Category Archives: Client Success Stories

Two California Capital Clients Honored at SBA Sacramento District Small Business Awards

The sustainability of small businesses is always worth celebrating—and when that comes with an official award, all the better. On Friday, May 3rd, two small businesses that have worked with California Capital programs were honored at the 2024 SBA Sacramento District Small Business Awards, as part of National Small Business Week. The awards were presented at a luncheon ceremony in distinct categories.  

ExcelDent Dentistry, owned by Gabriela Solano and her husband Dr. Miguel Guerra, won Startup of the Year.  

From the beginning of their business journey, Gabriela has worked with Charles Thomas, a California Capital Women’s Business Center business counselor. Charles nominated ExcelDent for the award and presented the award at the ceremony. As they navigated the purchase and operation of their dental practice in Sacramento, Charles helped Gabriela and Dr. Guerra understand their finances, business planning, and permit requirements. “Charles brought a mix of professionalism and encouragement right from the start, which was exactly what I needed to get our dental office off the ground,” says Gabriela. “He guided me through all the essential resources and made sure we dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s with every agency involved.” 

Anvaya Solutions, owned by Shobha Mallarapu, was named Contractor of the Year. has worked with California Capital APEX Accelerator counselor James Aldea over the years to prepare to bid (and perform!) on government contracts, and she has grown to be a major player in the cybersecurity space.  

As entrepreneurs continue to power our local economies and communities, California Capital is proud to put their stories at the forefront and ensure they get the recognition they deserve.  

“It Always Takes a Team”: How Patrick Bellard Found Support to Launch His Trucking Business

A typical morning for Patrick Bellard begins at 3:45: he is up, finished with his workout, and ready to take on the day’s work orders by 6.  He’ll start his shift at a hauling service, delivering materials for various construction projects including freeways and community development, attend classes in business administration at CSU Sacramento in the afternoon, and return home to spend time with his two daughters. With this ambition and dedication to providing a steady livelihood for his family, Patrick decided in late 2023 to purchase a semi-truck and trailer of his own to begin building his own construction delivery company, Timeless 500.  

With in-depth advising from Sacramento Valley Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and funding from the California Capital Direct Lending center,Patrick purchased his truck in early 2024 and has begun building his clientele operating Timeless 500.  

As Patrick recalibrated his plans for the future after a move to Sacramento from the Bay Area, his studies in business and his experience with the trucking industry led him to a vision of himself as a multi-industry entrepreneur, with a brand that incapsulates his values of hard work, empowerment, and service. He decided to start by launching his own long-haul trucking company—but he knew he would need funding to get started.  

At the recommendation of a friend, Patrick connected with Sacramento Valley SBDC for training on the technical aspects of running a business and preparing to apply for a loan. Patrick’s business advisor, Kevin Herndon, helped him write a strong business plan and realistic two-year financial projections, two documents that every business owner needs when seeking financing.  

“[Kevin] was awesome. He really helped me go through the process” says Patrick.  “I was new to it, and for a while it seemed tedious to me, but it was a great learning process for me.” 

In addition to the technical assistance, Kevin helped Patrick foster a relationship with the California Capital Direct Lending team, knowing that non-traditional financing would be a better fit for a start-up like Patrick’s. 

“I was having a hard time with conventional banks trying to get a conventional loan, so I came over to California Capital,” explains Patrick, reflecting on the importance of working with a team that believed in his vision. “Through them, they made it happen for me. They helped me make my dream come true.”  

Thanks to his perseverence, and the expertise that he tapped into at Sacramento Valley SBDC, Patrick accessed a $50,000 loan to purchase a semi-truck and cover working capital expenses to get Timeless 500 off the ground.  

As he expands his business and his story, he is quick to shout out those who helped him lay the foundations.  

“Sacramento Valley SBDC and California Capital helped me every step of the way,” he reflects, adding that the support has continued after his loan closed. “I didn’t have to do everything myself. It always takes a team.” 

While he sub-contracts with his previous employer to build his clientele, Patrick continues to dream of ways to expand the Timeless brand and provide motivation for other aspiring entrepreneurs.  

“I’m looking for sustainability in my business, and I’m also into teaching and helping people,” he says. “I’m just here to say that you can do it—I’m living proof. Stick to the prayers, work hard, make it happen.” 

Bear & Crown Pub Brings British Classics to Old Sacramento

For Joe Wilson and Jesse Ledin, owners of Bear & Crown Pub, opening a British eatery in Northern California was a new endeavor in their personal and professional lives—but in many ways, it was familiar territory.  The restaurant, which celebrated its grand opening in August of 2023, is an embrace of the unique backgrounds of each of its founders.   

A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Ledin has worked in the restaurant and hospitality industry for nearly two decades, with experience ranging from banquet catering to overseeing restaurant openings, while Wilson is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) bringing extensive accounting experience and his British heritage to the enterprise.  Despite their experience, being a start-up restaurant presented challenges for accessing capital through a traditional bank loan—so when they were looking for funding to finalize their launch, they turned to California Capital and secured a loan that allowed them to complete their renovations of their Old Sacramento location.

BRITISH ROOTS, CALIFORNIA VIBE

Born in London to English parents, Wilson grew up eating—and enjoying—beloved British dishes. When Ledin stepped back from his role at another local restaurant, and the couple realized that their combined skillsets would translate well into operating a restaurant together, the idea of opening a traditional British pub immediately came to mind.  

“We saw a gap for a British pub in Sacramento, and we were craving that homey feel,” explains Ledin, adding that they were intent on opening near midtown or downtown Sacramento, where they live.  

What was originally envisioned as a hole-in-the-wall canteen, says Wilson, has developed into more of a California spin on the time-honored public houses of the United Kingdom. “It reflects my upbringing, because I’m both British and American, and the playful modern spin fits us more,” he says.  

To be sure, the brand itself is a deliberate nod to both locales. Bear & Crown follows the usual naming convention of pubs by having two nouns joined together, says Wilson, explaining that they chose bear to honor California and crown as a salute to hometown NBA team, The Kings. With a logo designed by local artist Spencer Parry, Bear & Crown is as Sacramento as a British-themed eatery can be.

SEEKING MENTORSHIP AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT

When they began to pursue the project in earnest, Ledin’s connections in the Sacramento restaurant industry proved to be invaluable mentors, and Wilson’s knowledge of accounting and business management made the planning s

eamless. Both of their families are supportive of the vision as well, and have invested in the start-up costs. With support from California Capital, they were able to finish their tenant improvements and open on schedule.  

“Working with [California Capital] was really easy, and it was great to have them visit the site and see the behind-the-scenes of how we were putting the money to use,” explains Wilson. “Working with a nonprofit lender was also a reflection of our love for the local community.”  

HUSTLE, BUSTLE, AND PLANS FOR GROWTH

Since their grand opening, the founders have kept their staff—and themselves—busy.  They are running promotions for Sacramento Kings fans heading to games at nearby Golden 1 Center, hosting private events and preparing to host more community events with their new entertainment permit.  In the coming months, they also plan to pilot a seasonal initiative in which they will partner with local nonprofits to offer a special menu item whose sales will support the nonprofit of the season.  

Add this to their regular happy hours and weekly, rotating Sunday Roast menu, and it is clear that Wilson and Ledin are staying true to the long-established tradition of pubs being more than a restaurant: Bear & Crown is quickly becoming a hub for entertainment, community building and inclusivity.  

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!

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  

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR EVOLUTION

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.  

ENTREPRENEURSHIP FOR CHANGE

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.”  

GROWING LEADERS

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 itacatefoods.com/collections to shop today!

How Regina Range Used WBC Resources to Elevate Her Vegan Food Movement

For Regina Range, business ownership is more than a profession: it’s a path to wellness for her family and her community. A mother and grandmother, Regina has survived domestic violence, being unhoused, and mental illness, but always believed in the power of homemade food to nurture the body and soul.  With her event catering business, The Burnt Skillet, Regina offers soul food inspired by the cuisine of her childhood–but with a plant-based, organic twist. Regina’s journey to thriving as a business owner has been long, as she’s balanced economic uncertainty with concurrent diagnoses of Bipolar II Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Type II Diabetes.  

This year, in search of deeper support, Regina joined the Women’s Business Center’s Preparing for Harvest: Mental Health for Entrepreneurs 10-week course with business mindset coach Asia Hilario. With the resources and guidance provided during the series, Regina has come away empowered to take her business to the next level. 

THE BEGINNING OF A MOVEMENT

Before she owned a vegan catering business, Regina Range sold sweet potato pies from the trunk of her car. At the time, Range was experiencing homeless, living with undiagnosed mental illness, and, as she describes, hustling to get by. For her, getting by meant sharing the food she learned to cook in her childhood. “Food has always been embedded in my soul,” she says. “I was born to do this.”  

Eventually, after working with a psychiatrist and beginning treatment for her diagnoses of Bipolar and OCD, Range was able to get an apartment at Folsom Oaks Apartments Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). She also began advocating for mental health education in the Black community. “In my culture it was something we didn’t do,” Range says about seeking mental health treatment. “We didn’t talk to psychiatrists. We’d already been put down, let down, ostracized.”    

As she found stability and identity as a champion of her community, Range also had the capacity to focus more on sharing her cooking. She developed her vision for a soul food catering truck, and joined the Alchemist Community Development Corporation’s Microenterprise Academy at the end of 2019.  The program gave Range the education and resources to finalize her products and launch a food business, but after receiving a diagnosis of Type II Diabetes, she felt the need to reevaluate her approach to cooking.   

“I thought my diagnosis would be fatal,” says Range. Left unmanaged, Type II diabetes can double the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. “But in the [Alchemist] class, I learned about the concept of pivoting: to change, to rearrange, to uplift.”

COMMUNITY ROOTS, ORGANIC PRODUCE

As she continued to educate herself on the diet-related conditions that persist in the United States, Range realized that many, Type II diabetes in particular, disproportionately affect Black Americans: Black adults in the U.S. are nearly twice as likely to develop Type II diabetes, and recent research indicates that obesity and overweight are driving factors of the prevalence of the disease. While a variety of socioeconomic factors contribute to these conditions, the opportunity for Range to make a positive impact with her business became clear. She learned about the health benefits of the plants used in traditional soul food: black-eyed peas, collard greens, mushrooms, onions.   

Range began to “veganize” her recipes, removing animal-based fats and processed meats and making them more plant forward. She started her own garden and tapped into community resources to source organic vegetables and legumes. By changing her own diet, Range saw marked improvements in all of her symptoms, from depression to glucose levels. Soon, The Burnt Skillet had gone from a catering business to a social enterprise leading a movement to empower her community. “I always thought we could never afford organic,” she says, reflecting on her connections with community gardens and pantries. “That’s where the change is gonna come: showing people that you can afford to eat clean on a budget. It’s a movement.” 

CONNECTING WITH THE WBC

Even with an unwavering vision and positive changes, Range knew that managing her particular set of health circumstances would be lifelong work. “I’ve had to redesign and refocus my life just to feel good,” she explains. “To get up in the morning and say ‘Yes, this is my day. I’m gonna get it done.’”  She turned to the Women’s Business Center during one of her periods of refocusing.  

Through the Preparing for Harvest series, a 10-week course offered at no cost to business owners, Range did deep work with Business Mindset Coach, Asia Hilario, and a cohort of other women in business. The series focused on helping entrepreneurs dig deep to uncover the root causes of imposter syndrome, burnout, and anxiety and had worksheets and homework that kept participants accountable for reflecting and creating new plans. “Many entrepreneurs don’t realize that a lot of their thoughts, actions, and beliefs are rooted in childhood, trauma, or other past experiences,” Hilario explained in an interview about her approach to the series curriculum. “We have to dig into what identity we’re anchored to that is keeping us from doing what’s good for us.”   

For Range, the consistency and validation that the course provided came at a pivotal time. As she explains it, she had been in a manic state and in need of something to help her redefine the direction of her business and her life. The course helped Range set boundaries, examine the reasons for her fear of success, and learn sustainable tools for managing her mental health on a daily basis.  

“[The course] helped me recenter, redirect and redesign Regina Range. I carry it with me every single day,” she says. “Now I got nothing but goodness in front of me.” 

LOOKING UP AND MOVING FORWARD

The future as described by Regina Range is bright. As she builds her business through catering events, Range is planning to, as she describes it, “build a utopia”.  She hopes to secure a lease on a brick and mortar space where she can host a cooperative grocery store, cooking classes, and offer housing and employment to unhoused women.  

By making the most of the resources available, Range has doubled down on her lifelong mission of bringing people together through homemade food. “I’m prepared to pour into the community – y’all have no idea how beautiful the world is,” she says. “The fear of being successful is no longer there. I buried that with this course. I was so scared of having anything, but it’s shining now because I did the work.” 

Through the Women’s Business Center, Lonje Deschamps Found Community and Confidence

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Lonje Deschamps was in a unique position to evaluate her career trajectory.  She and her family were returning to her hometown of Sacramento after several years in the Bay Area, and she was able to take some time away from her full-time job. After years in social services and nonprofits, Lonje knew that she was ready to shift her focus from a public-facing role to focusing on more administrative and operational tasks. She began assisting small business owners she was already connected with, and the idea to create her own business was formed.

 “Because of my background in social services, I am able to understand a wide variety of people’s needs,” explains Lonje. “I reflected on all of the tasks that I really enjoyed from my past jobs, and that became what LD’s Business Services encompasses.”  

Applying her background in nonprofit management, social services, and human resources Lonje helps small business clients organize and elevate their operations. She provides business owners with grant writing and research services, copywriting and marketing strategy, employee recruitment and hiring, and is also a certified Notary Public. Through this wide and evolving scope of services, Lonje acts as a “virtual assistant”, empowering entrepreneurs to focus on the elements of their business about which they are more passionate. 

Building Community

An organized and ambitious person, Lonje knew the logistical steps she needed to take when she was ready to start her own business. She acquired the proper licenses and certifications, but didn’t take the idea beyond those initial steps. Ultimately, it was the guidance and encouragement of her Women’s Business Center (WBC) counselor that prompted her to launch publicly. “My counselor showed me how focused I was, and it was great to have someone to bounce my ideas off of,” says Lonje, adding that even with her own motivation, external support was a huge benefit. “We all need support and for someone to tell us we’re on the right track.”  

With this confidence, Lonje launched her website, began marketing her services and building her client base. By maintaining her connection to the WBC, Lonje has received client referrals and built a community of likeminded women business owners. Lonje has been a regular member–and a guest speaker–at the WBC’s monthly Motivated Entrepreneur networking events, which she says has kept her engaged and inspired. “Having other women that are in varying stages of business ownership to collaborate with and talk to helps you not feel alone,” she says. “The most important thing has been the camaraderie, because I’m already a structured person. Being able to discuss issues and successes has been very helpful.” 

“It Keeps My Brain Active”

Lonje currently maintains a full-time job while operating her business, but she is excited to continue building something based off of her own vision, with total creative freedom. “My business allows me to constantly evolve and pivot,” says Lonje. “It keeps my brain active.” 

Moving forward, Lonje hopes to expand her offerings to include more training for business owners, including an online grant writing and research course, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training. “Working with the WBC has helped me be comfortable with the constant evolution of my business,” she says. “I am excited to keep growing.”   

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