Author: Lauren Taber

Sacramento Barber Ronald Burt Brought His Vision to Life with Funding and Business Assistance from California Capital

For Ronald Burt, owner of The Lux Barber Lounge, styling services are not just another fact of life–they’re an opportunity to feel your best. At his Midtown, Sacramento location, Ron provides his clients with barber and styling services designed to make them feel pampered and refreshed. Before launching The Lux Barber Lounge, Burt worked with Women’s Business Center business counselor, Prashante Bailey-Lewis. After meeting at a networking event through the WBC’s Motivated Entrepreneurs program, Bailey-Lewis helped Burt fine-tune his business plan and create financial projections to apply for funding through the California Capital Lending Center.  

After completing barber school in New York, Burt returned to his home state of California ready to expand his operation. “I’m passionate about looking fresh and making people feel good, so it just made sense to make it a career,” Burt says, reflecting on being inspired by his cousins in the industry. After completing school, Burt rented stations at various shops, but after relocating to Sacramento in 2021 to be closer to family, he knew that the growing Midtown grid held promise for living out his dream.  


To bring his vision of a high-end barber shop in a prime location to life, Burt knew that he would need to get a business loan. When he heard about the WBC’s Motivated Entrepreneurs meet-up that focused on how to access business funding, he almost did not attend–he had gone to similar events and had never been connected with the right resources.  

But through Motivated Entrepreneurs, Burt learned about the holistic approach of California Capital’s no-cost services–which can take entrepreneurs from addressing business obstacles with a counselor to applying for funding from the in-house Lending Center–and he decided to begin working with WBC business counselor, Prashante Bailey-Lewis to prepare his loan application. 


“Prashante told me she had experience in the beauty industry, so it was kind of a perfect match in terms of mentoring and counseling,” explains Burt. “I had a business plan, but she helped me tweak it, make it better, and also write financial projections.”

 With this guidance, Burt put together a comprehensive loan application and was approved for funding in late 2023. Burt used the funding to secure a lease in the heart of Midtown, Sacramento and purchase state of the art equipment to complete the build-out. Burt celebrated the grand opening of The Lux Barber Lounge in November of 2023, and was also named a finalist of the Motivated Entrepreneurs Small Business Showcase pitch competition. By connecting to resources and a team of experts that believe in his vision, Ron Burt is raising the bar styling services available in Sacramento.  

Sacramento Valley SBDC Partners with Yuba County to Launch Business Start-Up Program

Marysville, CA | Small businesses now have the opportunity to take part in free entrepreneurial education – and a chance at $10,000 – through a new startup program from Yuba County and SBDC. This week, Yuba County opened applications for Yes to Start Ups, a business incubator program established in partnership with Sacramento Valley Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The program is a free, online training series that offers fundamental business education, resources, and technical assistance to entrepreneurs starting or growing new businesses in Yuba County. The series will culminate in a pitch competition where participants will receive start-up funding grants of up to $10,000. Applications are available on and are accepted until January 14. To participate in the program, legal business entities must be registered or plan to register in Yuba County. The 6-week series will take place virtually on Tuesdays, Jan 30 through March 5, 2024.

“Yuba County is a great place to start a business,” says Rachel Downs, Business Engagement Manager with Yes to Yuba. “We have strong communities that love to shop small and support the local economy, and we’re proud to create new opportunities for the area’s entrepreneurs to thrive.”

The series will be taught by a business advisor from Sacramento Valley SBDC, a business development nonprofit that serves Yuba County businesses with no-cost advising and education. The six-week training will focus on writing a business plan—including financial projections, market research, and pitching to funders—and will prepare participants for the pitch competition.

“This program provides an innovative way for entrepreneurs to grow their business and help them to develop a winning pitch to access funding.,” explains SiewYee Lee-Alix, Director of Sacramento Valley SBDC. “We are looking forward to watch business owners pursue their dreams and to continue supporting them.”

Through the capstone pitch competition, the entrepreneurs who complete the educational portion of the program will have the opportunity to receive start-up funding. This increase in access to funding is another significant step towards elevating Yuba County as a location where businesses can start, grow, and thrive.

Through California Capital partnership, City of Lodi expands funding opportunities for local businesses

Today, the City of Lodi Economic Development Department launches its partnership with Sacramento-based nonprofit California Capital Financial Development Corporation (FDC) to create a new loan program for small businesses and entrepreneurs in the City of Lodi. Through the Hometown Microloan Program, low-interest loans of up to $50,000 will be available to Lodi-based businesses with 10 or fewer employees.

“This new source of lending offered by the Lodi City Council is intended to provide a path forward to greater economic growth for startups and small businesses based in Lodi who have experienced hardships in obtaining capital,” explains Astria Trupovnieks, City of Lodi Business Development Manager. Trupovnieks developed the microloan program over a 12-month period in consultation with lending institutions in Lodi, regional nonprofit microlenders and community development nonprofits.

While any businesses who fit the borrowing criteria may apply, these loans are particularly designed to reach first-time borrowers and low-income, minority, veteran, and women-owned businesses. The partnership with California Capital FDC, a mission-based lender that provides loans to businesses who have been denied funding from traditional sources, will be instrumental in providing long-term financing support for Lodi’s growing businesses.

“California Capital provides complimentary business advising as part of the loan application process, ensuring that the applicants are prepared to manage their business and finances effectively,” explains Robert Gonzales, Director of Lending at California Capital, adding that business owners also will have access to ongoing no-cost advising after receiving a loan.

To add to the mission-based approach of the program, the loans will have a fixed interest rate of 5%, which is far below the current prime market rate. These favorable terms are made possible by the City of Lodi who will buying down the interest rate from 9.75 percent in addition to paying all loan fees. Leaders from both entities are optimistic, says Trupovnieks. “Plans are already underway to expand funding for the program to increase the number of businesses assisted in the future.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the Hometown Microloan Program is invited to visit or

With a loan from California Capital, Edwin Balli is Transforming Rio Pub into a Community Hub

Edwin Balli isn’t new to business ownership—but with the purchase of Rio Pub in Rio Linda, California, he is taking on restaurant ownership for the first time. This year, Balli worked with Sacramento Valley SBDC and the California Capital Lending Center to enter the restaurant business and relaunch Rio Pub as a neighborhood institution.   

With a background in the tech industry, Balli launched his first business building custom computers and point-of-sale systems for small businesses with a college friend in 2012. From there, working as a business systems analyst for firms like LinkedIn and Facebook, Balli refined his skills of keeping a business running, so that by November of 2022 when he was ready for a pivot away from Silicon Valley, he was prepared to step back into business ownership.  

Knowing that he did not want to start a new enterprise from scratch, Balli worked with a broker to search for turnkey businesses on the market to buy. His one stipulation: he was not looking for businesses in the restaurant industry. “Then Rio Pub came up,” Balli says, laughing. “We came to see it and instantly fell in love with the neighborly vibe and the friendly people.”

Tapping Into Resources

Balli instantly envisioned the ways that he could revamp the space—he was sold, and he was looking to buy. To prepare to make an offer and enter unfamiliar business terrain, Balli worked with Panda Morgan, a business advisor with Sacramento Valley SBDC, a program of California Capital FDC.   “I had built business plans for start-ups, but never for an existing business,” he says, explaining that different considerations in the formatting and growth projections. “Working with Panda is what helped me realizing that [the business] was viable.”  


After working out what his purchase offer would be and the capital infusion he would need to make it possible, Balli was referred to the California Capital Lending Center to apply for a loan. Without restaurant industry experience, Balli had a hard time finding funding opportunities from traditional lenders—but as a mission-based lender, California Capital was able to take a holistic approach and consider Balli’s business experience and detailed business plan. Ultimately, Balli was approved for funding and celebrated the grand re-opening of Rio Pub in October of 2023. Continuing to work with his business advisor, Balli is honing his skills in accounting, managing inventory, and is applying his business analyst background to assess his progress and plan for growth.  

Creating a Community Hot Spot

Since opening, Balli has worked hard to build trust in the local community and establish a steady clientele base. “I want to get the ‘new owner, new mentality’ message to the community,” explains Balli. “We’re hosting events and making the space more family-friendly. The first thing I bought when I got the place was an arcade machine.” 

To be sure, Balli is well on his way to hosting events every night of the week: their current calendar boasts brunch on Sundays, Taco Tuesdays, Trivia Wednesdays and Karaoke Thursdays. Another local business, D-Dub’s Grubs, rents the kitchen space and serves up innovative and indulgent eats for the pub’s customers.  The consistency is paying off, says Balli. “My goal is to pub Rio Pub on the map beyond Rio Linda and get clients from areas like Natomas, Antelope, and Elverta.  I’m getting feedback from bartenders that they’re seeing new faces.”   

With a clear vision and the skills, expert advisors, and community buy-in to make it a reality, Edwin Balli is well on his way to making Rio Pub a destination for family-friendly fun.

Meet the finalists of the Small Business Showcase Pitch Competition!

Next month, the Women’s Business Center will host the Final Round of their Small Business Showcase Pitch Competition, the capstone event of their Motivated Entrepreneurs networking program. Five entrepreneurs will present their business pitches at the free event, and the top three will receive cash prizes. The competing business owners were selected after completing the first round of the Small Business Showcase in November, where 13 total businesses presented for the chance to pitch at the larger event. 

Preparing for a pitch competition is an impressive feat: the businesses owners you’ll meet below worked hard to finalize their business plans and translate that into a succinct, 3-minute presentation that demonstrates who they are, knowledge of their industry, and how their business solves a problem in that market.

The Final Round will take place on Tuesday, December 12 from 5pm-8pm at 1442 on the Blvd. We hope you’ll join us to cheer on the finalists, learn what it takes to effectively pitch a business, and network with local small business champions.

In the meantime, let's meet the businesses who will pitch at The Final Round!

Itacate, founded by Martha y. Díaz

After falling in love with backpacking and realizing that options for Latin-inspired meals in the back country were limited, Martha Y. Díaz created Itacate – a Latin backpacking food company for adventurers with great taste and strong values.

DRVA Emergency Rescue, Founded by Taneika Jones

Taneika Jones is squashing any and all stereotypes of women in the automotive industry with her company, DRVA – a certified green, woman owned and operated Emergency Roadside business dedicated to rescuing stranded motorists experiencing roadside emergencies. 

The Lux Barber Lounge, Founded by Ron Burt

Ron Burt, proud founder of The Lux Lounge, has over 10+ years of barber experience and is dedicated to helping clients look and feel their absolute best. 

TAP Wine Lounge, Founded by Cynthia Dees Brooks

With her love for food, wine, art, music, & community, Cynthia Dees Brooks opened up the The Artisan Pour (TAP) Wine Lounge where guests live in the moment and enjoy luxury wines from Black-Owned wineries 

Best In Tents, Founded by John Miller and Seth Abbott

John Miller used his passion for nature and live music to create Best in Tents with his business partner, Seth Abbott – luxury camping with full power accommodations at music festivals along the west coast. 

We hope you’ll join us on December 12th to hear more from these inspiring, visionary entrepreneurs!

Like we said, preparing for a pitch competition is no easy feat. Let's meet all of the participants from Round 1 who are working hard on their businesses!

Bahiya Spaulding, Founder of Rock Your Crown Beauty

Specialized products and support services for women of color experiencing hair loss. 

Ashley Geoffrey, Founder of The Suite Spot Collective

Commercial real estate and turnkey rental services for beauty industry entrepreneurs. 

Da'Shena Payne, Creator of The Moisture Oil Comb (MOC)

An innovative hair care tool designed to make hair oiling fast and easy. Part of CAGED. 

Iyanna Jennings, founder of Nouvelle Healing

An inclusive reiki healing studio offering other mind-body healing services. 

La Toya Holmes-Green, Founder of g4 All Access Transport

Non-emergency medical transportation designed to increase accessibility. 

Pamela Marquez, Founder of Puzz e Gata Jamaica

Homemade, authentic agua de jamaica inspired by the flavors of Mexico.

Naeemah Capers, founder of House of Priti

A membership-based community for women and moms to learn the basics of investing.  

Christa Lee, Founder of Priti Mobile Notary

A remote and mobile notary service to make notarization quick and accessible. 

These entrepreneurs are the reason our local small business ecosystem is vibrant and growing!

By Making Better Cider, Ashlee and Jon Hoag Are Making Cider Better

Before they owned and operated their own cidery in Auburn, CA, Ashlee and Jon Hoag were home brewers with strong opinions on what makes good cider.  After a trip to visit friends in Colorado, where the cider surpassed what they could find in California, the couple decided to take matters into their own hands. “We asked ourselves, ‘where are we going with this?’” Ashlee recalls, reflecting on their 13 years of home-brewing. “Why don’t we just make the cider we like here?”  

Knowing that they could use their experience and techniques to innovate the local cider scene, the couple pivoted their careers to full-time cidermaking and launched Ponderosa Cider.  With a loan from California Capital, Ashlee and Jon opened the Ponderosa Cider Company cidery and taproom in Auburn in March of 2023, and quickly became a community staple known for their lively events and commitment to local agriculture.  

A Sweet Spot to Start

Inspired by the possibility of redefining California cider, Ashlee and Jon decided to operate in Jon’s hometown of Auburn, California, where they knew they could take advantage of the region’s diverse and abundant fruit to craft truly unique ciders. “We want to take the historic fruit industry of the [Sierra Nevada] Foothills and repurpose it,” explains Jon, adding that they have been able to use fruit from seemingly fallow orchards and even repurpose a peach orchard’s unused fruit press. “We’re hoping to build that industry while also building the cider industry.” 

To elevate their technical prowess as cidermakers, Ashlee and Jon each completed hands-on courses through Cornell University and UC Davis. The pair was confident in their expertise, but without direct experience in the manufacturing industry or as business owners, finding the financing to fund their start-up costs was tricky. They were eventually recommended to California Capital and worked with a business mentor before moving forward with applying for a loan.  

“We thought it would just be a way to vet our business plan for other application, but we learned so much,” explains Ashlee. “We fine-tuned our financial projections and reevaluated what it would actually cost to start the business. It was a great education.”  

Success is Brewing

With support from their mentor, Ashlee and Jon were able to secure funding from the California Capital Lending Center, which they put to use right away.  They used the funds to purchase industrial brewing and manufacturing equipment, secure a lease on their location in Auburn, and hire and train a fulltime cidermaker. “We now have over 135 wholesale accounts from Tahoe to Vacaville,” Jon says, reflecting on their first few months in operation. “That has been a great way to build our brand.” In addition to establishing a statewide presence, since opening the cidery and attached taproom, Ashlee and Jon host an array of community events, from half-marathon finish lines to weekly trivia nights.  

“We want to make sure we’re bringing people with us as we go,” Ashlee says. Moving forward, the founders are excited to continue to demonstrate just how good cider can be, one bottle at a time.  

With Grand Opening of BAE’s Education, Briana A. Esquivel Diaz Sees a Bright Future for Sacramento’s Kids

For Briana Esquivel, founder, owner and operator of BAE’s Education, school is more than just a place for children to pass the time. Living through adversity in childhood, Esquivel leaned on education as a means to build success and have a positive impact in her family and community. A first-generation high school graduate and college student, Esquivel is now in the final stages of completing her Doctorates in Education at CSU Sacramento and has built her career around creating early childhood education programs for a variety of institutions. This year, she is celebrating the opening of the first location of BAE’s Education, a non-profit/for profit multicultural state-funded preschool and privately-owned child development center. With support from the Women’s Business Center, Esquivel has created a strategic business plan that will allow her to reach children from underserved communities with holistic and inclusive education and grow a new generation of leaders.

"We're Here for the Children"

Growing up, despite instability being a facet of her home life, Esquivel’s parents always ensured that she had access to good schools. “My parents wanted me to break the generational curse,” she says, explaining the critical role that schools should play in supporting the entirety of a child’s development, not just academics. “Children need stability–they need to be ensured, ‘I don’t have to worry about surviving because my school’s got me’.”

Esquivel first began to develop her philosophy and expertise through her teaching practicum in early childhood education within Los Rios Community Colleges, and eventually CSU Sacramento where she’s obtaining her master’s in educational leadership and policy and through her work in program and curriculum development through projects within early childhood education centers and school districts locally. When the Covid-19 pandemic caused schools across the country to shut down, with marked negative impacts on children’s educational attainment, Esquivel decided take action, aiming to provide consistent and relevant educational settings.

With her wide range of experience working on the ground with communities to develop programs for students, she knew that she could open her own education centers that would go beyond what was possible at existing schools. The concept for BAE’s Education–which stands for Before Anything Else, Education–was born out of the need to ensure that communities could stay connected to care and education for their children. Esquivel joined together with colleagues and envisioned a learning environment that would serve students from underserved populations and empower their families as well. “We evaluate demands, and serve them,” she says. “That’s our number 1 priority. We’re here for the children.”

Leveraging Business Support

With a federal grant in partnership with the State of California, Department of Social Serivces and the U.S. Department of Education, Esquivel and her co-founders were able to begin developing locations for BAE’s Education schools in Sacramento and Elk Grove. Working with a Women’s Business Center counselor, Charles Thomas, Esquivel navigated the technical side of her new enterprise, writing a business plan, creating a budget, and learning how to operate a business.

The Sacramento location, on Mather Road, will celebrate their grand opening next month on November 17. The locations were chosen strategically to be available to lower income neighborhoods, and BAE’s Education will offer education and care for infants and toddlers, preschool, transitional kindergarten,

and school-aged children. To help elevate communities, the centers will offer before and after school programs for students up to grade six, as well as dual-language immersion programs, which allow English-learners to increase literacy in their first language while learning English.

Esquivel sees all of her efforts as an investment in the future of Sacramento. “Our motto is ‘Saving Sacramento, one neighborhood at a time,’” she says. “We would love to be in as many neighborhoods as have the demand. There are still families that need care, growing communities that need love and need people to invest in them and their children.

Tiana Drisker is Preparing the Construction Industry for a Diverse Workforce with Hazard Eliminators

Like many industries have in recent years, construction companies are beginning to understand the importance of cultivating a diverse workforce. The Associated General Contractors of America released a report in 2018 detailing the business advantages of diversity and inclusion (including increased innovation and safety and reduced employee turnover), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will celebrate Construction Inclusion Week October 16 through 20. Recognizing the need to prepare the industry for evolutions in workplace culture, environmental health and safety professional Tiana Drisker founded Hazard Eliminators, creating occupational safety trainings and bringing a holistic approach to occupational safety that focuses on communication, situational awareness, and other soft skills  


In an industry that has historically lacked ethnic and gender diversity, change cannot be expected to occur overnightas of 2020, only about 10% of workers in the industry were women, while only 5.1% were Black. So when Drisker first entered the construction industry as an environmental health and safety professional, she knew that her outlook would stand out Through my lens as a Black woman, I’ve been able to contribute to the field with a holistic approach of mindfulness, encouraging self-awareness, and situational awareness,” says Drisker, who also has a background in healthcare which increases her attention to personal health as safety. “My approach towards safety has been to look at the bigger picture and not just the skills of the workers.” This approach, she felt, was not always valued in the workplaces she would train.  

Drisker saw an opportunity to elevate what traditional environmental health and safety (EHS) training entails. Knowing the importance of strong communication about personal comfort and mindset, Tiana imagined an approach to standard EHS training–about how to alert coworkers of immediate hazards, how to operate machinery safely, and more–that integrated behavioral safety, encouraged workers to see themselves as leaders in workplace safety and was inclusive of diverse identities and perspectives. “I wanted to empower the construction field to be prepared for the influx of all different types of people,” says Drisker.  


Without the opportunity to implement these changes in her workplace, Drisker turned to the Women’s Business Center (WBC) for guidance on starting her own business. Working with a business counselor, Charles Thomas, Drisker solidified her vision into a business idea, wrote a business plan and a budget, and launched Hazard Eliminators in 2020.  

As the CEO of her own business, Drisker is able to leverage her professional certifications and technical knowledge to create unique training programs that cover the requisite safety information and include education on interpersonal communication, self-awareness and diversity. With her programs, Drisker also educates clients on how to create safe workplaces for women, including appropriately fitted personal protective equipment.  

 “It’s not just about how well you can drive a forklift, it’s your awareness when you use those tools,” she explains. “It’s your communication style and how you spoke with other people in your environment about the hazards that they would be engaging with during that task.”  


Beyond ensuring a safe workplace, Drisker knows she is an advocate for employees and their rights. She sees her methods for safety training as a way that employees can feel empowered to communicate their needs and boundaries and confident that their colleagues understand them as well. “I want to grow leaders, grow people, grow their perspective,” she says, adding that her programs are also accessible to businesses experiencing growth and need to integrate safety plans for the first time.  

 Through her work with the WBC, Drisker has gained contracts with repeat clients and continued to acquire her business certifications. “[Charles] has connected me with other professionals that I’ve been able to do business with, and I don’t know where I would be without his guidance,” she says. Looking forward, Drisker is hoping to work on her business full-time. In the meantime, she is expanding her clientele and teaching classes to repeat clients. As the construction industry continues to become more diverse, the knowledge and innovation of leaders like Tiana Drisker will be in ever-greater demand.  

Pamela Marquez Shares the Heritage of Agua de Jamaica One Bottle at a Time

      Ask Pamela Marquez about the first time she drank agua de jamaica in Mexico,  and the answer will span generations. It did elicit ancestral memories in me,” says the Sacramento local, reflecting on her travels across the country. It empowered my body.”  Marquez founded Puzz e Gata Jamaica in 2020 to share the benefits of the sweetened, cinnamon-spiced hibiscus flower tea across Northern California, after being unable to find any product that matched the traditional recipes she had encountered in Mexico. This year, she began working with the Women’s Business Center to develop strategies for the sustainable growth and innovation of her mission. 

Global History, Personal Mission

As Marquez learned during her research, the hibiscus flower is not native to North America. The flower and its tea came to Central America from West Africa by way of the Caribbean, and variations of the beverage are still enjoyed widely across those regions. In fact, the differing recipes from regions within Mexico was a major inspiration for Marquez to bring a traditional brew to Sacramento. Traveling twice a year to different states, she spoke with the women selling their home-brewed agua de jamaica, absorbing the rich cultural significance of the drink as well as their unique recipes.   

Puzz e Gata at the Sacramento Farm to Fork Festival in 2022.

“I learned the cultural healing properties, the folk medicine uses of the past, and even the current medicinal qualities,” Marquez explains, pointing out that hibiscus tea is rich in antioxidants, can fight inflammation and has been associated—in her personal experience—with alleviation of symptoms of depression. Benefits, she adds, that aren’t present in the sugary drink mixes that merely mimic the flavors of jamaica that she found outside of Mexico. “My purpose is to get real, authentic, hibiscus flower tea to the Sacramento community.”   

Growing Flowers (And a Business)

After developing her own recipe, a combination of methods and ingredients she learned during her travels, Marquez successfully launched Puzz e Gata Jamaica through the Alchemist Community Development Corporation’s Alchemist Kitchen Incubator Program. This gave her access to a commercial kitchen where she could brew and bottle her recipes, made from flowers grown organically in her home garden.  

Pamela Marquez brews four variations of jamaica tea.

With this early success, Marquez was able to begin selling at local grocery stores, including the Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative and the Davis Food Cooperative. But without a background in running a business, creating a pathway to sustainability and growth was a separate challenge. She turned to the Women’s Business Center and began working with business counselor Prashante Bailey-Lewis.  

“I accept as much help as I can with my business, so whenever I see an opportunity to ask for help, I do,” says Marquez, adding that with Bailey-Lewis’s guidance, she raised her prices and developed new strategies for marketing her product to restaurants. “She’s just a well of knowledge.” Marquez has also received support with grant proposals, pitch deck creation, and attended WBC networking events to build her community connections.  

Preparing for a Sweet Future

Marquez grows and harvests her ingredients by hand.

The whole of Marquez’s operation seeks to elevate the culture and flavors of Mexico: from the name Puzz e Gata, her favorite Spanglish phrase for “pussy cat” with a feminized twist, to the recipe variations she offers. In addition to traditional agua de jamaica with cinnamon, Marquez also offers a less-sweetened “tart” brew, a jalapeno infusion, and an infusion with cactus or nopales.  

As a Chicana founder, Marquez’s impact on the empowerment of Mexican heritage goes beyond her personal mission. Studies have cited Latino-owned businesses as the fastest growing segment of small businesses in the country, with the number of Hispanic women entrepreneurs growing 137 percent between 2007 and 2016. By bringing her product to the marketplace, Marquez is contributing not only to the celebration of a staple of Central American culture, but to the visibility of Latina entrepreneurs in our small business economy. 

In the years ahead, Marquez’s main goal is to secure her own brick and mortar store where she can create new recipes, test innovative uses for hibiscus flower, and feature local artists. “I know I’m going in the right direction,” she says, “I can see all of the creativity that’s going to come out of this business.” 

And an insider tip? Try any of Puzz e Gata’s bottled blends poured over ice with a rim of Tajin or Chamoy, says Marquez, and keep your eyes peeled for hibiscus rim sugar for holiday specialty beverages.

With Itacate Foods, Martha Diaz is Expanding Latinx Representation in the Outdoors

     Growing up, Martha Diaz spent plenty of time outdoors. After immigrating from Central Mexico to California with her family when she was 10, Diaz recalls family vacations spent at campsites and on long bike rides. In college, Diaz reached her goal of becoming an experienced backpacker–but in exploring the freeze-dried, ready-to-eat meals that backpackers take on their journeys, she was disheartened by the lack of Latin-inspired options. “When you’re doing something like backpacking, it has a pain point,” says Diaz. “To then have to eat food that you don’t otherwise eat is a double whammy of discomfort.”  To Diaz, this absence of authentic Latin meals was indicative of a deeper need to make outdoor hobbies more diverse and accessible to communities of color.   She knew she could change that.

Heritage and Innovation

     With the twin goals of bringing her favorite Mexican dishes along with her on the trail and making the outdoors a more inclusive space for Hispanic communities that have not traditionally been represented by outdoor recreation brands, she founded Itacate Foods in 2021 after quitting her corporate job in product development.

Inspired by the indigenous Nahuatl term meaning “food for a journey”, itacate is also a phrase used commonly in Central Mexico today to describe the bundle of leftovers you may be sent home with after a family gathering. With this ethos, Itacate offers freeze-dried packages of traditional Latin dishes–like chilaquiles and sopa de lentejas–which hikers need only combine with boiling water to enjoy.  

Bringing together deep culinary heritage, functionality, and the promise of adventure, Itacate Foods gained traction quickly. “When I started making Itacate, my thought was, ‘I’ll just squirrel away at it and see how it does’,” explains Diaz. But demand quickly outpaced her ability to supply the handmade and individually freeze-dried packages, and she began eyeing a larger freeze-drying machine. “I needed to increase my capacity, but I didn’t have the funding for it.”  

A Need For Non-Traditional Lending

Diaz began to explore business loans, but because Itacate Foods was still considered a start-up, she had trouble making headway with banks.

After working with an advisor from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to analyze her financials and understand the size of the loan she would need, Diaz was eventually referred to California Capital FDC.

As a mission-based lender, the California Capital Lending Center was able to consider factors beyond those of traditional banks. Working with the California Capital team to complete her application, Diaz eventually received a loan to finance an industrial scale free-drying machine and working capital.

“It was intimidating,” says Diaz, explaining that because Itacate’s business credit was not established, the application process was more thorough than she had expected. “But it was so nice for my first time getting a business loan to do it through California Capital, because they’re so supportive and really educated me through the process.”  

Growth for Impact

With this boost to her capacity and efficiency, Diaz has increased her production by ten times, reduced her operation cost, and taken on new wholesale accounts.

“I would love for Itacate to be a household name within the category,” she says of her future goals. Moving forward, she also hopes to move her production from a rented commercial kitchen to her own space, and to lead by example as a person of color in the outdoor entrepreneurship space.

As part of outdoor recreation retailer REI’s Path Ahead Ventures program, Martha connected with other diverse up-and-coming brands, and solidified her mission of giving back to organizations that promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the outdoors. “Increasing representation is the reason for Itacate,” she says.So the bigger we grow, the bigger the impact we can have.”    

Need an itacate to fuel your next mountain adventure? Visit to shop today!