Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Buy Local?

By Noa Kornbluh, Fall Fellow

One often hears the slogan “buy local,” but I was never really convinced that buying local made a significant impact.   Why buy local when local goods are often more expensive and less convenient than products from national chains?   Not too long ago I came across a powerful economic argument for buying local.  I was told that for every dollar spent at a national store 13% goes back into the local economy and if that same dollar was spent at a locally-owned business 43% returns to the community.  That is a 30% difference made with each dollar I spend, and that is a significant impact. 

This statistic comes from a study done by Civic Economics in Austin, Texas comparing the economic impact of local versus national book stores.  Civic Economics repeated a similar study in the San Francisco area.  The San Francisco study produced the same striking results, indicating that local businesses contribute much more to the local economy than national chains.  Economists found three aspects of local versus national businesses that create a profound difference in the impact on the local economy.  First, due to scale, local businesses have a higher ratio of jobs per market share.  National chains have corporate offices where they employ accountants and other administrators who work for the whole company.  Local businesses staff these jobs locally.  Second, local enterprises source more of their goods locally than national chains.  Due to convenience and scale, local business owners are more likely to buy from other local businesses instead of global suppliers.  Lastly, in local businesses a larger percentage of profits stay in the community.  Profits from small local businesses are spent by business owners in their neighborhoods on goods and services such as rent or going out to eat.  National and international businesses have stock holders located all over the world who share in profits.  Buying local may at times be more expensive or less convenient but it is an investment in the neighborhood we live in.  In the long run, the choices we make on a daily basis will shape the economic future of our community.

Women’s Initiative graduates work towards starting locally-owned businesses and in doing so they strengthen local economies.  Graduates open store fronts, provide jobs and invest in their communities.  When you purchase goods or services from a Women’s Initiative graduate you are not just supporting an incredible woman and entrepreneur, you are also investing in the local economy. 

To support both local businesses and Women’s Initiative graduates purchase tickets to the Love Local event happening at the Caine Shulte Contemporary Art Gallery in San Francisco on Friday November 16th.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oakland’s First Fridays
If you haven’t been to Oakland’s First Fridays recently, it is worth well worth the trip and will most definitely quench your thirst for art, culture, and food.  What was once just a few blocks of art galleries open late to show their new exhibits has turned into 10+ blocks of festivities stretching from Jack London Square to Old Oakland and through the Uptown District.

On November 2nd, Women’s Initiative had the unique pleasure of spending First Fridays with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.  She has supported the growth of Oakland’s Art Murmur which now draws crowds from across the Bay.  The Mayor hosted Women’s Initiative’s East Bay Board of Directors for an intimate reception at City Hall – complete with a tour of the Mayor’s office which boasts beautiful wood paneled ceilings and a very large fireplace, as seen below.  The Mayor accompanied Women’s Initiative on a tour of three graduate businesses that are helping transform Oakland’s empty store fronts into bustling businesses.  Penelope Abide, owner of Nneka, has taken the old Raider’s building on Broadway and created a retail space packed with local designers, artists, jewelers, and at least 4 other Women’s Initiative graduates’ products.  When she moved into the space on Broadway and 14th a year ago, it was one big, open area which has been converted into two retail spaces.  Right next store is Betti Ono Gallery, owned by Anyka Barber.  On this particular night, the Betti Ono gallery was home to a husband and wife artist’s duo, bringing multi-media art to a whole new dimension.    Betti Ono gallery is known to be one of the most popular spots on First Fridays – be sure to check out her December exhibition. 

The final stop on the Women’s Initiative business tour was Shoe Groupie, owned by Candice Littlefield and Dion Bullock.  With a selection of sassy shoes for ladies and men, as well as accessories, Shoe Groupie is nothing short of fabulous.  Mayor Quan was intrigued by a pair of rain boots that roll up and can be put in your bag when not in use.  Best of all, they are totally affordable and come in both black and leopard print. 

As we said our goodbyes to Mayor Quan and her team, she had a smile on her face; happy to see new business in Oakland?  Delighted that women are leading the charge for economic revitalization?  Women’s Initiative graduates are powerful agents of economic change in Oakland and we all share the Mayor’s vision of creating an Oakland that draws people from across the Bay Area to eat at our restaurants, shop our small businesses and help keep Oakland moving in a positive direction.  Thank you Penelope, Anyka, Candice and Dion for being such exceptional role models for other women business owners and thank you Mayor Quan for recognizing our efforts to contribute to Oakland’s renaissance. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Alameda County Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

By Elizabeth Lanyon, Women's Initiative Senior Grant Writer
Photos by Lily Dong,
Attendees of the Alameda County Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

Every year, Women’s Initiative hosts Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award celebrations to recognize the exceptional contributions of women business leaders.  This year was no exception as we held events in Contra Costa County, Silicon Valley and Alameda County to celebrate the success of women entrepreneurs.   Held at the Berkeley City Club on October 12 with more than 200 guests, the Alameda County celebration this year was especially moving.   

The Berkeley City Club was built by Julia Morgan and opened in 1930 as a social club and residence for women.  Julia Morgan was a leader in her own time, one of the first women to graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in Civil Engineering, the first woman to be accepted at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris for architecture, and the first woman architect licensed in California.  

Shoppers enjoying the Graduate Marketplace

Standing in the library and balcony which held the Women’s Initiative Graduate Marketplace, it was clear that Julia Morgan had big plans for the women who would pass through those rooms.  The building design brings the outside in, creating a space for women to socialize, educate and become ambassadors for the changes that would shape women’s history.  Women’s Initiative shares many of these same values for women entrepreneurs, encouraging out clients to learn from each other and collaborate in business to leverage skills and experience that can help their businesses grow.  

Maricruz Castro, winner of Graduate Entrepreneurial Spirit Award
 Maricruz Castro, owner of Majestic Maids, was honored for her persistence and resilience in pursuing business ownership.  Despite the road blocks, Maricruz was determined to make a better life for herself. She even taught herself to drive so she could work three jobs to support her family.  She found Women’s Initiative at a difficult time in her life, and realized that she had the potential to build something for her future.  Today, Maricruz is the owner of The Majestic Maids and has five employees.  She is a proud mother and role model for any woman who was told she was never going to make it.   

DeeDee Towery, winner of Woman Entrepreneur of the Year
Deedee Towery was honored as the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. Her commitment to excellence is undeniable.  Deedee is the Founder and President of ProActiveBusiness Solutions, Inc., one of the leading IT companies in the Bay Area.  Since founding the company in 1998, Deedee now has over 200 employees throughout the United States and Canada.  

Women like Maricruz and Deedee follow the footsteps of our sheroes, who paved the way for all women to pursue their dreams, to let nothing stand in the way of their ambitions.  I definitely got the feeling that we were surrounded by generations of women who came through the Berkeley City Club; women who, just like graduates of Women’s Initiative, knew they had to overcome social challenges and stigmas to achieve their potential.  When the event was over, as the shopping at the Graduate Marketplace slowed, as everyone got back to their offices for the afternoon, Julia Morgan’s story left me with the idea that women can and will make change when given an opportunity, and that change will impact far more than those you can see.  If Julia were at the event, I am sure it would have brought tears to her eyes to see how far we’ve come and what we are truly able to accomplish – one woman, one woman owned business at a time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

California Can Help the Unemployed Be Their Own Bosses

Guest Blogger: Heidi Pickman, Communications Director of CAMEO (California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity)

The federal government set aside $35 million for states to implement a Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program and help unemployed become their own boss and start their own micro-business. California has the opportunity to apply for $5.3 million of that money from the U.S. Department of Labor to initiate, administer, and market a SEA program to help the unemployed who can start their own businesses.

Under the SEA program, unemployed workers will be able to receive or maintain their unemployment insurance benefits while they start their own small businesses – a full-time job in its own right – without having to look for other full-time work. Currently, in California this is not the case.

To get funds to operate SEA, the California legislature needs to pass a bill. California leaders have the opportunity to assist the unemployed to become self-employed, create jobs, and reduce the unemployment rolls – all at the same time.  CAMEO is working to make this a reality, but surprisingly there is opposition.  The one positive thing legislators can do right now to create jobs through self-employment is to initiate a Self-Employment Assistance Program (SEA).

“We initiated the Help Unemployed BYOB campaign, because California’s unemployment rate continues to remains high, higher than the national average,” said Claudia Viek, C.E.O. of CAMEO. “If the unemployed can’t find a job, they can create their own. California needs to apply for these federal funds and train the unemployed to become their own boss.”

The Help Unemployed BYOB-Be Their Own Boss petition campaign was launched to show Governor Brown and the state legislators that California wants this program.

California needs this program.  California has had double digit unemployment for more than three years and a persistent, long-term unemployment problem.  The percent of long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more) as a share of total unemployed in California rose from 19.9% in December 2005 to 44.5% in December 2010.  Increase in long-term unemployment has hit all demographic groups in California, but some populations experience more long-term unemployment than on average, including minorities, older workers, educated workers.

Existing companies are not creating enough jobs.

Self-employment must be part of any economic recovery plan for California.  Self-employment creates at least one job per start-up that is for the owner, and creates jobs for others over time.   Self-employment is a labor market trend; self-employment was more than 25% of wage and salary employment in 2009.  Pre-2000, self-employment grew at an average of 1.4% a year; post-2000, self-employment grew at an average of 3.5% a year and is projected to grow at a rate of 7.2% in the next five years.

Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment has understood the power of becoming your own boss for a long time.  CAMEO’s efforts will open up the workforce system to entrepreneurial training and allow more women to access WISE’s services.

Please support our efforts and sign the Be Your Own Boss petition, invite 10 or more friends to sign it. Spread the word with Facebook and Twitter.

Heidi Pickman is the Communications Director for CAMEO (California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity) the voice for micro-business in California. CAMEO works to grow a healthy, vibrant, thriving environment for all entrepreneurs and start-up businesses by advancing the work of our statewide member network – the over 160 organizations, agencies and individuals dedicated to furthering the fortunes of 22,000  micro-businesses in California.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spread the word: Starting a business is job creation.

By Shelley Hughes, Summer Fellow

If one in three microbusinesses were to hire a single employee, the U.S. economy would achieve full employment.“
– Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO)

Job creation remains a hot topic in this year’s presidential election as our nation continues to tackle the unemployment crisis. At Women’s Initiative we are well aware of how microbusiness development can positively affect job growth and job creation. After all, within five years of graduating from Women’s Initiative, our clients create an average of 2.5 jobs for others.

So how can we keep track of policy issues that will keep entrepreneurs top of mind when politicians talk about job creation? Thankfully the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) makes it their mission to keep us informed on relevant issues as they advocate for policy change to support entrepreneurs.

AEO lists the following legislative proposals as key initiatives they are supporting this summer:

  • The Microenterprise and Youth Entrepreneurship Development Act (H.R. 2809), introduced by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), would strengthen the SBA’s PRIME Program and create one single access point for information on the government’s business assistance programs.
  • The Entrepreneur Startup Growth Act (H.R. 3571), introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), would provide grants to nonprofit microbusiness development organizations to provide tax preparation services to disadvantaged and underserved entrepreneurs.
  • The Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act (H.R. 2930/S.1970), the “Crowdfund Act” would ease and simplify reporting requirement for small value investors for certain crowdfunded securities in small businesses.

Interested in helping push for this legislation? This summer the AEO released an advocacy toolkit that outlines how individuals and organizations can take part in the dialogue. Best practices and tips for engaging with elected officials is covered in more detail in AEO’s Engage and Empower Toolkit, which can be found here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Self-Employment Assistance Program

By Loren Diesi, Financial Services Summer Fellow

As a fellow at Women’s Initiative, I have had many opportunities to broaden my understanding of microenterprise. A few weeks ago I sat in on a webinar on the topic of the Self-Employment Assistance Program (SEA). Before attending the webinar, I had no clue what this program was about. I learned that the SEA is not currently implemented in the state of California, however it is currently helping a great deal of people in our northern neighbor, Oregon.

What is the Self-Employment Assistance Program?

In Oregon, the SEA is a program that is closely related to Unemployment Benefits. The majority of claimants that apply for this program are accepted, however this program is geared towards building microenterprise and encouraging self-employment. Instead of having to look for a job while receiving unemployment, claimants are expected to work towards starting their own business full-time. Within 30 days of applying for the program, participants must submit a business plan. During the 26 week program, if a claimant is able to earn income from their starting business, they will also still receive unemployment benefits from the government allowing them to have reliable income. Throughout the program, claimants are given guidance and support to help with any of their business needs.

This program became extremely popular during the height of the recession, and we can see why. If jobs are not available, then the next best thing is to create your own job. By encouraging claimants to work in their own business fulltime, this requires them to become more proactive in getting them back on their feet. The Department of Labor deemed the SEA effective, and was especially successful with people who had been laid off from their previous jobs, or who had already had an interest in creating their own business. Below we can see the direct results of the SEA program in Oregon:

A slide from the SEA webinar presented by Martin Burrows, Assistant Director, Business and Employment Services of Oregon Employment Department

Women’s Initiative is an amazing program geared towards low-income women; however we have limited resources and cannot reach out to everyone. Currently the SEA is not implemented in California, but organizations are working towards getting a budget for next year. According to the Department of Labor, states have until June 30 of 2013 to apply for funding for the SEA program. To read more about this, check out the Department of Labor website here. Although work is in progress to make this program accessible to California residents, many do not know that it exists. You can help make this possible by spreading the word about the Self-Employment Assistance program. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Partner Spotlight: Exploring New Opportunities for Entrepreneurs at La Cocina’s Conference

By Kelly Baker, Regional Evaluation Associate, AmeriCorps VISTA
On the tail end of their wildly successful Street Food Festival, La Cocina hosted their 3rd Annual Food & Entrepreneurship Conference. Through Women's Initiative's partnership with La Cocina as members of the San Francisco Economic Development Alliance, I was lucky enough to attend the second day of the conference free of charge.

The day was packed with thematic panel discussions around food, technology, and entrepreneurship. In the morning I attended “How to Create Spaces for Successful Entrepreneurship.” The panelists included representatives from Bay Area farmers’ market associations, Josh Assink with Urban Village and Lulu Meyer with the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, as well as Alec W. Bauer of KRBS, Jonny Price of Kiva, and Junette Sheen of CCEDA acted as moderator. During the discussion, panelists and attendees grappled with the issue of barriers to entry: lack of access to affordable kitchen space, discrepancies in health code enforcement, and funding.

For me, one of the most interesting pieces to come out of the discussion was a new program Kiva is launching, Kiva Zip. Earlier in the discussion representatives from the farmers’ markets emphasized the importance of bringing people closer to their food source, the coming together of producer and consumer. Kiva’s new program similarly aims to bridge the gap between lender and borrower. Lenders make small loans of at least $25 to a new venture, ultimately contributing to a loan made at 0% interest to the borrower (at higher risk). Price cited an example in which the borrowers often in turn became part of the customer base for their lenders, stopping by to see how things were progressing and supporting their investment. This program has great potential to foster local enterprise.

After a delicious Nepalese buffet lunch, there was a large panel discussion on Food & Technology, discussing new apps, websites, and social media strategies that food entrepreneurs can take advantage of. Participants then broke out into smaller discussion groups after the panel. I attended the session on “Using Technology to Foster Entrepreneurship in Communities.” In this session led by Joel A. Lacayo of Mission Asset Fund and Amanda Oborne of FoodHub, participants shared challenges and strategies for using technology. Many of us in the room represented nonprofits working to help entrepreneurs, so social media outreach and the digital divide were central issues in the conversation.

All in all, the conference was inspirational and informative. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with a variety of people, organizations, and entrepreneurs working toward innovative new solutions to problems of economic development and recovery.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Women’s Initiative Graduates “Popping-Up” and Sticking Around

By Nellie Stokeld, Partnership Development Associate, AmeriCorps VISTA

We here at Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment love to brag about the successes of our clients as they start and grow their businesses. That is why we are thrilled to see some of our graduates being recognized for their success and innovation in not one, but two, recent articles on

The women featured in these articles are champions in the growing trend literally popping up in Downtown Oakland. Anyka Barber will be celebrating her gallery’s one year anniversary at her new location at 1427 Broadway, called Betti Ono Gallery, at this week’s First Friday Art Murmur. Anyka originally started her business as a pop-up gallery in the Marquee Lofts across from Fox Theater. She said she got the idea to follow the path to entrepreneurship after speaking to her friend and Women’s Initiative graduate, Erica Varize, who owns Evarize Cut And Sew Boutique in Berkeley. Her new gallery, now in a much bigger space, will be shared with yet another Women’s Initiative graduate,  Penelope Adibe, owner of Nneka and the former co-owner of the pop-up store OakCollective, in the same 1427 Broadway location. Rachel Konte, who had co-habited the OakCollective pop-up has now opened her own permanent location for Owl N Wood at 45 Grand Ave. Similarly, the article points out several more successful graduates, whose brick and mortars are reaching great success: Bakesale Betty’s Alison Barakat and Telegraph Avenenue’s Shoe Groupie, owned by Dion Bullock and Candice Littlefield.

The list could go on and on about the amount of Women’s Initiative graduates who are bringing energy and life to downtown Oakland; on any given lunch break I can come across four or five of our graduates’ businesses within a short walk from our offices on the corner of 17th and Telegraph. The women featured in these articles, however, are part of a larger trend. Pop-up storefronts are becoming a popular and economically viable alternative to empty storefronts and high barriers to entrance for entrepreneurs. We’re happy to see these women seeking creative solutions to strengthen their businesses and enliven the neighborhood. Be sure to check them out in their new locations and Art Murmur celebrations this Friday!

And now you can find more of our graduates’ businesses in the Orange Pages, our online business directory newly available through our partnership with LocalOn.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Graduate Spotlight: Maricela Yee's Little Shop Artisan Box

By Amia Grashin, Summer Fellow

Maricela with her Gourmet Foodie Boxes

In 2011 Maricela Yee moved to the Bay Area from Hawaii. She always knew that she wanted to help individuals and better the community, but could not figure out what platform would work best for her. Prior to arriving in California she spent time working as a social worker and sold flowers on the streets of Honolulu, but these jobs did not truly fulfill her desire to be a part of a collective and artistic avenue of change. 

Leftovers and an attempt to preserve items from farmers markets sparked the initial idea for Little Shop Artisan Box. The spirit of Oakland inspired an idea in Maricela, and Women’s Initiative provided her the tools to turn that idea into a business.

Maricela creates Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)-style boxes of local, gourmet, artisan foods. She experienced the food of Bay Area artisans and wanted to help to share their talents with the community. Little Shop Artisan Box delivers hand picked, themed boxes to subscribers every month. The goal is to tell the stories of the artisans through their food. On the website customers can find stories about where the culinary creations come from. This business is the perfect mix of promoting local artisans, collaborating with people, and enjoying amazing food.  

Through this experience Maricela has discovered that she loves to empower people and now works to help her vendors grow in a sustainable, positive way. She has developed a business that celebrates each artisan and their craft, while staying local. Maricela is passionate about featuring other budding entrepreneurs, which grows their businesses along with her own. She brings the artisans on board in creating cohesive themes for the boxes. This creative collaboration is something that Maricela loves, and it is something that can be felt and tasted by the customers. 

Foodie Boxes: April Inspired by Spring Flowers; January Spice is Nice; February; Mothers' Day
She currently works with almost 40 local vendors and provides boxes to over 100 clients every month. Her business has grown so much in its first year that she has had to hire an intern to help her to expand effectively.

Maricela is always looking for way to reach new artisans and help them to build their businesses. She has found that Women’s Initiative can be a great tool in fostering their success. When speaking with Maricela about the success of her business she cant help but come back to the vital role that Women’s Initiative has played in providing her with important knowledge about becoming a successful business owner and providing her continued support as her business grows.

We at Women’s Initiative are extremely proud to have Maricela as part of our family and we look forward to her ongoing success.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Economic Self Sufficiency vs. Living on the Financial Edge

By Elizabeth Krueger, Summer Fellow (@elizlk)

A recent PBS Need to Know episode paints a vivid portrait of what it means to be “Living on the Financial Edge.” Watch it and see how a working-but-poor family makes difficult trade-offs every day and month, living on $35,000 a year - well above the federal poverty line of less than $20,000 a year for a family of 3. The mother spreads out her medication rather than taking it as prescribed, the older son works all day without lunch, with a paycheck spoken for before it’s even earned. They have no savings and can’t look to the future, needing to devote all their energies to daily juggling.

Women’s Initiative seeks to help low-income women achieve financial self-sufficiency, but what exactly does that mean?

“To be truly economically secure, and leave poverty behind for good, people need enough money to be able to pay for the basics like rent, food, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes, and enough money to develop savings and assets.” Insight Center for Community Economic Development

In considering the situation portrayed on Need to Know, the family income wasn't enough to cover all its food or health care costs, much less the ability to save – and that’s at an income level nearly double that of the federal poverty guidelines. As the Insight Center describes, the federal poverty guidelines don’t reflect a meaningful measure of what it actually costs to live. The calculations don’t consider the costs of rent, child care, transportation or health care. The calculation is based only on the cost of food, which is assumed to be 1/3 of a family’s total cost of living, with no variation by region. Do you think milk, bread and eggs cost the same at a grocery store in San Francisco and Indianapolis? Neither do I.

The Insight Center has an online Self Sufficiency Calculator for California on its website, which paints a better picture of what income would be required for economic self-sufficiency. For San Francisco County, the annual income is around $48,000 for a family of 3 adults – more than $13,000 more than the family in Newark, NJ. And food costs are estimated at less than 1/5 of monthly income, unlike in the federal guidelines. According to the US Census Bureau, which uses the federal poverty guidelines, there were 46.2 million Americans living in poverty in 2010. Imagine how many people live below the much higher standard of true economic self-sufficiency.

For women driven to own their own businesses, Women’s Initiative can help. In addition to teaching women the necessary business skills, Women’s Initiative training covers personal financial literacy skills, similar to some of what was described in the Need to Know program. Women need to know how to avoid the pitfalls of the financial system, generate income and start to build savings to achieve self-sufficiency.