Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hamburg's Blog on Women's Initiative

Liz Hamburg, founder and president of Upstart Ventures was in the Bay Area last week for the Microfinance USA 2010 conference. She spent a few days with Women’s Initiative, learning more about what we do and meeting our clients. Read about her experiences in her blog.


Friday, May 21, 2010

More in Need and Little Relief in Sight

Are Bay Area non-profits keeping up with the recession? The United Way’s recently released Bay Area Nonprofit Pulse Survey indicates that while non-profits are doing more with less, just three percent are seeing improvements, and one in four have had to eliminate services.

More than six in ten non-profits reported an increase in demand for services last year and four in ten were not able to meet those demands.

Unlike for-profit businesses, demand and revenues often negatively correlate in the non-profit sector. Since the beginning of the Great Recession growing demand for services has been accompanied by declining revenues from both private and public sources. More than half of non-profits reported a drop in revenues in 2009.

Many non-profits reported tapping into reserves to cover costs last year which will be painfully felt in coming years if demand for services remains high. Anne Wilson, CEO of United Way of the Bay Area says that those hit hardest by the recession may take years to get back on their feet.

Other ways that non-profits are stretching resources include collaborating with other organizations such as the United Way’s SparkPoint Oakland Center to bring together a number of non-profit organizations including Women’s Initiative for Self Employment. Non-profit organizations are also working with more volunteers to increase levels and quality of service without increasing costs.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Women of Vision" Gala


Our 8th Annual Gala, held at the Hilton Union Square on May 13th was a huge success. Approximately 600 of the Bay Area’s business leaders came out to support Women’s Initiative, celebrate our honorees and shop in the graduate marketplace.
Lydia Beebe, corporate secretary and chief governance officer of Chevron received the Founder’s Award for her commitment to providing leadership opportunities for women. Women’s Initiative graduates Isabella Guajardo of Gil with a Truck and Doris Shahrokhimanesh of Abe’s Blazin’ Spice BBQ received the Woman Entrepreneur on the Rise awards.
More than 20 Women’s Initiative graduates had booths in the marketplace. Guests of the gala shopped for jewelry, hats, candles, clothes and other unique items, spending nearly $20,000 with our graduate businesses!
The Gala is our largest fundraiser of the year. In addition to money raised through sponsorships and ticket sales, we raised more than $100,000 in donations at the event. As the recession continues to take its toll on non-profits, the support of our generous donors is more important than ever.
Below are some photos of the event, courtesy of photographer Jennifer Baciocco.
Nancy McFadden of PG&E and Gala co-chair, presents the award to Isabella Guajardo of Girl with a Truck
Graduate honoree Doris Shahrokhimanesh of Abe's Blazin' Spice BBQ
Women's Initiative Governing Board members Rita Steel and Michele Grau-Young, Founder's Award recipient Lydia Beebe, and Women's Initiative CEO Julie Castro Abrams.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Mothers who can’t find sufficient healthy food for their children are taking matters into their own hands, according to Dale Buss of the Wall Street Journal. These women are combining their knowledge of children with the need for healthier food to create small businesses that focus on healthy snacks and organic baby food. In his article, The Mothers of Invention, Buss describes these “mompreneurs” as women who are using this opportunity as a “chance to achieve a work-life balance they never found in the corporate world.”

At Women’s Initiative, 27% of clients are single parents. Many working women face the struggle of providing care to their children while financially supporting themselves and their families. Flexible work schedules through self-employment can help provide a solution, although balancing work and family life is still not an easy challenge.

The “mompreneurs” in Buss’ article are still facing challenges, including how to maintain growth and adapt to market needs in a weak economy.

By 2007, 70% of mothers with children under 18 participated in the US labor force (compared to only 47% in 1975). Self-employment can provide women with confidence, financial independence, an outlet to take full advantage of their skills and give back to their community, and an opportunity to create flexible schedules to balance work and family.

With an economically depressed economy and high unemployment rates (10% nationally and 12.4% in California), this need for new strategies to achieve self-sufficiency is growing. Today, Women’s Initiative graduates more than twice as many women annually than 5 years ago.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So, You Want To Be An Entrepreneur?


In The Wall Street Journal’s “So, You Want to Be an Entrepreneur”, Kelly K. Spors writes that while entrepreneurs come from all sorts of backgrounds and personalities, there are still certain attributes that improve the odds that one will be happy and successful with one’s business. Before taking the entrepreneurial plunge, one should ask:
  • Do I like all aspects of running a business? You have to do it all, at least in the beginning, from creating the product to marketing and sales to bookkeeping and administration. If you hire an employee, you have to do all the training.
  • Am I comfortable making decisions on the fly with no playbook? You have to be a decisive decision-maker. In the beginning, there is no structure or precedent.
  • How persuasive am I? You have to sell others on your passion. You have to cold-call potential leads, network, and be willing to argue why your product is worth buying.
Are women who come to Women’s Initiative for Self Employment ready to take the entrepreneurial plunge? What stage of the entrepreneurial process are women in when they first come to Women’s Initiative?
Speaking with one of our business trainers, I learned that the average client already has her product and business idea in mind. She is confident in her skill set (be it cooking, cleaning, crafts) and has experience working in her field. She is capable and willing to learn, and the reason she comes into Women’s Initiative is because she has gotten stuck and seeks access to training and resources that she can’t find by herself.
Interestingly, the trainer said she found that more than just the business training, it is the sense of empowerment that women walk away with when they graduate from the course. More than learning the basic accounting, it is the confidence a woman gains that helps her communicate professionally and successfully convey what she wants.
So, you want to be an entrepreneur? Women’s Initiative has found that more than just the business training, it is the sense of empowerment, the chance to network, and be part of a larger support group where a woman can share her successes and mistakes that women entrepreneurs value most and which ultimately contribute, to her business success.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Support for Small Businesses

The California Association of Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO) urges Senator Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to support the Small Business Community Partner Relief Act of 2010.

This legislation would enable the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make federal funding for microloans and technical assistance more readily accessible to small businesses.

These services can help save and create thousands of jobs in California by helping small business owners manage the start-up and operation of their businesses.

Due to severe local government budget cuts, many microlenders have been unable to raise non-federal matching funds as required by the SBA to qualify for federal funding. This has negatively impacted services available to small businesses, many of whom need assistance now more than ever.

CAMEO represents 130 microenterprise organizations who provide microloans and technical assistance to 25,000 businesses in the state of California.

You can support microentrepreneurs by asking our senators to support the Small Business Community Partner Relief Act of 2010.