Deborah Engel’s journey is a story of responding to life’s complexities and industry status-quos with innovation and advocacy driven solutions.
With the birth of her first child in 2010, she was immediately faced with the reality that many parents encounter in corporate America. She found that office culture tolerates parenting professionals, instead of openly embracing them for the strength birthed from their circumstance. It was through gaining the understanding that many in suburban America could use an entity that supported their career paths AND having a daily presence in their child’s life that led Deb to start Work and Play in 2015. She gravitated towards the corporate flexibilities provided by the popular emergence of coworking spaces and added a maternal twist to it, to create a coworking space that also housed a state licensed child care center.
Providing a professionally and personally supportive hub for clients bolstered Deb’s interest in advocacy, especially as it related to local entrepreneurs and small business owners. She followed this interest by co-founding the General Store Cooperative (GSC), which started as a “shop local” ecommerce platform in 2017 and evolved into producing co-retail experiences in 2018. GSC’s 2018 holiday pop-up shop, which included 75 local businesses and makers, grossed more than 100k in revenue for the local community. In 2019, GSC opened up their flagship marketplace and cafe combining six complimentary retailers, including NJ’s first zero waste refill shop, with a coffee shop and bakery.
It was only natural that Deb’s advocacy for local entrepreneurs, small business owners, and families led her to taking a more involved approach in the downtown business district.. As Vice-Chair of the South Orange Village Center Alliance, she is directly involved in advocacy and policy work for small businesses. In this capacity she has earned the reputation as the champion in their corner who works to ensure that policies align fairly and conductively for local businesses
The outbreak of COVID-19 has presented Deb with new challenges as well as inspired further innovation to accommodate for the ever evolving professional landscape. The pandemic’s effects on physically driven business models heavily impacted the coworking and childcare industries, leading to Work and Play’s pivot in 2020, while GSC adapted to new retail realities. Despite these disruptions, Deb continued to lead advocacy work for small business owners and independent contractors by creating a Facebook group which tracked and lobbied for economic relief packages for small businesses. The group continues to be a resource for business owners to share information about financing, grants, unemployment and other issues affecting the self-employed.
As a successful entrepreneur, public servant, community advocate, business consultant and mother of three, Deb continues to use her wealth of knowledge and experience to serve entrepreneurs, small business owners, families, and communities.