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 Oaklandlocal.com.

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.