Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

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.”