson on my entrepreneurship journey is to always know my worth and to know that my worth does not change due to someone else’s perception. Smaller lessons that I also learned are trust my instinct, stand up for myself, use my voice, speak my truth, embrace my power, be courageous, take up space, and show up authentically.

From your experience, what are the three most important components to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

Dr. Shanelle: From my experience, the three most important components in becoming a successful entrepreneur are perseverance (you have to be committed to the process), knowledge (prepare to learn as much as possible on a continuous basis), and faith (be confident that you will have what you hoped/worked for).

What makes your business(es) unique?

Dr. Shanelle: We are unique because we are the first, full-service, African American owned, woman-led, dental laboratory in the country and we adhere to the highest industry standards for the technical manufacturing and design of crowns, bridges, partials, dentures, night guards, implants, and veneers.

What strategies do you employ to maintain a positive company culture and motivate your team?

Dr. Shanelle: We maintain a positive company culture and motivate our team by cultivating an employee-centered atmosphere. We are committed to developing dental professionals by creating an environment where knowledge is rewarded, value is added, and growth is nurtured.

What was the toughest moment in your business journey?

Dr. Shanelle: The toughest moment in my business journey was knowing I would be viewed negatively because I dared to make strategic business decisions. It is unfortunate that women are expected to play small. If I were a man, making this same decision, I’d be applauded. How did you go past it and move forward? I got past it and moved forward by choosing to walk courageously and do what is best for my team and my company at all times. It has not been easy but I will not let the opinions of other people dictate my business decisions.

How do you ensure excellent customer service and satisfaction in your business?

Dr. Shanelle: Exceptional customer service is one of our foundational beliefs. We provide “White Glove Service”. This is our brand. This is our identity. Every member of our team knows the importance of customer experience and perception.

To what do you owe your success?

Dr. Shanelle: I owe my success to the Syracuse Community because they believed in me, my friends and family because they constantly support me, and my team members because none of this would be possible without them.

Get connected with Dr. Shanelle R. Dawson online:


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