Author: Lauren Taber

With Hearts Connecting LLC, Tahirah Jannah Taalib-Din Is Turning Grief Into Service

Tahirah and her husband, Antar Jannah.

January 12, 2022 | Like many entrepreneurs, Tahirah Jannah Taalib-Din started her business after identifying a problem that she could solve. Unlike most entrepreneurs, Tahirah’s business journey blossomed from the call to transform grief into a vehicle for healing in her community. The passing of her husband, Antar Jannah, in July of 2020 led Tahirah to found Hearts Connecting LLC, to offer virtual funeral services for families unable to meet in person, as well as faith-based grief counseling and support. After working with the California Capital Women’s Business Center (WBC), Hearts Connecting LLC has expanded their services, and won first place at a recent national pitch competition, earning a $15,000 award. 

A Seed Is Planted

When Tahirah’s husband passed, most of her friends and family were still in New York City, where she lived until 2012. With covid-related travel restrictions in place at the time, they could not attend the funeral. “I was completely devastated, and my family could not be by my side,” she explained. Luckily, a friend recorded the proceedings, and Tahirah was able to share the video with her loved ones. “Sharing the video brought so much comfort to my heart,” Tahirah says, explaining that the first seed of a business idea was planted then. 

Four months later, when a friend of her husband in New York passed away, Tahirah organized a virtual component to the funeral. Though her intention at that time was simply to “pay forward” the support she received, a funeral director in New Jersey let her know that they were in need of virtual services. That, says Tahirah, is when the seed started to sprout. 

Putting Ideas Into Action

Hearts Connecting LLC placed first in the Launch + Grow Pitch Competition.

She started doing market research, and learned that there were no options for faith-based virtual services. Around the same time that she was beginning business research, Tahirah was in a virtual grief support group for widows, and identified another need in her community.  

“The experience was so beneficial, and I learned a lot,” explains Tahirah. “But I was the only woman in my thirties in the group, the only African-American woman in the group, and the only Muslim woman in the group. I knew that women who reflected me needed the support, too.” With this in mind, she created a Women of Faith Widow Support Group. The group offers support to widows free of charge, and works to attain sponsorships to cover any fees.   

After identifying her target market and an accessible price point, Tahirah envisioned exactly what her business would offer. She created a spreadsheet describing what her services would be; who she should serve; how the process works, and how to hire her. To solidify her vision, she completed a business development course, and worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to establish Hearts Connecting as an LLC and open a business bank account. With this foundation in place, she invested funds from the first few funerals she operated and created a website. 

Inspiration, Guidance, and Results

After a referral from the SBA, Tahirah connected with the California Capital WBC. With guidance from WBC business consultant, Danielle Marshall, Tahirah completed the self-paced DreamBuilder business plan creator. Several months later, Tahirah participated in the WBC’s Pitch Competition during Small Business Success Series 2021. Hearts Connecting LLC’s pitch placed fourth–for Tahirah, that was the perfect opportunity for feedback. 

“I connected with Danielle and asked her two questions,” she says. “Why did I make it to the top five, and why didn’t I make it to number one?” The feedback provided by Danielle helped Tahirah to refine her pitch for future funding opportunities, and ultimately was instrumental in her success at the Launch + Grow Pitch Competition, hosted by Operation Hope and CIT. Hearts Connecting LLC placed first, earning a $15,000 grand prize sponsored by the Francine A Lefrak Foundation, which Tahirah plans to use to achieve her business goals. 

Planning for Success

Throughout the year, Tahirah will continue to work with the WBC–from whom she receives information on available grants and other funding opportunities–, as well as the California Capital Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), who is assisting her in completing the requisite paperwork to begin winning government contracts. In 2022, Tahirah hopes to strengthen her connections with local hospitals and funeral homes; hire on-call facilitators for virtual services; launch a monthlyadvice column in Muslim Journal; facilitate 395 funerals; serve 100 widows in the Women of Faith Widow Support Group, and to provide monthly online classes to the general public in the area of pre-, during, and post-death preparedness. 

In all of this, says Tahirah, she is staying true to the core of her mission. “It’s paramount that as a business owner, I stay in the space of inspiration and intuitive guidance,” she says. “Coupled with an undertone of urgency and knowing that my next decision in business is divinely inspired.”

“It’s much more than just being optimistic” : The Importance of Mental Health for Entrepreneurs with Life Coach Asia Hilario

January 6, 2022 | Oftentimes, a new year brings with it new resolutions, and refreshed focus on personal and professional goals. For Asia Hilario, a certified Life Coach and successful mental health blogger and podcaster, the new year is also the perfect opportunity to uproot the beliefs that are keeping us in cycles of burnout and stress.

In addition to growing her own business, Ms. Hilario is the teacher of our upcoming eight-part mental health series, Preparing For Harvest, which begins January 14th. (It’s offered free of charge–click here to sign up!) We sat down with her to discuss her business journey, tips for entrepreneurs to cultivate mental health, and why the harvest is a fitting metaphor for self-love. 

*Note: this is a transcript of a longer conversation. Some comments have been edited for length or clarity* 


California Capital: How did you get your start as an entrepreneur?

Asia Hilario: I originally started as a fashion blogger after people on social media reached out asking me to share about my outfit choices. I started that blog, and it got some traction, but my heart wasn’t in it. After more people reached out suggesting I write about my philanthropy, which I had been doing for years but didn’t promote, I transitioned to a lifestyle and mental health and wellness blog. A few months after launching, one of my posts went viral and my blog was read in 160 countries. 

When more people started messaging me looking for advice, someone suggested that I become a life coach. I didn’t know people got paid to do that! So I got my certification and launched my coaching business in 2020. I was able to leave my corporate job and work on my business full-time just eight weeks after launching. 


CC: What services do you offer now? 

AH: Now, I offer a 12-week self-love program, which includes individual and group counseling. There are modules, coaching and accountability calls, and guidance during the 12 weeks. We cover the “7 S’s” of Self-Love during the program. I’ve had about 25% of my clients leave corporate jobs to become entrepreneurs. 


CC: Do many clients come to you looking to make the jump to business ownership?

AH: They don’t necessarily come to me thinking they want to pursue entrepreneurship, but through the program they realize they don’t feel aligned with their current job any more. It takes a lot of bravery and healthy self-esteem to really go after what you want, and self-love is where that starts. 


CC: Why did you decide to focus on mental health as a career? 

AH: I’m a childhood abuse survivor, so with that background I grew up with a lot of self-limiting beliefs. I also have depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I firmly believe that mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, and it also helps us handle stress and make healthy choices. In regards to entrepreneurship, it’s tied to the belief that we can thrive and have success in a chosen industry. 

Once I started taking care of my mental health, my whole world changed. I think everyone could benefit from learning how to take care of their mental health. I’m also a former crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line, so it has always been a passion of mine. 


CC: Do you see common themes among your clients who are entrepreneurs? 

AH: Definitely: burnout, imposter syndrome, stress, overwhelm, feelings of inadequacy. Those are the most common themes. During Preparing for Harvest, I’ll talk about “self-concept”, which is a collection of beliefs about oneself. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize that a lot of their thoughts, actions, and beliefs are rooted in childhood, trauma, or other past experiences. 


CC: How does self-concept impact mental health? 

AH: Unless we get to the root of our self-concept, we’ll be recycling the same challenges. The people that don’t see change in burnout, etc., it’s because they’re only going surface level. They’re not digging deep enough. In terms of self care, self-concept is really big because we have to dig into what identity we’re anchored to that is keeping us from doing what’s good for us. 

Because we know what to do! It’s just getting ourselves to do it that is the challenge. 


CC: What do you wish more people knew about mental health/wellness? 

AH: I wish people knew that it’s much more than just positive thinking and being optimistic. 95% of what we do, say, think is on autopilot by our subconscious. It’s kind of scary to think that we’re not really in control. Our subconscious is our master program, so unless we reprogram we’ll just repeat the same patterns. Will power can only go so far, and just being positive doesn’t get to the root of our problems.  

I also think that people forget the brain is an organ. We think mental health is just in our heads–we don’t hold it to the same standards that we do our bodily health. When we experience something traumatic we sweep it under the rug, rather than seek the help we need to make sure we heal properly. Chronic stress hugely impacts our mental health and brain. I read recently that 72% of entrepreneurs are affected by mental health issues compared to 48% of non-entrepreneurs.


CC: Why did you choose the name “Preparing for Harvest” for your upcoming series with the Women’s Business Center? What does that concept mean to you in relation to mental health?

AH: As entrepreneurs, when we’re producing fruit that is not good in our business, do we change the branch, or do we change the soil and the environment that we’re growing these fruits in? I like that analogy because unless we uproot and change things, we’ll produce the same fruit. 

We think mental health is on the surface level, and a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of us can be addicted to the stress and we don’t know it. I wanted to create an analogy that would show the importance of digging deep. 

Preparing for Harvest runs January 14-March 4 and is offered online, free of charge. If you are ready to dig deep and plant the seeds of mental health and business success, click here to register.

Emily Autenrieth is Meeting a Need for Inclusive Community Space in Elk Grove with Grand Opening of A Seat at the Table Bookstore and Cafe

December 15, 2021 | When Emily Autenrieth attended a Facebook Community Summit in February of 2019, she didn’t intend to leave with a business idea. But two encounters led her to a vision for a new business that would meet a need for an inclusive bookstore and cafe in Sacramento County. Now, after building an online and pop-up business, Emily’s vision has come full circle with the grand opening of A Seat at the Table Bookstore and Cafe in Elk Grove. 

A Seat at the Table’s cafe offers local Temple Coffee and Kalani Kakes cupcakes.


While attending the summit as the administrator of a popular parenting Facebook group, Emily met the owners of EyeSeeMe, a multicultural children’s bookstore in Missouri, and Eden Torres, Houston-based photographer and founder of PridePortraits.Org. Shortly after, Torres, whose work largely focuses on advocating for a more inclusive world for LGBTQIA+ people, shared on   social media that she would like to open an LGBT bookstore in the Houston area. Reflecting on the conversation about the impact that EyeSeeMe was having in their community, Emily connected with Eden’s sentiment.  

“I thought, ‘We need an inclusive bookstore and cafe in Elk Grove’,” says Emily, who immediately began envisioning all that this inclusive space could offer. She pictured a bookstore featuring titles from diverse up and coming authors; a cafe offering fresh, local food to encourage connection; a playroom for children to safely socialize while parents browsed the bookstore; and a quiet room where neurodiverse individuals and nursing parents could find calm and privacy. “My concept was so clear, I realized that I would have to be the one to create it.”  


Emily began her work in January of 2020, with pop-up bookstores at small businesses in Elk Grove like Savvy House Coffee Bar and Neighborhood Market. The community response was strong and positive. Ultimately, says Emily, that’s what has carried the project through the uncertainty of the covid-19 pandemic. “We’ve built a strong community who already believes we will succeed, and it’s given us a chance to get feedback from the community,” explains Emily, whose spouse Ryan has been a key partner while maintaining his full-time job as a school counselor.  

The build out of the brick and mortar space took up much of 2021, with pandemic-related delays and supply chain issues necessitating adaptability. Fortunately, Emily began working with Women’s Business Center consultant, Natasha Palumbo, in November of 2020. Through regular counseling sessions, Natasha played a key role in helping Emily translate her mission into an actionable business plan. Overall, says Emily, the challenges faced leading up to the grand opening were navigable because she was unwavering in her mission to manifest an equitable and inclusive space in Elk Grove. 


Emily Autenrieth says she is “good tired” after business grand opening.

Now, with the bookstore and cafe officially open, the work of uplifting the greater Sacramento community can really take off.  “The biggest overarching success to me was that the community is clearly ready for our movement and mission,” says Emily, reflecting on the grand opening this past weekend. “I met so many people who were very moved by the representation on our shelves, and near tears because they’ve needed this in their life and community.” 

Emily is confident that she has put together a dedicated and passionate team, and they are eager to work with local authors, and to open their space to community organizations to host various events. (If you are an author in the Sacramento area and would like to inquire about author events or getting your book carried, head to their FAQ For Authors page!). Even their cafe is community-focused, offering cupcakes from Kalani Kakes, a local Woman of Color-owned bakery, and a full espresso bar with Sacramento-based Temple Coffee.  

With the successful opening, Emily is hopeful that more folks will catch on to all that they have to offer–a full menu, online and in-person sales, gift cards–and see A Seat at the Table as a resource for books, coffee, snacks, play dates, and education.  

“It was exhausting, but I’m good tired,” explains Emily with a chuckle. “It’s clear that people are ready to learn how to get everyone a seat at the table.” 

A Seat at the Table Books is also featured in the California Capital 2021 Holiday Shopping Guide. Visit them online at and in person at  9257 Laguna Springs Dr, Suite 130 Elk Grove CA. 

Meet Emily Sanders, Founder of Connect to Change and Winner of Fall 2021 Startup to Success Pitch Competition

Emily Sanders is a survivor of human trafficking and homelessness, and founder of Connect to Change.

December 13, 2021 | When speaking with small business owners, it becomes clear that for many, entrepreneurship starts with a mission. For Emily Sanders, that mission is profoundly personal. Through her nonprofit, Connect to Change, Emily has begun a mission of “Empowering Lives Today for Success Tomorrow!” by connecting women experiencing homelessness who have become victims of human trafficking on the street to the resources and support they need to escape abusive situations and build fulfilling lives.  

As a survivor of homelessness and human trafficking, Emily knows how pressing the threat of both is in the Sacramento area. “Sex trafficking and homelessness are serious issues. In fact, Sacramento is a hot spot according to detectives, KCRA3 reports,” she explains. “I have a profound passion for helping these women in need as I understand what they are currently up against.”



Last week, Emily graduated from the 16-week Startup to Success Generator Series offered by business consultant Natasha Palumbo via the California Capital Women’s Business Center (WBC). Over the course of the program, she worked with a cohort of other early-stage entrepreneurs to gain in-depth knowledge of how to create a workable business plan, prepare financial projections, and successfully pitch Connect to Change to possible funding sources. The course culminated in a friendly pitch competition, during which all participants pitched their businesses to a panel of judges made up of WBC consultants and local small business advocates. Emily was named the winner of the competition, with the judges commenting on her impressive preparation, knowledge of the industry, and personal dedication to the endeavor.



While she is in the process of establishing the business  foundation of Connect to Change, Emily has begun to network with the populations she ultimately hopes to reach with her services. She is beginning with outreach events to build relationships within these communities, and express to women in crisis the options that are available to them. 

 “Baby steps will lead to big leaps,” she says, expressing her ambition to someday offer comprehensive services within Connect to Change. As she grows, she hopes to offer housing programs and safe houses, and become the main resource center that women can depend on as a way out of crisis. 

Emily’s accomplishment and vision for Connect to Change are proof that entrepreneurship is about much more than just offering a product or service–it is about hope.

“It’s made me more resilient”: Maestro Coffee House Owner Antronette Robinson Says Being a Veteran Is Key to Her Business Success

Antronette Robinson opened Maestro Coffee House in Natomas in July, 2019.

November 5, 2021 | Antronette Robsinson’s life has taken her down many paths: she is a Veteran of the United States Armed Forces, and a Registered Nurse serving as the Nurse Service Chief of Community Care with the Veteran Administration Health Care System. Most recently, she has taken on the role of entrepreneur, running Maestro Coffee House in Natomas while maintaining her full time job. In many ways, says Antronette, her training in the Army prepared her for the particular challenges of entrepreneurship.  

Antronette began her career in nursing in 1994 as a Licensed Vocational Nurse, going on to obtain her Registered Nurse license and serve as a critical care nurse in the Army for 12 years. After an honorable discharge, Antronette went on to work with the Veteran Administration Health Care System in Community Care. “Being a platoon leader in the military overseeing over 500 soldiers, in addition to the leadership classes they required, prepared me for management on the civilian side of things,” Antronette says, explaining her current role as the Nurse Service Chief, where she manages over 150 employees.

Working Towards Entrepreneurship

It took time, however, for the idea of business ownership to enter into Antronette’s plans. Around 2018, she visited the business of a friend from church, a coffee shop named Maestro Coffee House. After talking to her about what owning a coffee shop was like, she began her own research. 

“That’s when the wheel started turning and I thought, ‘I could totally do this’,” explains Antronette. “I decided I would open up a business that could give back to the community, something that I would love to keep and pass down to my kids as a family-owned business.”  

Building on her love of tea and coffee, owning a coffee shop felt like a natural choice. After visiting numerous local coffee shops, networking with other cafe owners, and completing barista training courses, the opportunity to enter the arena presented itself. When the owner of Maestro Coffee House closed her business, Antronette worked with the property owner to start a new lease, and opened her revamped Maestro Coffee House in July of 2019. She decided to keep the name that two previous owners had used for the business, building on the established reputation. With this opening under new ownership, Maestro Coffee House became the only non-franchised and black-owned coffee shop in the immediate area.

Army Training Informs Business Journey 

Antronette became certified as a Service-Disabled Veteran business owner, and through the entirety of her business journey, she has returned to her training in the Army for guidance. 

“I attribute my confidence as a business owner to the leadership courses I took during my time in the military, and my abilities as

Antronette served as a critical care nurse in the US Army for 12 years.

a manager to my experience as a platoon leader,” she explains, adding that her time in the Army also made her more resilient and determined as a business owner, equipping her to think outside the box. 

Thinking outside the box has certainly been necessary during Maestro Coffee House’s first two years in operation, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit just a few months in. While working full-time at the Veteran Administration, Antronette pivoted her cafe operations to be covid-safe. She added curbside pickup options and began selling via food delivery apps like DoorDash and Grubhub. Working with California Capital business consultant Danielle Marshall–a fellow veteran and entrepreneur, who Antronette met at the cafe and connected with immediately–Antronette has successfully pivoted and stayed up to date on the resources available to help businesses succeed during Covid-19.

Well-Deserved Recognition

Reflecting on the early days of the pandemic, Antronette says that she is glad that she kept her full-time job. Despite the long hours and competing priorities, having extra income was crucial to Maestro Coffee House staying afloat. 

“My income from the VA helped me to continue to pay my employees [at Maestro],” she explains. “I did not want to lay anyone off. Using my income from nursing to supplement business costs, I was able to keep everyone employed.” 

Antronette with California Governor Gavin Newsom outside Maestro Coffee House in January 2021.

This dedication to her staff did not go unnoticed. Maestro Coffee House was visited by California Governor Gavin Newsom in January of 2021 to highlight the importance of the proposed provisions in the State of California budget that ultimately established the California Relief Grant. Joined by Danielle Marshall, Antronette shared her perspective on what challenges small business owners face, and services that the State could offer to address them. Following this visit, Maestro Coffee House was also featured on KCRA 3 News for a piece discussing Governor Newsom’s initiative.

Connecting with Community

Looking ahead, Antronette and her team are eager to continue growing her business, and, while being mindful of covid-19 safety restrictions, looks forward to partnering with local groups to host events that uplift the community. Before the pandemic, Maestro Coffee House hosted art showcases for local high schools, and rented out their space to churches and other community groups. These types of events are key to Antronette’s vision for a business that functions as a hub for community networking, and are a great opportunity to show the youth what type of success is possible with the right mindset.  

Overall, Antronette says that her staff, her daughters, and the customers that have become regulars at the cafe are the highlights of her business journey. “I’m really blessed to be loved by my family and work family,” she says. “They’ve all taken ownership. You can’t ask for anything more than for employees to do that–that’s hard to come by.”

ICYMI: Small Business Success Series 2021 Highlights and Small Business Award Winners

October 29, 2021 | The California Capital Women’s Business Center’s second annual Small Business Success Series wrapped up today with the Small Business Awards & Recognition Ceremony. The series featured five days of business celebration, advice, and friendly competition. If you weren’t able to attend, check out the highlights below, and get excited for next year.

Monday 10/25: Get to Know Your Women’s Business Center Team

During this hour-long session, the counseling, program, and communications staff of the California Capital Women’s Business Center (WBC) introduced themselves and shared their “Top 5” tips and words of encouragement for entrepreneurs. 

Recurring themes included the importance of resilience, networking, and making use of free resources and services offered by California Capital FDC and other business development groups. To become a WBC client, click here


Tuesday 10/26: Small Business Owner Panel

The Small Business Panel featured entrepreneurs from a variety of industries in conversation with moderator and WBC business consultant Danielle Marshall. Panelists discussed their reasons for getting into business in their particular industries, the challenges they have overcome during the covid-19 pandemic, tips for keeping customers engaged, and their advice for aspiring business owners. Key takeaways included the importance of networking, the constant redefinition of “success”, and how large accomplishments can result from momentary failures. 

Click here to view the full panel


Wednesday 10/27: Pitch Competition Winners Announced 

The 2021 WBC Pitch Competition wrapped up on Wednesday, with five finalists selected for prizes ranging from $100 to $1000. The winners were: 

To learn more about each winner and tips for a successful pitch, watch the recorded session here.


Thursday 10/28: WBC Virtual Marketplace

The WBC Virtual Marketplace allowed small business owners to showcase their products and/or services to buyers and procurement specialists from boutique retailer Marshall Retail Group (MRG) and the Sacramento International Airport (SMF). 

The Virtual Marketplace featured six vendors, who are currently being highlighted on the California Capital website, (click here to view and get a head start on your holiday shopping!) and a live session during which representatives from MRG and SMF shared about upcoming opportunities and the process of doing business with them. 

View the full session here


Friday 10/29: Small Business Awards & Recognition 

The Small Business Awards & Recognition Ceremony capped off the week of celebrating the resilience and success of California’s small businesses. The title of Small Business of the Year was given to businesses across eight categories. Join us in congratulating the winners of the 2021 Small Business Awards! Click here to view the full awards ceremony.


Start-Up/Entrepreneur of the Year: Clutch

Founders: Anne Descalzo and Rachel Zillner
About: Clutch provides event management, project coordination, and staff management services. They connect organizations to the resources they need to achieve their goals including staffing, strategies, business services, and project management.


Community Engagement Business of the Year: Kaplan Solutions, Inc 

Founders: Glenn and Jill Kaplan
About: A small business focused on international trade and chemical distribution and expanded with the help of PTAC as an SB Vendor supplying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sanitizers, and disinfectants to State Agencies.

Small Business Community Impact Award: Resilient Families 

Founder: Jillian Van Ness

About: Resilient Families connects new and growing families through classes and discussion groups—outdoors and on Zoom—through touch, sound, and movement.


Small Business Expansion of the Year: Wear Your Love 

Founder: Jillian Lotz

About: Wear Your Love sells custom made wedding dresses all over the world via the internet. Each dress is made to order based on each bride’s measurements. Their gross sales grew significantly from $10,000 in 2015 to $550,000 in 2020. 


Veteran Owned Small Business of the Year: Words Unite Bookstore 

Founder: Ashley Booker-Knight 

About: Ashley Booker-Knight is a US Army Veteran and bestselling author. Words Unite Bookstore It is a traveling bookstore that operates as a pop-up bookstore that presents signed copies of books written by independent authors. She partners with AAFES Military Exchange to operate pop-ups.

Sustainable Small Business of the Year: All Events & Management Group

Founder: Lisa Montes

About: Formed to specifically benefit service, non-profit and local organizations that are community oriented. They pivoted during the pandemic to offer covid-safe events and support community organizations. 


Small Business Innovator of the Year: Kalbinur Tursunjan, owner of Deluxe Limousines LLC.

About: Kalbinur Tursunjan began working as a limousine driver, and at just was 22 years old, in March 2016 she took over ownership of Deluxe Limousines LLC from the previous owner. In that time, she has grown the business from one to four vehicles.  

Women’s Business Center Business of the Year: Connect Consulting Services 

Founder: Nora O’Brien

About: CCS consults with businesses to help them launch or enhance an emergency management program. They take a holistic approach to emergency management, business continuity and disaster recovery for organizations, businesses and government agencies.


National Women’s Small Business Month Highlights The Unique Challenges and Achievements of Women-Owned Businesses

October 15, 2021 | October is National Women’s Small Business Month, dedicated to celebrating the progress made each year by women entrepreneurs and business owners while also reflecting on the particular barriers to success they face.

Megan Wyatt opened Wit and Whimsy Toys in Granite Bay, CA in November of 2020.

A woman-owned business is defined as an enterprise that is at least 51% owned and operated by one or more women. As national priorities have shifted in recent decades to create resources encouraging women to pursue business ownership, the impact of women-owned businesses on the American economy has steadily grown.

As of 2019, there were 13 million women business owners in the United States, up more than 31 times from 1972, when federal law still required male cosigners for women to take out business loans. In 2018 alone, woman-owned firms added nearly $1.8 trillion in, “sales, shipments, receipts or revenue,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau Annual Business Survey for that year.


Constance Agee is the founder and owner of Agee Fashion Institute and a California Capital client.

Despite these gains, women in business continue to face unique challenges. Multiple reports cite that women business owners have a more difficult time accessing capital, and often set less ambitious goals for their business during the start-up phase compared to their male counterparts. To address these obstacles, the U.S. Small Small Business Administration (SBA) established the Women’s Business Center Program in 1988, designed to provide women with the resources and guidance to thrive in the world of business. Now, more than 100 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) have been created across the U.S., with the California Capital WBC being designated in 2012. As business development resources increase in scope and the barriers to success for historically underserved groups are challenged, a more diverse and resilient business ecosystem is emerging.

As the stories shared during National Women’s Small Business Month reflect, women-owned businesses continue to strive for excellence and push themselves to new heights, uplifting their communities in the process. Businesses like Agee Fashion Institute, who create pathways to entrepreneurship for women interested soft product manufacturing; entrepreneurs like Allison Carlson, who leveraged resources to continue operating despite the pandemic; and founders like Megan Wyatt, who has turned her dream of owning a toy store into a business that quickly became a community staple. When education, guidance, and capital are made accessible to tenacious and capable women determined to achieve business success, the country as a whole benefits. 


Overcoming the Four Barriers Blocking Women Entrepreneurs, a SCORE webinar

35 Woman-Owned Business Statistics You Need to Know in 2021, Great Business Schools.Org 

How to Get Certified as a Women-Owned Business, US Chamber of Commerce

Association of Women’s Business Centers Annual Meeting: California Capital Business Counselor Charles Thomas Wins Advisor of the Year, WBC Director Sophia Kanaan Joins National Board of Directors

September 16, 2021 | Yesterday morning marked two significant achievements for the California Capital Women’s Business Center (WBC). During the annual meeting of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, Sophia Kanaan, Director of California Capital’s WBC, was inducted into the association’s Board of Directors, and Charles Thomas was announced as the winner of the Advisor of the Year award.

Sophia holds a Masters in Public Policy from McGeorge School of Law.

The Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC) is the leading non-profit that sustains the national network of Women’sBusiness Centers, bringing together more than 100 WBCs across the country. As a newly inaugurated board member, Sophia joins not only the largest, but the most diverse Board of Directors in the organization’s history. This new position will allow Sophia to build on her passion for connecting small businesses and entrepreneurs with the resources and mentorship crucial to their success, and to take her leadership to the national level.

Charles Thomas began working at California Capital in February of 2015.

Charles Thomas was named as the 2021 Advisor of the Year for his years of work helping hundreds of entrepreneurs and small businesses at various levels of maturity to achieve and surpass their goals. In her nomination statement, Sophia Kanaan noted that Charles’s determined service to his clients is grounded in his philosophy of the Three Ps: positivity, purposeful action, and paying it forward. Charles first began peer-to-peer mentorship as a teenager, volunteering as a peer counselor for elementary and middle school students in under-resourced communities, and has maintained his mission to uplift individuals from all walks of life. Eight other highly impactful business advisors were nominated from across the country, which speaks to the depth of expertise represented in the organizations that comprise the AWBC. 

The accolades received, as well as our accomplishments and commitment to small businesses are a testament to our WBC Director, Sophia Kanaan and her leadership,” says Deborah Lowe Muramoto, President and CEO of California Capital. “We just celebrated her sixth anniversary with California Capital, and I am so proud to congratulate her.” 

 “And, a very well deserved congratulations to Charles Thomas, our WBC Business Counselor,” Deborah continues.  “Thank you Charles for your true commitment to helping small businesses turn their dream of business ownership into a reality.” 

These achievements are a testament to the commitment that the California Capital WBC team makes on a daily basis to continue providing excellent guidance and service to California’s ambitious and hard-working small business community. 

Congratulations, Sophia and Charles!

California Capital PTAC Counselors Earn Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Training Certifications

September 8, 2021 | In a show of continued dedication to serving small businesses across the state with the highest quality technical assistance available, the California Capital PTAC has expanded its capability by certifying two of its counselors as trainers for the SBA-powered Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. As SBIR/STTR trainers, Alex McCracken and Ralph “Skip” Masters are now positioned to lead California Capital clients towards unique opportunities for business growth. 

     The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are highly competitive programs that encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) with the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR and STTR enable small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide the incentive to profit from its commercialization. By including qualified small businesses in the nation’s R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated, and the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs.

     Central to the STTR program is the partnership between small businesses and nonprofit research institutions. The STTR program requires the small business to formally collaborate with a research institution in Phase I and Phase II. STTR’s most important role is to bridge the gap between performance of basic science and commercialization of resulting innovations. This expansion of our capabilities position the California Capital PTAC as a resource for organizations who are interested in navigating the intricacies of either the SBIR and/or STTR programs.

     “This accomplishment increases our ability as a team to respond to the needs of the PTAC clients and to train other team members as needed,” explained PTAC Director Ivor Newman, adding that SBIR/STTR Webinars will be added to the list of recurring PTAC Webinars

     To explore the SBIR/STTR programs, register with the California Capital PTAC  or stay tuned for virtual classes on the SBIR and STTR programs.

Ralph”Skip” Masters has worked with California Capital since 2019.

Alex McCracken joined the PTAC team in February of 2021.

With Support of Women’s Business Center, Megan Wyatt Built the Toy Shop of Her Dreams

For Megan Wyatt, owning and operating Wit & Whimsy Toys in Granite Bay, California has been a dream come true. Her first job was at a toy store when she was 16, and in the four years that she worked there, one of her major life goals was solidified: own and operate her own toy shop. Despite the hectic seasons–and the 12-hour shifts during the holidays–Megan never questioned her belief that it was the best job there is. For years, life circumstances and other career pursuits stood between Megan and business ownership. But a job loss at the beginning of 2020 caused her to reevaluate her path, and she turned to the Women’s Business Center (WBC) to figure out what it would take to make her dreams a reality. 

“I was lost for a little bit at the beginning of 2020,” explains Megan, who had previously been working as the marketing coordinator at an environmental firm. “But some friends own a store in a shopping center, and kept saying how great it would be if a toy store opened in the vacant spot next door.” 

Megan Wyatt founded Wit & Whimsy Toys in 2020, carrying out a longtime dream of business ownership.


Usually, Megan would answer the friendly encouragement with vague apprehension. “My response was always ‘maybe one day, maybe after I do xy or z’,” she says. “But every excuse I gave, they had a work around!” The possibility of starting a shop that focused on high-quality, educational toys, gadgets, and games for customers of all ages began coming into clearer focus. 



Eventually, after receiving a recommendation from a friend to work with California Capital to explore the first steps of opening a business, Megan contacted the WBC and was connected with a business counselor. She began working with Charles Thomas, who has helped hundreds of clients across industries start or grow businesses. 

“[Charles] really went to bat for me,” says Megan. “He was instrumental in helping me create a business plan, and helping me determine what to consider to begin the process. I had no idea where to start.” 

Wit & Whimsy Toys opened their storefront in Granite Bay, CA, in November of 2020.

This was in July of 2020, and there was much to do. But working with Charles, as well as WBC Business Consultant Danielle Marshall, Megan spent the summer and early fall nailing down her business plan, learning cash flow analysis, and negotiating a lease for the storefront next to her friend’s shop. Early on in her entrepreneurial journey, Megan made the decision to “bootstrap” the business, meaning she would build it up without taking out loans or securing outside funding. Through personal investments, she and her husband were able to secure a storefront and build up their inventory for a grand opening at the beginning of the holiday buying season. 

They opened the week before Thanksgiving of 2020, and their customer base caught on quickly. “I think our biggest accomplishment so far is the customer base we have built. I was really surprised by our sales last Christmas, despite only having been open for six weeks,” Megan says, reflecting on the last nine months. 



Continuing to work entirely off of revenue and personal investments, Megan and her husband have doubled the inventory of Wit & Whimsy Toys, and made significant improvements to the store front. The customers notice, Megan asserts, and they continue to be the driving force of the business. 

Wit & Whimsy Toys has doubled their inventory since opening in Fall of 2020.

“We have such a great community of supporters,” she says. “They have helped us partner with Little League teams and local schools for partnerships, and any time they share us on social media, it results in a big new batch of customers.” 

Moving forward, Megan’s immediate goal is to hire new staff. She currently runs the shop 7 days a week with help from her husband, and knows that extra support will be needed entering into the holiday season. Five years down the road, she hopes to be able to upgrade to a storefront with more square footage. 

Little over a year ago, Megan Wyatt began building her business plan from the ground up, taking advantage of the free resources available through the WBC–and thanks to her determination and this strategic partnership, there is now one more small business serving its community.