Author: Lauren Taber

California Capital Clients Gain Contracts With Sacramento International Airport Retailers, Highlighting Opportunities For Other Small Businesses

Two small business owners recently found success after a California Capital matchmaking event that connected them with large retailers at the Sacramento International Airport (SMF). While their stories showcase individual success, they also highlight the ways in which minority-owned small businesses can expand through unique avenues, and the growing breadth of airport-based concessionaire opportunities. 

California Capital clients Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes began talks with international retailers Marshall Retail Group and Travel + Well, respectively, last month. The opportunities each business pursued are part of the Sacramento International Airport’s broader efforts to connect local business owners with airport retailers—an outreach strategy that was reflected in a Small Business Working Group (SBWG) event in February. The virtual event, hosted by California Capital and the Black Small Business Association of California (BSBA), allowed small business owners to meet with representatives from the Sacramento County International Airport and learn about procurement opportunities with airport concessionaires. 

“Through our concessionaires there are many opportunities for small businesses to sell their products,” explains Renata Romero, Airport Economic Development Specialist at the Sacramento International Airport. “We conduct outreach events to reach the small business communities and partner with local agencies to promote our available opportunities.” 

Procurement an Avenue for Expansion

Selling at the Sacramento International Airport was of particular interest to LaQueanya Henry, who founded Sugar Coated Cupcakes with her daughter Mechiala and is focused on contracts with companies or government agencies as a way to expand beyond e-commerce. 

“I have been looking for a storefront for us for a while, so I reached out to [Airport Economic Development Specialist] Andrew Durkee who suggested working with established vendors,” explains Ms. Henry. Mr. Durkee put Sugar Coated Cupcakes in contact with the owner of the Travel + Well kiosk, and once the relationship was established, business followed. “He really went above and beyond facilitating that connection.” 

Similarly, Truthful Kernel co-founder Jon Jew recently expanded his capacity, and was looking for ways to reach more markets with his health-conscious popcorn snacks. Having worked with a California Capital Women’s Business Center business counselor as he built the foundations of his brand, Mr. Jew knew that California Capital would be a valuable resource for leveraging growth.

“California Capital put me in contact with Marshall Retail Group’s local sundries buyer, and everything clicked right away,” explains Mr. Jew. “We’re starting off by selling at their locations at Sacramento International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. Who knows how far this will go?”  

Community-Focused Buying

Facilitating the expansion of small businesses in localities across the country is a key element of Marshall Retail Group’s operations, says Renee Ellis, Local Sundries Buyer. “The Marshall Retail Group prides itself on being part of every community we are given the distinct honor to be part of. We firmly believe in promoting small business in the area and helping them to grow. We currently work with over 300 vendors across the US and in Canada and that list grows everyday,” explains Ms. Ellis, emphasizing that Marshall Retail Group also works with their vendors to expand beyond their community, as they have with Truthful Kernel. 

In many ways, Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes are examples of typical Sacramento entrepreneurs: ambitious, resourceful, and dedicated to the quality of their product, often  leveraging the Sacramento region’s farm-to-fork culture to source local, fresh ingredients. And this homegrown ethos was a perfect fit for SMF. 

“The Sacramento International Airport strives to highlight local businesses in our retail and food and beverage programs. We have been participating in local outreach events in efforts to become more visible to the local community,” explains Ms. Romero, whose team is also currently revamping their website to include resources and guides for businesses interested in selling at the airport.  

Business Opportunities Through Partnerships

A valuable resource in building business connections are events such as the Small Business Working Group, which inform business owners of the opportunities available and put them in touch with the necessary decision-makers. 

“Through these partnerships [with community-based organizations], small businesses become aware of the opportunities and gain insight into the process. With the assistance of the resources provided, small businesses are better prepared and equipped to compete for the available opportunities,” explains Ms. Romero, adding that while many businesses do not think of airports as a viable location for their operation, the traveling public are a dynamic population, and opportunities to sell a variety of products and services will evolve and increase as air travel begins to return to pre-pandemic levels. “From 2022 through 2026 we will be issuing Food & Beverage and Retail Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that will effectively open most of the airport concessionaire spaces to new concepts. Now is a great time for local companies to learn and prepare for doing business with the airport to ensure they are competitive in the upcoming RFP processes.”

With communities across the nation returning to air travel, the express commitment of large entities like the Sacramento International Airport to increase participation of small businesses—and particularly small businesses that hold Airport Concessionaire Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) certifications—will be crucial to elevating small business ecosystems across the nation. By working with organizations like California Capital to complete the ACDBE application and stay up-to-date on RFPs, taking advantage of these evolving opportunities can be a reality.

Vive Cosmetics Brings Authentic Latinx Representation to the Beauty Industry—And With a Loan from California Capital, They’re Expanding Their Impact

May 28, 2021 | When Leslie Valdivia and Joanna Rosario-Rocha started Vive Cosmetics, the beauty industry was overdue for change. What has grown into an acclaimed national brand with a wide range of lip products began as a problem the pair knew they could solve: the need for authentic representation of the diverse Latina and Latinx communities that constitute the make-up industry’s largest consumer demographic. Now, as their influence grows, the founders are using a loan from California Capital’s Lending Center to expand their reach and continue effecting change.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP INSPIRED BY WOMEN

Leslie and Joanna met through their partners—now husbands—, who have been friends since high school. The two became friends, but did not have designs to enter into business together—until  2016,

L-R: Joanna Rosario-Rocha and Leslie Valdivia. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

when Joanna accompanied Leslie to BlogHer, an annual conference for Latina business owners, bloggers, and social media influencers.

“There was a lot of energy around creating digital content and being online at that time,” says Leslie, who was working in social media and attended the conference every year. “There was innovation happening, and Joanna was interested in learning more.”

During a session where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas, the pair shared an “aha moment”. Participants framed their businesses as solutions to problems they had yet to see anyone tackle, and one entrepreneur in particular stood out. She preferred to dress conservatively because of her religious faith, and was frustrated by the lack of options that were both cute and modest.

“At one point she said, ‘Why should I have to compromise?’,” explains Leslie. “That’s when it clicked. Joanna and I looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do something’.”

A NEED FOR BEAUTY CON CULTURA

They immediately began to brainstorm around their shared passions, and quickly landed on make-up: Leslie has been a beauty enthusiast since middle school, and Joanna even had a make-up tutorial channel during the early days of YouTube.

Two models from one of Vive Cosmetics’ first campaigns. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

From there, a vexing question naturally presented itself: Latinx beauty shoppers outspend other demographic groups by nearly 30%, so why was it so difficult to find Latinx representation in the industry? Why aren’t their cultures celebrated authentically?

What Joanna and Leslie saw the more they researched the industry they had supported for so long was a system that relied on stereotypical and narrow depictions of Latinas to make a profit, ignoring the differences in ethnicity, skintone, gender, and shape that exist amongst Latinx beauty aficionados. What’s more, they struggled to find cosmetic or beauty brands that were founded, owned, or operated by Latinx entrepreneurs. It was clear that the industry could do better—Leslie and Joanna were no longer willing to compromise. They would create a brand to speak to and represent the Latinx beauty community as a whole.

VIVE COSMETICS: A LABOR OF LOVE

Joanna and Leslie got to work quickly, researching all elements of what it takes to develop, produce, and sell high quality beauty products. They worked with a California Capital Women’s Business Center Business Counselor to develop a business plan, all while maintaining their full time jobs.

Initially, the learning curve was steep. Neither founder had a background in beauty, retail, or even e-commerce—they were starting from scratch in a $62 billion industry.

“The biggest challenge was finding a manufacturer,” says Leslie. “It’s extremely difficult for small brands to even get a response most of the time, because so much is based on having the right contacts to get traction.”

Eventually, they connected with a manufacturer from New York, and continued to leverage resources

Vive Cosmetics Liquid Lipsticks. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

for business development available in the Sacramento community. They put their business plan into action, and received a start-up loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration via Opening Doors, a Sacramento-based nonprofit. With their first line of product ready, Vive Cosmetics was officially launched in 2017.

BUSINESS AND COMMUNITY: GROWING TOGETHER

Vive Cosmetics launched as an e-Commerce shop with a website and social media presence to live up to its mission of beauty con cultura—and beauty shoppers responded. To this day, the company has not invested in paid advertising or public relations campaigns, but their Instagram profile has grown to have over 40,000 followers—and was even highlighted by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last fall. As a result of this organic online success, Vive Cosmetics has been featured in Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, and “O” The Oprah Magazine, among other national publications.

“We are built for community, by community,” Leslie explains, reflecting the role that social media, and Instagram in particular, has played for them over the past four years. “The way folks have responded to

Vive Cosmetics finds much of the talent they work with via social media. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

what we’ve offered has made us realize that it’s going to work. We’re doing the right thing.”

Vive Cosmetic’s digital presence, which now includes growing YouTube and TikTok profiles, has become central to the brand’s existential project of honoring Latinx communities and building equity in the beauty industry. Followers and online shoppers are able to see lip products modeled by Latinx talent that represents a range of skin tones, body types, and ethnicities, and browse lines that are “created with inclusivity in mind” . Moreover, they are invited to participate in the process of inclusivity.

“We find so many of the models, photographers, and creative directors we work with through Instagram,” Leslie says. “We’ll put a call out to our community when we’re working on a campaign and need talent, and we will get hundreds of people tagging their friends or reaching out themselves.” That’s one way, says Leslie, that Vive is working to increase opportunities for BIPOC beauty professionals on all sides of the industry. “Representation does not just mean on camera or in campaigns.”

NEW PRODUCTS, SAME PURPOSE

Thanks to their quick success since the 2017 launch, Leslie and Joanna were able to pay off the start-up loan. Now, their ever-increasing fan base is eager for new products. But the nature of product-based businesses means that new offerings must be formulated and developed before they can be

Samples from Vive Cosmetics’ Cremosa Matte Lipstick Line. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics. 

sold, so any hopes for expansion would require a good deal of up-front investment. Still, explains Leslie, innovation is crucial.

“Looking at our metrics, we understand that when we launch new products, our customers come back,” she says. “We need to do new things. That will in turn help us grow our revenue and expand the company.”

Luckily, they had stayed in touch with California Capital, often having their Business Counselor review their applications for grants or pitch competitions—so they knew where to look when the company was ready for a larger capital infusion. They worked with California Capital’s Lending Center to apply for a sizable loan, and were approved for the full amount in February of 2021.

“It was a thorough and intense process, which is understandable given the amount we were applying for,” Leslie explains. “We had to create financial projections for the next three years, which was tough in the middle of a pandemic. But when we applied, our sales were growing, so we were confident that it was the right time.”

Collaboration Over Competition

Now, with capital to work with and a clear picture of their financial goals, the founders are busy expanding and planning for the future. Leslie now works for the company full-time, and they are working with a product development consultant who is providing valuable guidance as they create new products and reformulate some of their traditional offerings. They have already launched a new line of tinted lip balms, and collaborated with Brujita Skincare, a Latina-owned skincare company out of Los Angeles, to create a Rosewood Hibiscus Facial Mist.

As they seek to continue innovating their products to meet the changing needs of customers—including a foray into product lines beyond lipstick, and revamping their packaging to make it more sustainable—, synergy with other Latinx beauty companies will remain a priority. Since 2017, they have seen a shift in how many Latinx-owned companies are around, and that has come with different types of representation and different stories being told.

As they seek to uplift the Latinx community as a whole, the focus will be on collaboration rather than competition—staying true to their passion for beauty con cultura.

California Capital Survey Sponsored by T-Mobile, California American Water, Provides Insight on Needs of Small Business Owners Hoping To Do Business with Regulated Public Utilities Companies

May 6, 2021 | When small business owners look to expand their operations, questions of how to access new markets and build a broader customer base arise. A promising option for many, one that can lead to higher revenue and access to a broad business network, is procurement. Procurement is the process through which private companies or government agencies enter into a contract with specialized businesses to acquire goods and/or services. It is how military bases source ingredients for their cafeterias, and how regulated utilities companies hire experts for inspection services and project documentation. Contracts are not always distributed equitably, however, with smaller businesses from marginalized communities often left out of the procurement process.

FOSTERING INCLUSIVE SUPPLY CHAINS

To ensure that these opportunities extend to minority, women, LGBT, and disabled veteran owned businesses, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) instituted a Utility Supplier Diversity Program in 2015 through General Order 156. Through this program, CPUC monitors the diversity of the businesses that utilities contract with, and maintains a public directory of certified diverse businesses for use by utilities companies. Despite a commitment by regulated utilities companies to foster inclusive supply chains, many diverse small businesses still face obstacles.

California Capital FDC is committed to the success of Supplier Diversity Initiatives across the state, and connecting diverse small businesses with the procurement counseling, certification assistance, and training they need to acquire and perform on contracts. With this in mind, with the support of T-Mobile—a regulated telecommunications company—and California Water Association (CWA), California Capital undertook a statewide survey of diverse business owners to determine what barriers to access they experience when looking for procurement opportunities, and how capacity-building services can best respond to those needs.

T-MOBILE’S SUPPLIER DIVERSITY PROGRAM: BUILDING EQUITY

As a regulated public utilities company with their own robust Supplier Diversity Program, T-Mobile’s sponsorship of this survey was a natural fit, and reflects the importance of groups across industries creating equitable opportunities for businesses that traditionally face higher barriers to success.

“We are a part of  T-Mobile’s procurement team which supports the goal of reaching more small and diverse suppliers with opportunities. We meet suppliers, sit on panels, and attend industry events to network with qualified suppliers that are interested in doing business with T-Mobile,” explain Stacie Harwood and Joyce Christanio, Supplier Diversity Program managers reporting to the Director of Supplier Diversity Chi Pak. “We seek opportunities for connection across the enterprise.”

Business owners from population groups in supplier diversity initiatives—including minority, women, disabled veteran, and LGBT business communities—were surveyed over the span of  18 months, from October 2019 to April 2021. Beginning in October 2019, survey responses were collected in person via random sampling of participants at industry events.  From March 2020 onward, as Covid-19 led to event cancellations and social distancing precautions were implemented, responses were collected virtually via Survey Monkey email campaign. The numbers presented below represent data collected virtually from March 2020 to April of 2021.

DATA DRIVES ACTION

The data collected reveals the barriers that exist for diverse business owners hoping to sell their services to public utilities companies, explores the types of training and assistance that would be most effective at crossing those barriers, and addresses differences in demographics—like business maturity and location—that must be considered when responding to business needs.

Respondents were asked to provide basic information about their businesses, such as how many years they had been in business, and in what zip code they operate, and their industry.

19% of the businesses surveyed had been in operation for between 1 to 3 years, while 68% had been in business for more than 5 years. 60% and 30% of respondents were located in Northern California and Southern California, respectively, while only 10% were located in the Central Valley region.

While these data points on their own do not indicate what challenges diverse business owners may experience, they are an important backdrop to the more specific questions, and can inform the actions of public utilities companies and organizations like California Capital when they look to create new opportunities. Of the 396 respondents, only 17% of respondents said that they are currently working with regulated utilities companies, and only 8% have worked with any in the past. 297 respondents—75%—reported that they have not yet worked with any regulated utilities company.

“The challenge for a new business entering the procurement space is precisely that they’re new,” says Ms. Harwood. “Community-based organizations, like California Capital, are a vital tool. They coach  companies to build capability statements and encourage companies to build business traction through networking.”

DIVERSE BUSINESSES, OVERLAPPING OBSTACLES

The challenges that businesses face in taking advantage of procurement opportunities vary, but common themes do arise. Of the 280 survey respondents that shared examples of obstacles they have encountered, many said that a lack of information on bids and available opportunities posed a significant challenge, including information on the bidding process not being open to new vendors and reliance of utility companies upon existing contracts or vendors. Others said that lack of access to decision makers was a concern—and the desire to create relationships with decision makers in order to establish contracts was referenced many times.

“Since finalizing our merger with  Sprint in April 2020, we are integrating the two mature supply chains which entails new processes and supplier rationalization,” explains Ms. Christanio, who joined T-Mobile after 10 years of managing Sprint’s Supplier Diversity Program. “Virtual conferences, matchmaking events, and industry panels are valuable for us to connect  with new diverse and small businesses of all kinds.”

“KNOWLEDGE IS POWER”

Even with robust and dedicated Supplier Diversity programs, the contracting process can be daunting for small businesses like those surveyed (60% of whom have annual revenues of less than $1 million). Outreach initiatives, individualized procurement counseling, and informational programming are essential for demystifying the process.

For example, diverse small businesses hoping to do business with regulated utilities companies can benefit from gaining certifications, such as Minority/Women/Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) and LGBT Business Enterprise certifications that can help them qualify for certain Supplier Diversity program initiatives. Unfortunately, the application process can be difficult to navigate, as they require personal and company tax returns and a laundry list of supporting documents that can be difficult to compile. In these situations, guidance from experienced procurement counselors can be a key to success.

“Knowledge is power,” says Ms. Harwood, reflecting on the ways that educational opportunities provided by community-based organizations like California Capital can lead businesses interested in procurement toward success. “Education is huge, because it helps business owners not only understand technicalities like the contracting process and how to write a capability statement, they also get to speak with folks who know the companies they want to work with and help them research the best opportunities.”

AN INFORMED RESPONSE 

To serve diverse business owners in the most effective way  and connect them to contracting opportunities for which they are qualified candidates, California Capital is using the data collected to create programs that are responsive to the needs of business owners from marginalized communities. 48% of respondents requested training in the areas of business development and marketing; 22% in contract management and compliance; 18% in planning and research; and 25% requested training in growth management, with 31% also reporting that financial services and access to capital would be helpful.

“As an organization that provides training to our small business community in the greater Sacramento area, it is important that our programming meets their specific needs. The survey does just that,” explains SiewYee Lee, California Capital’s Program Development Manager. “The data collected educates California Capital on the type of training that is asked for by diverse businesses that we serve. Access to Capital, Business Development and Marketing, and Planning and Research remain the primary focus of our surveyed business owners, regardless of their maturity level. California Capital is committed to providing a networking platform between diverse businesses and buyers.”

The data collected from the survey will allow California Capital to provide effective, responsive training and matchmaking opportunities for diverse businesses across the state, preparing them for contracting opportunities with private companies like T-Mobile, members of California Water Association and more—and when all stakeholders are actively engaged in building an inclusive small business ecosystem, everyone benefits.

Capital Region Small Business Week Returns in May with Innovated Virtual Setting

April 22, 2021 | Capital Region Small Business Week, the annual event that brings together small business experts from across the Sacramento region, will return in May with two days of webinars and online panels. Sponsored by Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD), the events on May 18th and 19th will take place virtually as restrictions on gatherings related to the Covid-19 pandemic remain in place across the region. 

“We have learned so much about connecting remotely over the past year,” says Sophia Kanaan, Director of California Capital’s Women’s Business Center. “We have taken what Capital Region Small Business Week looked like in the past and revamped the programming to be as safe and accessible as possible, while still creating an engaging and inspiring atmosphere.”

With the goals of engagement and inspiration in mind, the programming has been designed to cater to specific types of business owners: sessions on Day 1 (May 18th) are geared towards start-up businesses and new entrepreneurs, while Day 2 (May 19th) will focus on topics most relevant to established businesses and those that have had to pivot their operations in recent times. 

Innovation For a Changing Business Environment 

While this structure is a departure from years past, the change reflects the evolving needs of small businesses across the Capital Region. Sessions, webinars, and business opportunities offered with specific types of businesses in mind will allow for deep dives into highly relevant topics, and ensure that business owners and entrepreneurs leave with information and connections that will help them thrive. 

“There will be presentations on a wide range of subjects, and our hope is that everyone leaves with tips, or leads, or new business contacts that they can leverage,” explains Ms. Kanaan. “We want to celebrate small businesses, but we also want them to see this as a chance for growth.”

Indeed, the growth of America’s small business ecosystem is celebrated annually across the country. National Small Business Week (NSBW) was first designated in 1963, and is now led by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) each May. While highlighting outstanding entrepreneurs, business owners, and advocates, NSBW also honors the fact that, according to the SBA website, “more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create nearly two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.” Capital Region Small Business Week honors this impact on a local level.

Click here to register for Day 1 of Capital Region Small Business Week, geared towards Entrepreneurs & Start-Ups (May 18).

Click here to register for Day 2 of Capital Region Small Business week, for Existing Businesses (May 19).

Capital Region Small Business Week will include presentations from: SMUD, Sacramento County Business Environmental Resource Center, Internal Revenue Service, California Capital Women’s Business Center (WBC), The City of Elk Grove, CSU Sacramento College of Business, The Truthful Kernel, Small Business Development Center, East West Bank, Marshall Retail Group, California Capital Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Sacramento Employment and Training Agency.

How One Veteran-Owned Barbecue Restaurant Is Looking To Government Contracts As An Expansion Opportunity

Mack Thomas is a father, a Disabled United States Marine Corps Veteran, a Black business owner—and someone who knows good barbecue.

Mack Thomas co-founded MacQue’s Barbecue with his wife, Charlie, in 1986.

In 1986, he and his wife, Charlie, founded MacQue’s Barbecue in Sacramento as a catering business to serve customers across the area smoked meats and sides made from scratch. As a graduate of California State University Sacramento, Mack is passionate about serving his community. Over the past 30 years, The Thomas family have learned the ins and outs of the business and grown MacQue’s Barbecue into a staple of the Sacramento area: in addition to catering, they now boast two restaurant locations, a bottled hot sauce business, and earned the title of “Small Business of the Year” from the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce in February.

Even with this success, The Thomases have had to adapt to the uncertain business environment caused by the pandemic. As agile business owners, they have looked to enter new markets with their product, and California Capital FDC is helping them get there. 

Experience Drives Expansion

Mack and Charlie began selling MacQue’s Barbecue sauces wholesale since the mid-1990s, with a presence in national grocery chains like Sam’s Club and regional outlets like Raley’s. But with the expansion of their restaurant operations—MacQue’s Barbecue opened a second location in Elk Grove, California in August of 2019, adding to their flagship restaurant in Sacramento—the wholesale sauce enterprise was less of a focus. Plus, partnerships with grocery chains proved challenging to maintain. 

“The company’s buyers would change and we no longer had a relationship, so we would get dropped as a client,” reveals Mack, who would spend hours each week sampling sauces at the stores, “or a larger brand would see our success and edge in with a lower price.”

When Covid-19 caused many office workers near both MacQue’s locations to transition to remote work, and the restaurants lost much of their reliable lunchtime clientele, the need for diversification became clear. It was time to find new wholesale opportunities for MacQue’s sauces, and Mack had an idea that felt more promising than relying on grocery chains. 

“I knew there were opportunities to sell to mess halls and commissaries on military bases from my time in the Marine Corps,” Mack says. “So I was interested in government contracts, but I wasn’t sure how to get in.” 

The Promise of Contracting Opportunities

MacQue’s BBQ Hot Sauce can be purchased at both MacQue’s BBQ restaurant locations.

Like many government agencies and operations, mess halls and commissaries—essentially the cafeterias and general stores on military bases—source their products from private business through a fine-tuned procurement process. Businesses must have the proper certifications, know how to search out contracts and bid on them, and ultimately have the capacity to perform on the contracts. 

Contracts can be particularly impactful for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) owned businesses. Data for businesses of color indicate that they are highly concentrated in the retail sector, where sales volume is relatively lower—which can cause disparities in overall business growth. 

Moving from retail into business-to-business or business-to-government sales is a huge opportunity to grow, especially for diverse businesses” explains Clarence Williams, Chairman of California Capital’s Board of Directors. “But it is one of the most difficult things for a business to do.” 

In search of guidance on navigating the procurement process, Mack turned to California Capital’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). Working with a PTAC counselor, Mack has been able to take the first steps to bidding on and securing government contracts. MacQue’s Barbecue has become certified with the Systems for Award Management (SAM), a necessity for any business hoping to sell their goods or services to the Federal Government. With that foundation laid, Mack is now focused on recertifying his Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) status, which will allow him to take advantage of programs that cater specifically to veteran-owned small businesses. 

“The fact that California Capital operates a Procurement Technical Assistance Center is extremely important to the way that our continuum of services is able to help businesses, particularly those owned by people of color, expand and succeed,” explains Clarence. 

Procurement as a Catalyst for Equity 

Seeing more businesses owned by people of color pursue procurement opportunities is reason for hope, says Clarence. Income and revenue inequality for BIPOC-owned businesses in retail spaces is prevalent at national, local, and regional levels. 

When you look at the data, the reality is that small businesses of color are still very small in terms of revenue relative to total sales,” says Clarence. 

Mack Thomas at the original MacQue’s BBQ Stand

As Clarence explains, procurement opportunitieslike those with the Federal Government that MacQue’s BBQ is pursuingare key for addressing that disparity and building equity in the business landscape.

“[Procurement] is an avenue for them to grow their revenue in a way that can be more impactful than retail expansion,” says Clarence, “California Capital’s services are designed to build that capacity for business owners and create more inclusive opportunities for disadvantaged businesses.”

Procurement can be, in many ways, an expansion of business owners’ view of what is possible. When entering into a contract with a government agency, small businesses also gain access to networks that can lead to even more opportunities, and the fortuitous cycle continues. Building the ability of disadvantaged and diverse businesses to pursue and be prepared to take advantage of these opportunities is where the expertise of California Capital’s business counselors lays.

“You Have to Have The Best Opportunities”

Knowing this, Mack and his family are determined to take advantage of procurement opportunities, and use them as an avenue for growth. MacQue’s Barbecue is a true family operation, and with their son Michael Thomas at the helm of the restaurant locations, Mack and his wife Charlie are able to continue envisioning the future of the enterprise. 

“I’ve improved myself,” Mack says, reflecting on his decision to pivot away from traditional wholesale ventures. “I’m being more strategic with the growth opportunities I pursue.” 

MacQue’s journey is proof that even with years of experience in your industry, searching for unique opportunities and continuing to learn is crucial to expand and thrive. With decades of wisdom acquired, Mack has learned to be patient while working towards a goal. 

“You may have the best product, but you have to have the best opportunities,” Mack says. “We have the capability to make great hot sauce, now we’re just building the capacity to get it out there.” 

California Capital Receives Wells Fargo Open For Business Fund Grant, One of Three Regional Recipients

March 25, 2021 | California Capital FDC, Opening Doors, and Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) have received grants as part of the Wells Fargo Open For Business Fund program. The funds awarded to the three Sacramento-area Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are part of Well’s Fargo’s national effort to help small businesses recover and rebuild in the face of the economic effects of COVID-19. California Capital will receive a grant of $500,000.

The Open For Business Fund program is designed to foster an inclusive recovery for U.S. small business, paying special attention to access to capital and technical assistance for diverse businesses from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Many businesses in communities of color have less access to financing and other resources to help them survive.

California Capital seeks to bridge this disparity and reach women, minority, disabled veteran, and LGBT business owners and low to moderate income communities with financial services and technical assistance. The Open For Business Fund program focuses on increasing access to capital through CDFIs, technical assistance, and long-term recovery and resiliency programs. Through a Lending Center, Women’s Business Center, and Procurement Technical Assistance Center, California Capital offers these services to business owners in 28 counties across Northern California.

The Open For Business grant will allow California Capital to continue offering free technical assistance and business counseling, and to reach even more diverse business owners with financial services. With equitable access to these resources, California’s small business community will be empowered to rebuild and economic opportunity will be amplified.

Read the full press release here: Sacramento CDFIs California Capital, Opening Doors and Rural Community Assistance Corp receive $3M from Wells Fargo Open For Business Fund to Help Minority-owned Businesses Recover

Constance Agee Creates Pathways to Entrepreneurship Amid Pandemic

Constance Agee, founder and Executive Director of Agee Fashion Institute, believes that entrepreneurs are the key to bringing sewn products manufacturing back to the United States—but her own entrepreneurial journey began largely out of happenstance.

As an 18-year-old in the United States Air Force needing organizational patches attached to her uniform, Constance was not interested in using the alteration shop on the base. 

“It seemed like a lot of money, and I knew how to sew,” she explains. “So I decided to do it myself.” 

Seizing Opportunities, Creating More

When people began asking how she got her uniforms altered so quickly, the spark of a business idea was ignited. Constance began offering her alteration services, providing competitive prices and marketing by slipping flyers under the doors of the dormitory of others on base. 

While continuing her career in the Air Force working in transportation logistics, Constance gained experience in the sewn products manufacturing industry by volunteering at an Alterations Shop on the Royal Air Force Lakenheath base in Suffolk, England. After completing her Air Force service, Constance returned home to California and started a home-based alterations business contracting with the then-McClellan Air Force Base in North Highlands. She continued to broaden her knowledge base, studying for two years at the Academy of Art in San Francisco in Apparel Manufacturing and completing another two years of school in merchandising. 

Enterprise-Building For Impact

Eventually, a successful contract with the Travis Air Force Base allowed Constance to put her manufacturing training to use. She created and produced a line of activewear, and in search of more information on selling her services to government entities, she discovered California Capital FDC’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). After listening in on a webinar, Constance began working with a PTAC counselor. 

“They really helped pull everything together,” Constance explains. “They went above and beyond.”

Constance’s varied backgroundher knowledge of transportation logistics, art school education in design, technical education in manufacturing, and experience in content creation from years working at Delta Dental in training and developmentultimately led her to establish Agee Fashion Institute (AFI). Combining her background with the technical assistance of California Capital, Constance launched AFI as a vocational institution designed to help its students create and discover career pathways in design and manufacturing. 

In fact, this goal is at the heart of AFI’s unique Education-to-Employment curriculum

“[Education-to-Employment] is the process of developing a pathway for students to be introduced to and discover the technicalities of a particular career field, to then work in that field,” Constance explains. 

Forging Community Connections

At the outset, Constance used AFI as a resource for youth in the Greater Sacramento Area to access unique training and opportunities. Working with the Folsom Cordova Community Partnership, the Met High School, and the Sacramento City Unified School District, AFI conducted outreach and welcomed individuals as young as 12 to programs and internships that introduced them to career pathways that are often underrepresented as options for high school graduates. 

“Everybody’s not ready to go to college at the same time,” Constance says. “But that doesn’t mean that you cannot gain the experiences to succeed.”

AFI students gain training and certifications in vocations such as Fashion Merchandising, Pattern Engineering Skills, Prototype Developer Skills, and Industrial Cutter Skills. Graduates of these programs have found success in different avenues towards employment, including higher education and internships with AFI’s resource partners. 

Collaboration For Expanded Offerings

Two such partners are SynByo Prototyping Guild and AMW Design, which have provided crucial support and access to a makerspace for AFI students. Through these partnerships, AFI was able to add 3-D Printing and Industrial Cutting to their curriculum, and graduates have the opportunity to continue their pursuit of employment in the various fields of sewn products manufacturing.  

“Sewing is a process in itself, and in the context of manufacturing it is often ignored or undervalued,” says Mike Bell, the CEO of Synbyo. 

An advocate of manufacturing overall, Mike looks to the partnership with AFI as a way to create an integrated network of designers and manufacturers that are able to approach production processes holistically.

That’s why Synbyo’s network building takes an interdisciplinary approach, building out a comprehensive Sewn Products Manufacturing training that seeks to empower individuals to develop technological skills—like 3-D printing, laser cutting, and Computer-Aided Designthat can ultimately be translated into an enterprise in a number of product sectors. 

With these partnerships, a continued relationship with California Capital FDC, and an ethic for empowering community members to create their futures, Constance was positioned to respond to the unique needs of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

After setting up a Sewing Lab at Synbyo’s Makerspace and working with California Capital’s Women’s Business Center, Constance offered a Sewn Products Training course featuring a hybrid model with virtual instruction on manufacturing and in-person technical training. The first Sewn Products Training was held during the Fall of 2020, and proved to be a successful pilot of the program. 

Constance knows that soft product manufacturing is a huge opportunity for empowerment in underserved communities. While the pilot of the Sewn Products Training focused primarily on the production of PPE masks, the ultimate goal is to bring soft product manufacturing back to the United States. Students are trained to use their home sewing machines to create prototypes and also have the opportunity to access industrial training in areas such as pattern engineering and CNC cutting. 

“It really solidified for me that this is a viable option for people,” Constance says. “Students were receptive of what they wanted to do. Suddenly they were able to say, ‘This is something I’ve thought about for a long time, and now this whole dream of mine is coming true.’”

Many of the students were women from underserved communities, who have historically lacked access to capacity-building opportunitiesincluding the technical assistance and capital needed to start an enterprise of their own. Funding their businesses is a challenge, but can be leveraged as an opportunity to connect with community development financial institutions like California Capital. 

“The minimum they need is a sewing machine,” Constance says. “When they expand, they may require some other funding.”

Creating Pathways to Entrepreneurship

This desire for opportunity is one that is echoed across different communities Constance has spoken with. With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing many women back into the home, the chance to operate an enterprise safely from their homeespecially one with the possibility of expansion like soft product manufacturingis empowering. Several students from the first Sewn Products Training went on to assist as instructors in subsequent series offerings, and many have other aspirations for applying their new skillset. 

I took the training initially to learn how to sew but I was quickly introduced to such a vast wealth of knowledge about the Sewn Product Industry that I decided to stay longer and keep with it,” says Pachia Vang, the Business Navigator of Hmong Youth and Parents United Covid-19 Collaborative. 

“Moving forward I hope to use the skills I learned to operate my very own small business and start a blog to experiment with new ways of making Hmong textiles.” 

Dedicated to Sustainable Success

Constance and AFI have been a resource to students unduly impacted by the pandemic, too—students like Nusheen Baig, whose studies at the Fashion Institute of New York were upended in the spring of 2020.

Nusheen began studying at AFI when she was 16, building a portfolio for her art school application. Going through AFI’s fashion program and engaging Constance as a mentor created a pathway for Nusheen to pursue fashion school in New York, a supplementary program in Italy, and a practicum with Levi Strauss & Co jeans.

“She’s always treated me as an equal and expected a lot out of me,” explains Nusheen.

“But that is because she’s doing everything she can to make sure I can succeed.”

Indeed, AFI’s commitment to its students’ sustainable success became clear when Nusheen’s studies at FIT were ended prematurely due to Covid-19 restrictions. She returned to Sacramento, and because her working relationship with Constance had remained strong, she found a role at AFI. As returning to New York to finish school became less likely for Nusheen, Constance worked with FIT to create an accredited internship through AFI that will allow Nusheen to complete all of her credits and graduate on time with the degree she has been working towards for years. 

Designing An Innovative Sewn Products Sector 

When discussing her work, Constance readily offers the statistic that sewn products make up 90% of our lives. A sewn product is anything that requires stitching, both soft products and hard, both retail and industrial. With this in mind, it is clear that manufacturing an array of soft sewn products can lead to plentiful opportunities for aspiring designers and entrepreneurs—all they need is the training.

California Capital’s Chief Lending Officer Interviewed on “Your California Life”

Judy Fletcher, California Capital FDC’s Chief Lending Officer, was interviewed on the ABC 10 program Your California Life on Friday, February 26. Judy spoke with host Aubrey Aquino about how California Capital has helped businesses adapt to the economic impacts of Covid-19, and provided insight on what options are available to small business owners looking for access to capital and technical assistance. Watch the full interview below.

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