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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
For Megan Wyatt, owning and operating Wit & Whimsy Toys in Granite Bay, California has been a dream come true. Her first job was at a toy store when she was 16, and in the four years that she worked there, one of her major life goals was solidified: own and operate her own toy shop. Despite the hectic seasons–and the 12-hour shifts during the holidays–Megan never questioned her belief that it was the best job there is. For years, life circumstances and other career pursuits stood between Megan and business ownership. But a job loss at the beginning of 2020 caused her to reevaluate her path, and she turned to the Women’s Business Center (WBC) to figure out what it would take to make her dreams a reality.
“I was lost for a little bit at the beginning of 2020,” explains Megan, who had previously been working as the marketing coordinator at an environmental firm. “But some friends own a store in a shopping center, and kept saying how great it would be if a toy store opened in the vacant spot next door.”
Megan Wyatt founded Wit & Whimsy Toys in 2020, carrying out a longtime dream of business ownership.
Usually, Megan would answer the friendly encouragement with vague apprehension. “My response was always ‘maybe one day, maybe after I do xy or z’,” she says. “But every excuse I gave, they had a work around!” The possibility of starting a shop that focused on high-quality, educational toys, gadgets, and games for customers of all ages began coming into clearer focus.
Eventually, after receiving a recommendation from a friend to work with California Capital to explore the first steps of opening a business, Megan contacted the WBC and was connected with a business counselor. She began working with Charles Thomas, who has helped hundreds of clients across industries start or grow businesses.
“[Charles] really went to bat for me,” says Megan. “He was instrumental in helping me create a business plan, and helping me determine what to consider to begin the process. I had no idea where to start.”
Wit & Whimsy Toys opened their storefront in Granite Bay, CA, in November of 2020.
This was in July of 2020, and there was much to do. But working with Charles, as well as WBC Business Consultant Danielle Marshall, Megan spent the summer and early fall nailing down her business plan, learning cash flow analysis, and negotiating a lease for the storefront next to her friend’s shop. Early on in her entrepreneurial journey, Megan made the decision to “bootstrap” the business, meaning she would build it up without taking out loans or securing outside funding. Through personal investments, she and her husband were able to secure a storefront and build up their inventory for a grand opening at the beginning of the holiday buying season.
They opened the week before Thanksgiving of 2020, and their customer base caught on quickly. “I think our biggest accomplishment so far is the customer base we have built. I was really surprised by our sales last Christmas, despite only having been open for six weeks,” Megan says, reflecting on the last nine months.
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.
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.
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.”
Two small business owners recently found success after a California Capital matchmaking event that connected them with large retailers at the Sacramento International Airport (SMF). While their stories showcase individual success, they also highlight the ways in which minority-owned small businesses can expand through unique avenues, and the growing breadth of airport-based concessionaire opportunities.
California Capital clients Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes began talks with international retailers Marshall Retail Group and Travel + Well, respectively, last month. The opportunities each business pursued are part of the Sacramento International Airport’s broader efforts to connect local business owners with airport retailers—an outreach strategy that was reflected in a Small Business Working Group (SBWG) event in February. The virtual event, hosted by California Capital and the Black Small Business Association of California (BSBA), allowed small business owners to meet with representatives from the Sacramento County International Airport and learn about procurement opportunities with airport concessionaires.
“Through our concessionaires there are many opportunities for small businesses to sell their products,” explains Renata Romero, Airport Economic Development Specialist at the Sacramento International Airport. “We conduct outreach events to reach the small business communities and partner with local agencies to promote our available opportunities.”
Procurement an Avenue for Expansion
Selling at the Sacramento International Airport was of particular interest to LaQueanya Henry, who founded Sugar Coated Cupcakes with her daughter Mechiala and is focused on contracts with companies or government agencies as a way to expand beyond e-commerce.
“I have been looking for a storefront for us for a while, so I reached out to [Airport Economic Development Specialist] Andrew Durkee who suggested working with established vendors,” explains Ms. Henry. Mr. Durkee put Sugar Coated Cupcakes in contact with the owner of the Travel + Well kiosk, and once the relationship was established, business followed. “He really went above and beyond facilitating that connection.”
Similarly, Truthful Kernel co-founder Jon Jew recently expanded his capacity, and was looking for ways to reach more markets with his health-conscious popcorn snacks. Having worked with a California Capital Women’s Business Center business counselor as he built the foundations of his brand, Mr. Jew knew that California Capital would be a valuable resource for leveraging growth.
“California Capital put me in contact with Marshall Retail Group’s local sundries buyer, and everything clicked right away,” explains Mr. Jew. “We’re starting off by selling at their locations at Sacramento International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. Who knows how far this will go?”
Facilitating the expansion of small businesses in localities across the country is a key element of Marshall Retail Group’s operations, says Renee Ellis, Local Sundries Buyer. “The Marshall Retail Group prides itself on being part of every community we are given the distinct honor to be part of. We firmly believe in promoting small business in the area and helping them to grow. We currently work with over 300 vendors across the US and in Canada and that list grows everyday,” explains Ms. Ellis, emphasizing that Marshall Retail Group also works with their vendors to expand beyond their community, as they have with Truthful Kernel.
In many ways, Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes are examples of typical Sacramento entrepreneurs: ambitious, resourceful, and dedicated to the quality of their product, often leveraging the Sacramento region’s farm-to-fork culture to source local, fresh ingredients. And this homegrown ethos was a perfect fit for SMF.
“The Sacramento International Airport strives to highlight local businesses in our retail and food and beverage programs. We have been participating in local outreach events in efforts to become more visible to the local community,” explains Ms. Romero, whose team is also currently revamping their website to include resources and guides for businesses interested in selling at the airport.
Business Opportunities Through Partnerships
A valuable resource in building business connections are events such as the Small Business Working Group, which inform business owners of the opportunities available and put them in touch with the necessary decision-makers.
“Through these partnerships [with community-based organizations], small businesses become aware of the opportunities and gain insight into the process. With the assistance of the resources provided, small businesses are better prepared and equipped to compete for the available opportunities,” explains Ms. Romero, adding that while many businesses do not think of airports as a viable location for their operation, the traveling public are a dynamic population, and opportunities to sell a variety of products and services will evolve and increase as air travel begins to return to pre-pandemic levels. “From 2022 through 2026 we will be issuing Food & Beverage and Retail Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that will effectively open most of the airport concessionaire spaces to new concepts. Now is a great time for local companies to learn and prepare for doing business with the airport to ensure they are competitive in the upcoming RFP processes.”
With communities across the nation returning to air travel, the express commitment of large entities like the Sacramento International Airport to increase participation of small businesses—and particularly small businesses that hold Airport Concessionaire Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) certifications—will be crucial to elevating small business ecosystems across the nation. By working with organizations like California Capital to complete the ACDBE application and stay up-to-date on RFPs, taking advantage of these evolving opportunities can be a reality.
May 28, 2021 | When Leslie Valdivia and Joanna Rosario-Rocha started Vive Cosmetics, the beauty industry was overdue for change. What has grown into an acclaimed national brand with a wide range of lip products began as a problem the pair knew they could solve: the need for authentic representation of the diverse Latina and Latinx communities that constitute the make-up industry’s largest consumer demographic. Now, as their influence grows, the founders are using a loan from California Capital’s Lending Center to expand their reach and continue effecting change.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP INSPIRED BY WOMEN
Leslie and Joanna met through their partners—now husbands—, who have been friends since high school. The two became friends, but did not have designs to enter into business together—until 2016,
L-R: Joanna Rosario-Rocha and Leslie Valdivia. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics.
when Joanna accompanied Leslie to BlogHer, an annual conference for Latina business owners, bloggers, and social media influencers.
“There was a lot of energy around creating digital content and being online at that time,” says Leslie, who was working in social media and attended the conference every year. “There was innovation happening, and Joanna was interested in learning more.”
During a session where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas, the pair shared an “aha moment”. Participants framed their businesses as solutions to problems they had yet to see anyone tackle, and one entrepreneur in particular stood out. She preferred to dress conservatively because of her religious faith, and was frustrated by the lack of options that were both cute and modest.
“At one point she said, ‘Why should I have to compromise?’,” explains Leslie. “That’s when it clicked. Joanna and I looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do something’.”
A NEED FOR BEAUTY CON CULTURA
They immediately began to brainstorm around their shared passions, and quickly landed on make-up: Leslie has been a beauty enthusiast since middle school, and Joanna even had a make-up tutorial channel during the early days of YouTube.
Two models from one of Vive Cosmetics’ first campaigns. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics.
From there, a vexing question naturally presented itself: Latinx beauty shoppers outspend other demographic groups by nearly 30%, so why was it so difficult to find Latinx representation in the industry? Why aren’t their cultures celebrated authentically?
What Joanna and Leslie saw the more they researched the industry they had supported for so long was a system that relied on stereotypical and narrow depictions of Latinas to make a profit, ignoring the differences in ethnicity, skintone, gender, and shape that exist amongst Latinx beauty aficionados. What’s more, they struggled to find cosmetic or beauty brands that were founded, owned, or operated by Latinx entrepreneurs. It was clear that the industry could do better—Leslie and Joanna were no longer willing to compromise. They would create a brand to speak to and represent the Latinx beauty community as a whole.
VIVE COSMETICS: A LABOR OF LOVE
Joanna and Leslie got to work quickly, researching all elements of what it takes to develop, produce, and sell high quality beauty products. They worked with a California Capital Women’s Business Center Business Counselor to develop a business plan, all while maintaining their full time jobs.
Initially, the learning curve was steep. Neither founder had a background in beauty, retail, or even e-commerce—they were starting from scratch in a $62 billion industry.
“The biggest challenge was finding a manufacturer,” says Leslie. “It’s extremely difficult for small brands to even get a response most of the time, because so much is based on having the right contacts to get traction.”
Eventually, they connected with a manufacturer from New York, and continued to leverage resources
Vive Cosmetics Liquid Lipsticks. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics.
for business development available in the Sacramento community. They put their business plan into action, and received a start-up loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration via Opening Doors, a Sacramento-based nonprofit. With their first line of product ready, Vive Cosmetics was officially launched in 2017.
BUSINESS AND COMMUNITY: GROWING TOGETHER
Vive Cosmetics launched as an e-Commerce shop with a website and social media presence to live up to its mission of beauty con cultura—and beauty shoppers responded. To this day, the company has not invested in paid advertising or public relations campaigns, but their Instagram profile has grown to have over 40,000 followers—and was even highlighted by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last fall. As a result of this organic online success, Vive Cosmetics has been featured in Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, and “O” The Oprah Magazine, among other national publications.
“We are built for community, by community,” Leslie explains, reflecting the role that social media, and Instagram in particular, has played for them over the past four years. “The way folks have responded to
Vive Cosmetics finds much of the talent they work with via social media. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics.
what we’ve offered has made us realize that it’s going to work. We’re doing the right thing.”
Vive Cosmetic’s digital presence, which now includes growing YouTube and TikTok profiles, has become central to the brand’s existential project of honoring Latinx communities and building equity in the beauty industry. Followers and online shoppers are able to see lip products modeled by Latinx talent that represents a range of skin tones, body types, and ethnicities, and browse lines that are “created with inclusivity in mind” . Moreover, they are invited to participate in the process of inclusivity.
“We find so many of the models, photographers, and creative directors we work with through Instagram,” Leslie says. “We’ll put a call out to our community when we’re working on a campaign and need talent, and we will get hundreds of people tagging their friends or reaching out themselves.” That’s one way, says Leslie, that Vive is working to increase opportunities for BIPOC beauty professionals on all sides of the industry. “Representation does not just mean on camera or in campaigns.”
NEW PRODUCTS, SAME PURPOSE
Thanks to their quick success since the 2017 launch, Leslie and Joanna were able to pay off the start-up loan. Now, their ever-increasing fan base is eager for new products. But the nature of product-based businesses means that new offerings must be formulated and developed before they can be
Samples from Vive Cosmetics’ Cremosa Matte Lipstick Line. Courtesy of Vive Cosmetics.
sold, so any hopes for expansion would require a good deal of up-front investment. Still, explains Leslie, innovation is crucial.
“Looking at our metrics, we understand that when we launch new products, our customers come back,” she says. “We need to do new things. That will in turn help us grow our revenue and expand the company.”
Luckily, they had stayed in touch with California Capital, often having their Business Counselor review their applications for grants or pitch competitions—so they knew where to look when the company was ready for a larger capital infusion. They worked with California Capital’s Lending Center to apply for a sizable loan, and were approved for the full amount in February of 2021.
“It was a thorough and intense process, which is understandable given the amount we were applying for,” Leslie explains. “We had to create financial projections for the next three years, which was tough in the middle of a pandemic. But when we applied, our sales were growing, so we were confident that it was the right time.”
Collaboration Over Competition
Now, with capital to work with and a clear picture of their financial goals, the founders are busy expanding and planning for the future. Leslie now works for the company full-time, and they are working with a product development consultant who is providing valuable guidance as they create new products and reformulate some of their traditional offerings. They have already launched a new line of tinted lip balms, and collaborated with Brujita Skincare, a Latina-owned skincare company out of Los Angeles, to create a Rosewood Hibiscus Facial Mist.
As they seek to continue innovating their products to meet the changing needs of customers—including a foray into product lines beyond lipstick, and revamping their packaging to make it more sustainable—, synergy with other Latinx beauty companies will remain a priority. Since 2017, they have seen a shift in how many Latinx-owned companies are around, and that has come with different types of representation and different stories being told.
As they seek to uplift the Latinx community as a whole, the focus will be on collaboration rather than competition—staying true to their passion for beauty con cultura.
LISTEN: LESLIE AND JOANNA SHARE THEIR STORY ON LA RANCHERA SUPERSTATION (IN SPANISH, ORIGINAL AIR DATE AUGUST 8, 2021)