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.