The starting line  

Sarah Hipwell, a junior on the University of Richmond’s women’s cross-country and track teams, was feeling a familiar ache in her leg during practice once again. A visit to the sports medicine office in the Weinstein Center confirmed her fear: another femoral stress fracture.

It was Hipwell’s third stress fracture since beginning her division-one career as a first-year. Hipwell signed with the NCAA to UR after graduating from Oakton High School in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2015. She had dedicated all of her time and energy during her junior and senior years of high school to running in college. 

Now, it was all up in the air. Specializing in long distance events like the women’s 6 kilometer and 800 meter races, the endurance needed for both events cost her a year of slow recovery, she said. A stress fracture, caused by repetitive force on a bone, or overuse, can take up to eight weeks of recovery with no activity. A femoral stress fracture, in Hipwell’s case, is challenging to heal due to the bone’s size.

Hipwell reconsidered her commitment to running. “I made the biggest decision to quit last year."

Hipwell now sits behind her desk in her downtown-Richmond Jackson Ward apartment.

Hipwell decided to begin her own marketing firm: Sarah Olivia Marketing LLC, where like her running, she is excelling. 

“She has this quality of attention to detail and excellence that I didn’t find with previous marketing firms,” Natalie Gordon, a UR graduate and Avenue 42 salon owner, said. Gordon was Hipwell’s first formal client and biggest supporter during Hipwell’s early days as an entrepreneur. 

Entrepreneurship has been on the rise in recent years, according to an article by Forbes magazine and the Global Entrepreneurship monitor United States report from Babson College. In 2017, the report, which features startup activity around the world, showed that entrepreneurship rates rose one percent for women, while rates for men remained steady. Although one percent is a small number, that’s responsive in the wake of more women creating social media profiles centered on lifestyle, home, or fitness as a form of marketing. 

Female entrepreneurs also often provide services or products that are more innovative, according to the report. Hipwell’s use of social media to promote her own branding and clients are innovative to clients like Gordon, she said. 

With a rise in female entrepreneurship and in social media branding, the two trends could come together for a powerful combination. With stamina like Hipwell’s, women seeking unique workplace opportunities may find an alleyway in entrepreneurship, through social media and determination. As Hipwell’s name continues to grow, she’s learning what it takes in the long distance race of starting a company. 

The first bend

Hipwell’s budding office space at Novel Coworking, a company that offers amenity-rich workspaces for businesses in downtown Richmond, will soon be filled with hues of blue and pink furniture and decorations. Currently, the freshly applied, baby pink paint stroke ‘Sarah Olivia Marketing’ vinyl decal on her glass office door bears witness to her future possibilities for the company. 

As a double major in marketing and leadership studies, Hipwell was prepared for a variety of work options anywhere in the country. 

However, she believed she had much more creativity built in her to be confined to the traditional marketing options in New York or another big city. With her freelance experience at a UK based online business host domain, UK2, Hipwell decided to begin her own marketing firm: Sarah Olivia Marketing LLC.

Last year, Hipwell had pursued marketing experience prior to leaving division-one athletics. She worked with UK2, an online business domain host, the summer after her sophomore year as a digital marketing intern. And, she continued to do freelance social media marketing for the company after her internship. 

When she had more time to dedicate to marketing, she searched for more opportunities in freelance work and eventually had multiple clients. “It just kind of blew up,” she said. 

With several clients, Hipwell officially created a LLC — a limited liability company — this past summer. Establishing a company as a LLC combines the pass-through taxation of a sole proprietorship, meaning Hipwell pays taxes on income from her marketing firm in her personal income tax returns, with the low risk of a corporation. Being a LLC also means that a business becomes its own legal entity with separate debts and legal standards.  

For Hipwell, becoming a LLC was the easiest option because of the flexibility that comes when she decides to hire employees. She posted on Instagram about her new company and created a business account for the LLC. 

The reactions from friends and strangers included plenty of questions and interest in her new endeavor, she said. But the official social media announcement meant for Hipwell that she had legitimized her reason for stepping down from athletics. 

The long haul 

Self-described as conscientious and hardworking, Hipwell now experiences the daily balance of being a full-time undergraduate student and an entrepreneur. She spends her early mornings completing work for her 9 am classes and answering client emails. Then, she juggles a full day of other commitments.

“I write down all the tasks I need to get done in a day, but generally all don’t get done,” she said. Taking each moment step by step wasn’t something that easily came to her. 

Even with her company authorized as a LLC this past summer, Hipwell had doubts, she said. “My mom saw me looking for a job earlier this year and stopped me to say ‘What are you doing? You don’t need to do that,’” Hipwell said. 

Gordon, Hipwell’s first client, also encouraged her to dive head first into the business. However, Gordon and Hipwell’s first encounter was not marketing related, Gordon said. 

"Sarah reached out to me about renting one of my Airbnb apartments because she initially thought she’d be moving after college and didn’t want to buy furniture but still wanted a pretty living space," she said. Being an entrepreneur herself, Gordon understood how important an aesthetically pleasing space was for inspiration. 

After Hipwell moved into the apartment above Gordon’s salon, Gordon noticed Hipwell’s eye for design and marketing talents. “I was really impressed with the fact that she knew what she was talking about,” Gordon said. 

“She was able to offer us help with our branding and web design, which is really helpful to me as a small business owner.”  

Around the same time that Hipwell’s mother noticed her job searching, Gordon and another client also decided to reassure Hipwell that she did not need to be working for someone else after college. Over dinner one night this fall, the two female entrepreneurs mentored Hipwell to show her work was authentic and beautiful in her own company, Gordon said. Taking that talent and molding it to what someone else would want from her as an employee was a waste of time, in their opinions.

“We told her that if she was one foot in and one foot out then the company would never be what she envisioned it to be,” Gordon said. 

Hipwell said that Gordon believed in her when she doubted herself. Hipwell’s passion burned brighter through the encouragement she received and revealed itself in her work, her clients said. 

Now, Gordon often recommends Hipwell to her other friends who seek marketing help. Hipwell has also become a part of a ‘Boss Babes’ private Facebook group — that includes female entrepreneurs based in Richmond — where they offer each other consistent advice and connections, a much-appreciated support.

The final stretch 

Gordon said that entrepreneurship can be a lonely business. There’s a lot of work and time that goes into creating the vision first imagined, she said. 

From her experience of working with all older men at UK2, Hipwell recognized the roadblocks that would come with her LLC. “It was like there was a level of intimidation when they had to work with me as a freelance because I was younger and they couldn’t meet with me in person," she said. This experience allowed Hipwell to learn and grow through the exposure of differing attitudes, she said. 

She never saw herself working a 9-5 job like the men at UK2, but now Hipwell said she’s ready to fully take on the business world. “I want to be able to focus on what I’m doing for the rest of my life, which is the LLC,” she said. After graduation, she plans on establishing a formal business plan and is currently seeking an intern and part-time assistant to help her with an influx of clients. 

"My advice for any woman who feels like she’s made for more than a 9-5 job is to follow what you’re most passionate about," Hipwell said. “The first few years may be by no means glamorous, but in the end, I believe it will be worth it.” 

Gordon said there’s a demand for individuals who hold a caliber of excellence to properly represent a company or present a meaningful product. “The digital age has made it very clear that we [women] do not have to climb any kind of ladder to accomplish what we desire.” 

Hipwell has decided that any kind of ladder she’ll encounter won’t stop her business from running its full course.

Contact senior lifestyle writer Emma Phelps at emma.phelps@richmond.edu.