Category Archives: Client Success Stories

With Mindy’s Kitchen, Melissa Muganzo Murphy Shares Her Healing Journey and Seeks to Make Nutritious, Plant-Based Food Accessible to Underserved Populations

When Melissa Muganzo Murphy (she/they/sis) reflects on her entrepreneurial journey, a common thread appears: advocacy for Black and Brown communities, driven by creativity. Growing up around artistry and music, Melissa learned early that her talents could provide her not only an income, but a platform to uplift those around her. With the continued mission of supporting Black dreams and leading as an example that Black Queer people can be successful, Melissa’s next entrepreneurial endeavor stems from a years-long battle with fibroids, and the holistic lifestyle changes that helped her manage the condition when traditional medicine failed.

In addition to releasing a documentary on her health journey and the medical oppression of marginalized groups, Melissa is working with the California Capital Women’s Business Center to launch Mindy’s Kitchen, a vegan, on-the-go salad line designed to be accessible to Black and Brown communities with less access to fresh, nutritious food.

Before she was an entrepreneur and activist, Melissa was a performer. Growing up with a mother who was the lead singer of a traveling Gospel group, she caught on early to the power of artistic expression. “I have always been this creative soul, and I learned early that you can get paid for your talents,” she explains. “If I can hum and figure out melodies and make money, or do hair and get paid for it, or choregraph a piece and get me and my friends paid, how can I maximize this?”

“I can’t let Black dreams die.” 

Throughout her undergraduate and graduate education at UC Davis and Sacramento State, respectively, Melissa applied her singing, dancing, and choreography skills to make an impact. As a graduate student, while singing, acting, and doing voiceover work on the side, Melissa connected with undergraduates through her jobs on campus in housing, career advising, and LGBTQ leadership. Seeing the challenges that graduating seniors faced, Melissa found an innovative way to support Black college graduates: in addition to inviting them to the creative communities she fostered, she launched Muganzo Investments, a scholarship fund through which she provided microgrants to soon-to-be graduates that financed major milestones such as registration for the LSAT, plane tickets to medical school interviews, or filing for an LLC.

“People think you have everything figured out after you graduate, but really, you’re the most insecure, the most in debt, and the most confused at that point in your life,” says Melissa, who was determined to ensure the success of Black students beyond their time at the university. “I realized that the barriers to success of Black graduates is much more than a money issue–it’s a systemic issue, and for me it was an ‘I can’t let Black dreams die’ issue.”

Healing and Advocacy 

Since earning her Master of Arts and leaving Sacramento State, Melissa’s instinct to turn her artistry and experiences into vehicles for empowerment and social justice has only grown. While earning her degrees, Melissa had been living with fibroids, uterine growths that can cause severe pain, weight fluctuation, abdominal pain, and abnormal menstruation.

When first diagnosed with the condition at the age of 23, after having her symptoms ignored, Melissa sought a hysterectomy. She was denied–but the experience was a turning point.

After encountering firsthand the ways that traditional medicine can contribute to marginalization, Melissa turned to a family friend, a Black nurse practitioner named Susan, who understood the obstacles to getting care that Black individuals face. To begin addressing the condition, Susan suggested that Melissa go vegan. She gave it a chance, and by changing her diet, Melissa healed her fibroids, and reversed her symptoms. “I became obsessed with plant-based eating, back when vegan food still tasted like grass,” jokes Melissa. She was determined to share the transformational potential of vegan eating, particularly with Black and Brown communities for whom access to plant-based whole foods is marginalized based on histories of redlining and segregation.

With this, the idea for Mindy’s Kitchen was born. Named for her mother, Melissa envisioned a brand that would make affordable, robust, fully vegan meals available to Black and Brown communities. Before working full time to put that vision into action, however, Melissa had other voices to uplift: fellow survivors of fibroids, who shared her experiences of racial medical malpractice while seeking treatment.

Sharing an All-Too-Common Story

In 2018, Melissa combined her entrepreneurial spirit, background in entertaining, and commitment to advancing Black dreams to found Muganzo Entertainment,  Sacramento’s first Black/Queer production company. Leading a 100% Black team, comprised in part of 20 production interns, Melissa filmed, produced, and released the company’s inaugural feature-length documentary: The Big Hysto.

The documentary explores and reveals the exploitation, experimentation, and oppression experienced by Black, Brown, and LGBTQ individuals within the American healthcare system. The film, which premiered in Sacramento in July and has screenings across California, shares stories of real survivors of fibroids and other uterine conditions, and is a natural extension of Melissa’s desire to build a creative career while empowering marginalized identities. “[The premiere] was a full circle moment,” she explains, “It has all been part of an interconnected journey about wanting to be healthy and pursue my own dream.” With the film released and gaining notoriety, Melissa has returned her focus to addressing another aspect of Black and Brown health: food access. 

Back to the Cutting Board

Working with Women’s Business Center counselor, Prashante Bailey, Melissa has begun laying the groundwork for launching Mindy’s Kitchen as a line of on-the-go, vegan salads. “A part of health and wellness and sustaining our life is people recognizing that our internal is more important than external,” says Melissa, who sees this new endeavor as part of food justice work already being undertaken in Northern California. “And the only way for our external to be well is to feed good things into our bodies.” Ultimately, Melissa’s vision with Mindy’s Kitchen is to increase longevity by making it easy for people to opt for fresh fruits and vegetables over highly processed convenience foods.

To do that, she knows that every element of the business must be strategic and intentional. With Prashante’s guidance, Melissa developed a goal to sell Mindy’s Kitchen products in locations that

historically marginalized communities have come to rely on for their food shopping, and don’t feel intimidated entering: gas stations, convenience stores, and big box retailers. “Everybody’s going to the gas station. So I’m asking, how do I get in there, and get people to start saying, ‘Have you tasted Mindy’s?’”

As Melissa continues to research the intricacies of sourcing, manufacturing, and contracting, Prashante has been a partner in brainstorming solutions to obstacles, and given her the right questions to ask to find the right answers. “I really am excited about this journey and one thing I’m committed to now, is the reality that some of these grand ideas are slow burns,” says Melissa. “They start with a thought and then you put in the work.”

With a goal of keeping as much as possible of the company’s operation and partnerships Black-led, Melissa is optimistic about Sacramento as the right place to launch. She is currently applying for the Alchemist Community Development Corporation’s Microenterprise Kitchen training program, and was inspired to see that most of the other potential participants were Black entrepreneurs.

Through all of these efforts, Melissa remains focused on continuing her filmmaking work, serving the community through positions on the Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Visit Sacramento LGBTQ Advisory Committee, and building a new legacy through Mindy’s Kitchen.

“I’m riding the journey of the slow burn–I’m being intentional with my timeline, while also not taking time for granted.”

For screenings of The Big Hysto, visit https://www.muganzoentertainment.com/

How a Vision for a Vibrant Creative Economy Led Two Filmmakers to Open a Unique Creator Space in Sacramento With Funding from California Capital

May  31, 2022 | When Kellen Lor met Pedro Garcia in 2017, he wasn’t looking for a business partner. They both happened to be working on a music video for a mutual friend, and Kellen immediately admired Pedro’s skill behind the camera. Looking for tips on how to expand his filmmaking beyond self-education on YouTube, Kellen sought to pick Pedro’s brain. The pair quickly realized that their ambitions, artistic vision, and work ethic were aligned, and began creating together. The same year, they launched Hidden Temple Media, a film production house.  Now, with financing from California Capital, they’ve launched Imported Studios, a studio space with ready-made sets available for rent by fellow filmmakers–and they’re set to become key players in expanding opportunities for Sacramento’s diverse community of creators.   

Sacramento filmmakers

Pedro (L) and Kellen (R) worked at ABC 10 before launching their first business. Photo: Francisco Kuhl.

To be sure, the pair have come a long way in the past five years. “The first few years, we were working minimum 14-hour days,” explains Pedro who, along with Kellen, was working full time for ABC10 while establishing Hidden Temple. “The basic idea was that we were two hardworking individuals who had a similar goal, and could put our resources together and rely on sweat equity.” Through collaboration with local artists they trusted, they stayed focused and gained momentum.  

Hidden Temple’s capacity exponentially increased through a mentor partnership with media firm FutureNow, and Kellen and Pedro were able to hire two employees, maintain a cadre of contractors, focus on commercial and documentary work, and bring in steady money.   

Problem Solving, Business Growth

At this point, looking to decrease their workload while increasing capacity, the founders were ready to bring Hidden Temple into a larger, more established studio space. “We were trying to solve a problem, and we started a business,” laughs Pedro.  

The idea for Imported Studios was born at this juncture, and grew to fit within a goal shared by individuals and institutions across the city: developing and retaining Sacramento’s creative workforce.  

A lot of the problems we saw with creatives in Sacramento were with finding controlled locations [for filming],” explains Kellen. “You can get a short-term rental home, but once you start bringing in big lights and cameras, the owners don’t like it.”  

Expanding Sacramento’s Creative Capacity

As experienced Sacramento filmmakers, the pair knew that most creators in the area were traveling to Los Angeles to solve this problem by renting studios that included ready-made and customizable film sets.  

sacramento filmmakers

“The Greenery” set at Imported Studios.

“A lot of production studios in Sacramento only offer green screen infinity (or cyclorama) walls, which are great. But we didn’t want to blend in with the competition,” says Kellen. “We wanted to bring the L.A. demand up here and open a space for creatives to use it and bring money to Sacramento as well.”  

Ultimately, these aspirations defined what Imported Studios would offer. To stand out from other local studios, this new space would feature 24-hour availability to accommodate varied schedules; fully staged, 3-walled sets that filmmakers can customize to fit their vision; and a sound-dampened, warehouse location to allow creators to use sound and other special effects worry free.  

Accessing Capital

After translating their ideas into an actionable business plan, the search for financing began. In need of seed capital to build sets, secure a lease, and launch, Pedro and Kellen applied for funding through several banks–but because Imported Studios was a startup, traditional lenders were hesitant to take them on. That’s when their mentor at FutureNow suggested looking into non-traditional funding options, and they turned to California Capital.

Imported Studios launch event. Photo: Francisco Kuhl.

The loan application process, reflects Pedro, put the endeavor into perspective. “Getting financing was the biggest obstacle we’ve overcome as entrepreneurs,” he says, recalling the challenges the business partners faced during the early days of Hidden Temple. “We had multiple jobs back then, but we didn’t have as much weight on our shoulders, so failure wasn’t as scary. Now we have this other business so it’s higher stakes.”  

Partnerships and Service

Imported Studios ultimately received financing through the California Capital Lending Center, and opened their doors in April of 2022. They plan to begin expanding their clientele through events and workshops designed to get creatives in the door–both to see what the studio has to offer, and to dream up their own uses for the space. Beyond serving their own business interests, Kellen and Pedro want to see the space become a hub for building the Sacramento area’s creative workforce.   

“Sacramento hasn’t been known for media production. We want to change the narrative and let people know that we have experienced creators,” says Kellen. To have that impact, building connections with leaders will be crucial.  

sacramento filmmakers

Kellen and Pedro plan to use the warehouse space for workshops & trainings.

They plan to collaborate with the film program at Sacramento State to bring students in for free or discounted training and workshops, and they’ve met with the City’s official film office, Sacramento Film + Media, who is keenly interested in developing a strong contingent of local filmmakers. Through these partnerships, Imported Studios is poised to play a key role in establishing Sacramento as a renowned location for artists of all stripes to find success.  

Turner & Turner Electric Seizes Contract Opportunities and Creates Jobs With Loan from California Capital

Turner & Turner Electric

March 24, 2022 | As a licensed general contractor and certified journeyman electrician, Ronald Turner serves the Stockton area with Turner & Turner Electric, Inc, which he co-owns with his wife, Jehnell Livingston-Turner. After spending several years in Louisiana, where he applied his contracting skills to help rebuild from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, Ronald returned to California. He soon realized that, because of the Great Recession, residential and commercial contracting jobs would not provide steady business. Getting certified to bid on government contracts, particularly with the Department of Transportation, was the key to continue operating Turner & Turner Electric: In addition to the prospect of large projects, as a veteran, Ronald was eligible to certify Turner & Turner Electric as a Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise and a Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Business, which opens up unique resources and set-aside government contracts. 

Finding new opportunities

After attending a seminar hosted by Norcal PTAC where they learned about California Capital FDC’s suite of business services, Jehnell began working with Women’s Business Center counselor, Charles Thomas. Charles helped Jehnell write an actionable business plan based off of a capability statement she had created, but it was not until several years later that the opportunity to apply for a loan through the California Capital Lending Center came up. As part of the Caltrain Modernization Early Investment Program, Caltrain’s program to electrify their transportation operations, Turner & Turner Electric secured a contract to install poles and light fixtures at the service’s electric power stations. With this sizeable job, a bid submitted for a second contract, and plans to apply for a third, an infusion of working capital would make the growth more manageable. 

Capital infusion creates jobs

 “I had never considered getting a loan,” explains Jehnell, who manages the operations and administration of Turner & Turner Electric. “But I was working with Charles and Daisy [Po’oi, Lending Center Portfolio Manager], and they both encouraged me to try, just try and see what happens.” Jehnell and Ronald decided to apply for a loan, which proved to be an enlightening process. Being loan-ready meant considering details of their business that they hadn’t before, such as the importance of keyman insurance coverage. “When small business owners come from Corporate America, like I did, there are many details [of business ownership] that they don’t think about because they’re the employee,” says Jehnell, emphasizing the key role that free information sessions offered by lenders play in making capital accessible. “A lot of times, people don’t take advantage of free services in their community to know what’s out there.” 

Turner & Turner Electric was approved for a loan, made possible through the Wells Fargo Open for Business Grant, in August of 2021–and the impact has had a ripple effect on their community. With part of the loan going towards payroll expenses, Ronald and Jehnell hired three new employees, and their support has been crucial to navigating the fast-paced construction industry.  With this support, and continued guidance from their WBC counselor, Turner & Turner Electric is performing on their contracts, and keeping more opportunities in mind.

Keeping Her Community Mobile: How Josephine Odom Pivoted Her Used Car Business with a Loan from California Capital

For Josephine Odom, the Founder and CEO of Stepping Stone Auto Sales, commitment to her business journey has meant everything. With over 30 years of professional and business experience, Josephine has always had a passion for helping others and ensuring they receive the best service and experience possible. Stepping Stone Auto Sales was inspired by Josephine’s desire to provide reliable transportation for individuals in underserved communities, and was established as a wholesale used car dealership in March of 2019. With support from the WBC, and a loan from the Lending Center made possible through the Wells Fargo Open for Business Grant, Josephine entered the retail car sales space in 2021. 

SEEKING GUIDANCE

In October of 2020, Josephine began working with the California Capital Women’s Business Center. Looking to overcome the challenges of operating her business during COVID-19, while also working full time as a truck driver for Old Dominion Freight, Josephine was matched with WBC counselor, Charles Thomas. She had completed the online business plan creat

ion course available through the Women’s Business Center, but still had plenty to work on. 

“[Mr. Thomas] helped me tremendously,” explains Josephine, who had not received one-on-one business guidance before. “I had a business plan, but I wasn’t sure how to do a balance sheet, and I didn’t know how to write a profit and loss statement.”

 Over the course of several months, Josephine overcame the challenges she was facing and was ready to begin advancing her business.  

PIVOTING FOR SUCCESS

Seeking a larger return on her investments in used car inventory, Josephine transitioned from wholesale to retail used car sales in 2021—but doing so required increasing inventory, and a significant capital infusion.

Working with the Lending Center, Josephine applied for a sizeable loan that would go towards buying new inventory and having working capital. The loan application process was detailed, but thanks to the work she had done creating her business plan, Josephine was prepared. “ I had learned about the 5 Cs of Credit and other topics, which helped me to answer the questions in more detail,” explains Josephine, who was ultimately approved for a sizable loan.  

AGILE CLIENT SERVICE

All that was needed was for the closing paperwork to be signed and processed, but with the California Capital office still closed and Josephine’s truck driving job keeping her schedule packed, the Lending Center got creative. The Lending Center’s portfolio manager met Josephine at the Stepping Stone Auto Sales lot in Stockton, and the two were joined by the chief lending officer via Zoom to finalize the closing documents. 

Since securing the loan, Josephine was able to increase her inventory, and Stepping Stone Auto Sales is now located on a lot with increased visibility. In addition to leveraging word-of-mouth marketing and increasing her inventory in 2022, Josephine recently established Stepping Stone Registration Services. With this new venture, Stepping Stone will be able not only to sell used cars, but to complete the automobile registration process for their customers in-house. “I am serving my community and keeping services in my community,” says Josephine, who is looking forward to building her clientele this year. 

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.”

 

BUSINESS SUPPORT THROUGH WOMEN’S BUSINESS CENTER 

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.

 

STARTING SMALL FOR BIG CHANGE

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.”

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.

LEVERAGING RESOURCES TO ADDRESS OBSTACLES

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. 

FURTHER READING

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

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. 

 

SEEKING GUIDANCE

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. 

 

STEADY GROWTH, HOPES FOR EXPANSION

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.  

Ernestine Winston Puts Sewn Products Training and Entrepreneurial Education To Use For Two Business Ventures

Well over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Ernestine Winston is on an entrepreneurial journey she never envisioned for herself. With over ten years of experience as an independent hair stylist, Ernestine is now on a dual mission: she is growing her styling business, while also building a new enterprise offering textiles and other products with custom designs—and several Women’s Business Center courses have played a key role in setting her on that path. 

Ernestine Winston has been an independent hair stylist since 2009.

Creative by nature, Ernestine Winston had long dreamed of being able to provide for herself and her family through self-employment. “I’ve had a job since I was 14. I always worked for someone else because the security of a steady paycheck was important,” she explains. “But I always wanted to be my own boss.”

STEPS TOWARD SELF-EMPLOYMENT

Ernestine began chipping away at this goal in 2009, attending cosmetology school at night, while maintaining a full-time corporate job and raising three children, aged 10, 11, and 13. After graduating, Ernestine did hair part time and built a client base while working various full-time jobs, including two years teaching sales classes at the cosmetology school she had attended. Eventually, a full-time job at ULTA Beauty led to a 5-year hiatus from independent styling, due to the possibility of conflict of interest—but when ULTA shared the news of company-wide layoffs in October of 2020, Ernestine took it as an opportunity. 

“I signed up for the [Women’s Business Center’s] Entrepreneurship Empowered course with the intention of getting a running start at self-employment,” explains Ernestine, who first discovered California Capital’s services as a manager at ULTA looking to improve her managerial skills. “[The instructor] Natasha Palumbo helped me set up a business checking account, build a business plan, and basically get prepared to run a business.” 

SEWN PRODUCTS TRAINING OFFERS PATHWAY TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Around the same time that Ernestine was taking the steps toward full self-employment through styling, another business opportunity was percolating. In September of 2020, Ernestine enrolled in the Sewn Products Manufacturing Training course offered by Agee Fashion Institute through the WBC. Knowing how to sew personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and hospital gowns seemed like a good way to earn supplemental income, says Ernestine, if subcontracting opportunities 

Bags with a custom design by Ernestine.

ever became available. But the skills she gained in the 4-part course—sewing, cutting, reading and creating designs—dovetailed conveniently with another “pandemic-project” she had recently started. 

“While we were stuck at home, I had started dabbling with my husband’s heat-press, mostly pressing vinyl designs onto t-shirts,” says Ernestine. “It unleashed a new side of my creativity.” As she got more comfortable with the press, Ernestine began taking orders from friends, and applying what she had learned during the Sewn Products Training. Being able to create and manufacture designs from scratch—including scrunchies and hair bonnets—has allowed her to create products that are made with high quality material and fully customizable, creating a competitive edge over similar businesses who print on mass-manufactured textiles and positioning her to operate at a higher price point.

Ernestine went on to take advanced prototyping courses at Agee Fashion Institute, and now works as a trainer for the same Sewn Products classes that set her on this new avenue to self-employment. Ernestine is quick to point out that, prior to the first course she took, she had never touched a sewing machine. Now, not only has she gained employment as a sewn products instructor, but building her

Ernestine’s self-designed scrunchies.

technical manufacturing skills has been key to her entrepreneurial inspiration. “Now I know how to take an idea, turn it into a prototype, and create a product I can sell. I am always thinking of new skills or processes I can incorporate to make manufacturing easier or create more unique products.” 

ENTERING THE STARTUP LANDSCAPE

With a strong manufacturing skillset, Ernestine set out to develop her business acumen, signing up for the Women’s Business Center’s first Startup to Success Generator series. During the 16-week Startup to Success series, Ernestine joined a cohort of aspiring entrepreneurs and worked with instructor Natasha Palumbo to develop a business plan, position financial projections, and prepare for the competition of the startup ecosystem. 

“What I love about [Ernestine] is her eagerness to learn and her ability to execute on what she has learned. She is a lion! And a very talented one at that,” explains Natasha Palumbo, who has continued to work with Ernestine since the course concluded and provided key insights on how to manage the growth of both of her businesses. “And though this journey hasn’t been the easiest, she has continued to show up week after week and put in the work. There is no stopping Ernestine.” 

When the course wrapped up in mid-June, Ernestine joined her cohort in a Pitch Competition, putting to use the pitch deck she created and getting a first look into what the process of securing funding will look like. 

“She truly shined during the pitch competition,” says Natasha. “Her energy was by far the best of the bunch and she gave an incredible pitch. 

Starting and operating a business takes remarkable resilience and patience, but Ernestine is optimistic that the services she offers will continue to pay off. “This is the first time that I know for certain I will be able to have an income just working for myself,” Ernestine explains. Her immediate focus now is creating a high-quality website for her design business that streamlines the ordering and customization process for customers. Further down the road, she says, her goal is to find a brick and mortar location from which she can operate both of her businesses. But for now, she continues to research and learn about the business landscape and let her creative side get the best of her as she dreams up new ways to put her manufacturing skills to use.

Meet the Winners of California Capital’s First “Startup to Success” Pitch Competition

JUNE 22, 2021 |  In March, a survey conducted by Yelp revealed that nearly half a million new businesses opened in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting that the entrepreneurial spirit is difficult to quench. Illustrative of that fact is the Start-Up to Success Generator series offered by California Capital Business Consultant Natasha Palumbo, which just wrapped up its first 16-week run and saw a cohort of students graduate with a comprehensive startup business plan.

 As a first foray into the culture of entrepreneurship, the course wrapped up on Friday, June 11 with a “Pitch-Off”: each student presented their business plan to a panel of guest judges, fielded questions, and worked through feedback. Judges selected the top 3 pitches for recognition. Meet the winners of the first Startup to Success Pitch Challenge, and stay tuned for more information on the next offering of the course. 

MARINA ONACA, BOBA WITH ME

Marina Onaca is a mother of three whose business idea sprouted in response to a need she saw in her community: more spaces where teenagers and pre-teens can socialize, express themselves, and enjoy the boba beverages that are climbing in popularity among that demographic. Parents in the community, like Marina, who wanted their children to enjoy these benefits were regularly driving 15 to 20 miles several times a week. As an answer to the gap in the local market, Marina decided to start Boba With Me, a boba cafe designed as a safe space for community members of all ages to gather. Marina spent much of the Covid-19 pandemic exploring the resources available through the Small Business Administration (SBA), and working with Natasha Palumbo to develop a thorough business plan. Boba With Me’s flagship location opens this summer, and Marina has high hopes for the future. 

What are your dreams for your business? 

We see our business as a place where ideas will be generated, artists will be promoted, friendships will develop and community will come together, which is why we look to grow to many new communities and open our doors to friends all over the state. We see our concept embraced by each community looking for a positive environment in which our young generation can interact and collaborate. Our goal is to open a new store every six months.”

JUNE ARMSTEAD, BRAIDZ N’ THANGZ

June Armstead is the owner of Body, Soul, and Spirit Salon in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose latest venture, Braidz N’ Thangz,  is a nonprofit beauty school that will provide young women from underserved Bay Area communities the opportunity to develop professional styling skills and secure apprenticeships. The inspiration for this mission-based organization came when June, a Bay Area native, began working in the beauty industry and notice that her first clientele were young women Black in need of opportunities for gainful employment. She made it her mission to create pathways to entrepreneurship in the formal sector for at-risk youth, and has self-funded the training program for 20 years. Now, seeking funding as a 501c3 non-profit, June plans to expand her offerings and elevate the impact in her community.

What are your goals for Braidz N’ Thangz?

“Our salon and training facility has a dedication to education and empowerment. We are targeting 16 to 24-year-old females at risk, and we want to build employment skills within the natural hair industry because they are far too often turning to sex work. We provide a pathway to success with a career focus, and our vision is to be the leading cosmetology training institute for black youth and young adults in Northern California. Our program values Power, Purpose, and Poise!”

LAMERE CARTER, NEW MILLENNIUM DRONE RACING 

Lamere Carter is the founder of New Millennium Drone Racing, a premium drone racing startup currently in its planning phase. With the ultimate goal of being self-employed, Lamere spent years searching for a passion he could tap into to bring that goal to life. Eventually, with support from Natasha Palumbo (a.ka. “Professor P”), Lamere landed on drone racing, and began researching the market, from industry leaders to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. He hopes to spend the next year scaling up his capacity, launching a web presence, and have New Millennium Drone Racing off the ground by summer of 2022. 

Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs? 

“Be consistent. So many people start then stop. I’m guilty of this bad habit as well. Secondly,  business is all about problem solving, that’s a majority of it. Forget solving your own– can you solve someone else’s problem? If you can answer this question, congratulations you’ve taken your first step to being an entrepreneur.”

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