Nan Price caught up with INGroup Creative Owner Jeannette Punsoni Dardennto talk about business ownership, her commitment to the community, and what she enjoys most about working with aspiring entrepreneurs.
NAN PRICE: How has your business evolved over the years?
JEANNETTE PUNSONI DARDENNE: Because of Eat IN Connecticut, many people in the community often think of INGroup Creative as a marketing company that solely focuses on working with restaurants. Interestingly enough, before the pandemic, INGroup Creative began to transition away from the restaurant industry being our main focus.
Around 2018, I wanted to start working with more non-food related businesses, so we began bringing in customers in the insurance, finance, and technology industries. In hindsight, this completely protected INGroup Creative because, once the pandemic hit in 2020, we weren’t just tied to food businesses, we had a variety of clients—including startups.
The pandemic created an opportunity of time for entrepreneurs that enabled them to explore and invest in their side hustles. INGroup Creative began working with small businesses and entrepreneurs who wanted to launch. The experience of becoming involved in the beginning of a project and seeing it through to its end is phenomenal.
NAN: How do you provide strategic input for a client’s business?
JEANNETTE: I approach it with a strategic lens, taking a high level look at the entire business. I want to understand how it operates to ensure that once we start implementing marketing solutions, the business is in a good and strategic position. That includes looking for opportunities to enhance operational efficiencies, strengthen marketing continuity, and develop community alliances.
When I first meet with a client, I ask for a high-level overview about their business and then we try to come up with a tactical plan. I then work with them to determine their goals and objectives and figure out how we’re going to reach them. Sometimes, it’s all about taking a grassroots approach.
NAN: How has your background helped prepare you for what you do now?
JEANNETTE: My entire career was very planned. I went to school for finance and minored in economics. Then I started working at United Technologies Corporation (UTC) and went through their leadership program. From there, I went back to my alma mater, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and earned my MBA.
After working at UTC for more than six years, I decided to venture into real estate, which started my career as a serial entrepreneur. I invested in a few multi-family properties, started a property management business, and launched a fashion importing business…just to start.
NAN: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned or advice you would offer to others?
JEANNETTE: It’s important to know when to ask for help. I’ve always believed in mentorship, whether it’s a professional mentor or someone you reach out to frequently for support. We can’t do it alone.
INGroup Creative and Eat IN Connecticut aren’t my only businesses. I’m also an advisor at the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center. I’m a real estate investor. I do property management. And then I run my family—I’m a proud mother of two girls. So, the biggest lessons have been time management and reaching out to people and asking for support.
NAN: What’s your biggest challenge?
JEANNETTE: One of the hardest pieces about owning my own business is explaining to people what I do. People often tell me: I see you’re involved in so many different things and I’d love to be a part of what you’re doing, but I just can’t figure out what I need to hire you for.
What I enjoy the most and what I’m most known for is business strategy. I’m passionate about helping entrepreneurs and small business owners find creative ways to market and grow their businesses within an ever-changing marketplace. When they succeed, I succeed.
NAN: What do you enjoy most about entrepreneurship?
JEANNETTE: I think it’s in my personality. I find joy in working with people and I’ve had partners throughout my life, but I really thrive when I’m on my own. And then I utilize the community around me to help achieve my goals.
NAN: Speaking of community, you’re very involved in and supportive of our local community.
JEANNETTE: Eat IN Connecticut, which I still co-own with Kristin Fritz, is all about giving back and bringing people together. That’s been the foundation of everything I do. I’ve been involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, The Bridge Family Center, the Urban League of Greater Hartford, and ACCESS Hartford, which was the predecessor to HYPE (Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs).
With any client that I work with, it’s fundamentally important for them to have a relationship with the community. When you’re engaged with your community, which I often refer to as your “cheering squad,” you will be successful.