Michael Barriere, BarrierEnergy Associates

Thanks to Women’s Economic Ventures for this story!

michaelbarrierebarrierenergyassociatesLocations: Santa Maria & Santa Barbara
Established: 2011
Business Description: Energy efficiency and alternative energy consultancy specializing in State of California Title 24 Energy Code verification and certification for Federal, State and Local new and existing residential construction and programs.

What prompted you to start BarrierEnergy Associates?
My father was an architect, and, since college I had studied and worked with rehabilitating residential real estate, building and community. Having never lost interest in the challenges of housing, and then also energy, I had the opportunity to become a real estate agent and developer years later. When the economy turned down around 2008, I discovered the emerging “green economy” afforded me the chance to pursue both housing and energy. Within that emerging economic segment, I have created a niche combining several skills and abilities that are in high demand, marketable and pay a better than average wage.

What aspect of your business are you most passionate about?
As I am, California is committed to the principle of “Zero-Net Energy”. That is, by a combination of energy efficiency measures and alternative energy technologies our homes, like our workplaces, businesses, and other aspects of our economy and life, produce as much energy as they use. I am making a difference today by supporting State and Federal efforts to reduce energy waste, energy costs and improve the quality of our housing stock.

What role did WEV play in the opening of your business?
About 4 years ago, after I had completed my Rater and Analyst training, I briefly considered working for a contractor but decided instead to pursue starting my own consultancy. A dear friend, Camille Dominguez at EDD in Santa Maria recommended I pursue WEV’s SET program. Wow! I learned so much I had never even considered important! Having received positive feedback from my instructor and classmates, I submitted my resulting business plan for consideration of a business startup loan. A little more than 2 1/2 years ago I was awarded a WEV loan which I used to purchase my own test equipment and start my business. Now having enjoyed solid, continuous growth, WEV has once again assisted me, through a business expansion loan which I will use to add 1 1/2 employees, a second vehicle, and additional equipment. WEV has really made all this possible.

What specific goals have you set and achieved as a business owner? What goals will you conquer next?
In addition to pursuing a meaningful career in a field I truly enjoy and believe in, my first goal was to create a sufficient income stream to be entirely self-supporting by my own contributions. My business is now well established in the new construction and special energy programs segments of the housing market. The next challenge is to grow and support the new 2013 Title 24 Energy Codes that took affect July 1, in the area of existing housing. I am also interested in growing the non-residential segments of this business. Having worked to save energy in a commercial high-rise, a hospital and shopping center, I hope to become involved in the State’s Proposition 39 program this coming year.

What has been your most surprising lesson in business?
Flexibility! I needed to learn much more than I knew to be successful. Accepting my limits, drawing on ideas and support from WEV, being willing and open-minded enough to try new things was as much a key to success as the hard skills I had learned.

Please describe how you have helped WEV, as well as list other WEV clients you’ve worked with.
Not as much as I would like! I am currently exploring the Thrive in Five program as I pursue alternative growth opportunities. I am also actively seeking accounting/bookkeeping support from within the WEV family. I have certainly recommended the SET program many times.

What advice do you offer others who might want to start their own business?
When considering a business start-up stick with what you know and like – starting and operating a business is a good deal more complex than the good or service you offer. Realize that you know only a small portion of all that you will need to know to be a success. Accept your limitations and reach out for help – you cannot possibly do it all yourself! Be willing to modify or change your business plans on the fly because you will likely be overcome by events – circumstances are always subject to change!

Ryan Farr, 4505 Meats

Thanks to Working Solutions for this story!

ryanfarr4505meatsIn 2012, Working Solutions client Ryan Farr, founder of 4505 Meats, sought advice from a Working Solutions mentor for his rapidly expanding business. Ryan was matched with Sean Hutchinson, Founder of Strategic Value Advisors and Working Solutions Financial Mentor. Two years later, Ryan has graduated from his Working Solutions loan, obtained conventional financing, and opened a new barbecue restaurant in San Francisco! Between his many endeavors (packaged food sold in Whole Foods, his butcher shop, and the new restaurant), Ryan had created a whopping 70 jobs in San Francisco and plans to keep on growing!

Working Solutions recently caught up with Ryan and Sean to talk about their experience:

Ryan: The first meeting with Sean was like a smack in the face. Sean’s point of view from outsider looking in was an eye-opening experience.

Sean: From when we first met, Ryan is well on his way to a 4-5X increase in revenue and a dramatic increase in profit. All the fundamentals are there now. It’s a great story – and it’s because of Ryan’s willingness to listen, lead, and act. My advice may have helped – but he did all the work.

Going into the meeting, I knew that Ryan and 4505 Meats had a terrific following and very loyal customers. There was a lot to like about the company and Ryan’s leadership. The business was growing fast – a good sign – but the growth was causing some challenges. We talked in detail about those challenges and the need to streamline the business.

Ryan: By taking Sean’s advice I realized that as a leader I needed to grow and focus on my skill set as a manager. I needed to focus on specific areas instead of trying to do it all.

Sean: Getting an honest assessment from a relative stranger helped him focus. I think much of what I suggested simply reinforced what he already knew.

Ryan: Last time Sean and I worked together was roughly a month ago when he introduced us to one of his peers that can help us plan our future at a higher level. I plan on staying in touch with Sean as long as I can. He has been a great resource and friend. We are just getting started.

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Max Aram & Chris Blevins, PickMySolar.com

Thanks to the SBDC at Pacific Coast Regional for this story!

maxaramandchrisblevinspickmysolarAs passionate advocates of solar technology, Max Aram and Chris Blevins want to help residential consumers make smart choices about installing solar energy systems. Their company, PickMySolar.com, is an online marketplace where solar providers bid against each other on residential installations, lowering the cost to homeowners by 25 to 30 percent.

The chaotic state of the solar market hampers widespread adoption of the technology. Residential customers do not know what factors to consider when deciding to go solar. Aram compares the marketing strategy of solar power installers to that of a “used-car-salesman,” which he believes ultimately dissuades homeowners from solar power installation. “I had the idea to create an online platform to help consumers search for the best deal on solar installation,” Aram says. “But it was just an idea I didn’t know how to execute.” He needed help in early 2013, Aram took a course held by the Small Business Development Center at Pacific Coast Regional.

PCR SBDC Business Advisors Martha G. Castro and Harold C. Hart-Nibbrig helped Aram figure out how to monetize his idea, conduct market research, develop a business plan with financial projections, incorporate the business and develop a partnership agreement once Blevins came on board.

Castro showed Aram how to do extensive market research to make sure there was a demand for his idea. “After doing more research in-depth and looking into competitors in the space, we [modified] the business a little bit,” says Aram. Doing research inspired Aram to add more features to the service, such as the ability for homeowners to upload bids they already have from solar installers outside the PickMySolar system. PickMySolar then provides up to two hours of free consultation to assess whether the bids are fair. “At this point, our service is unique-no one else is doing what we’re doing,” states Aram proudly.

After investing $40,000 of their own money in their startup, Aram and Blevins were able to raise $100,000 in convertible debt financing from friends and family. They plan to seek additional capital in the next few months to finance marketing, advertising and hiring key personnel. References from the PCR SBDC also helped PickMySolar earn a coveted space in the Los Angeles CleanTech Incubator. Without marketing, PickMySolar has grown solely on word-of-mouth. Since the beta website launched in January 2014, the company has actively expanded its network of solar installers. Currently, PickMySolar has installers in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties, with plans to expand to all seven Southern California counties by the end of June 2014. Future plans include establishing direct partnerships with financiers to facilitate sales, bringing on taxequity investors to provide their own internal financing options to customers, and expanding to serve the entire state of California by 2015.

Green Concept Group LLC, dba PickMySolar.com
(888) 454-9979

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Irena, Silhouette Custom Design

Thanks to Opening Doors for this story!

irenasilhouettecustomdesignTen years ago Irena was eight months pregnant and fleeing her home country of Ukraine with her husband and two small children. Her family’s safety was threatened because they disagreed with the government’s communist ideals, and despite being a talented tailor, the unstable economy impeded her sewing business and hope for prosperity.

Once her family resettled in Sacramento, Irena felt enormous relief and hope for their future. Despite feeling intimidated about adjusting to American culture, Irena began the process of rebuilding her life and making new connections.

To support her family, Irena worked at a dry cleaning business, but her passion for tailoring never abated, and she completed simple dress and suit alterations from her home. It was not until 2008 that she began reaching out to Sacramento lenders to launch a business called Silhouette Custom Design.

After meeting with an Opening Doors business specialist in 2009, Irena learned that she qualified for technical assistance and financing through our special loan program for refugees. With the help of a $15,000 loan, Irena purchased specialized equipment, including a sewing machine that allowed her to take on more complex projects.

Irena worked hard for three years, established a stronger and larger customer base, and took out a second loan. She used the money to open a boutique in downtown Sacramento where she fits clients and does most of her sewing.

After working diligently to establish Silhouette Custom Design as a reputable small business within the Sacramento community, Irena now creates mostly custom work for her clients, including bathing suits, evening and cocktail dresses, and business attire. Recently, Irena signed a long-term contract to recreate historical military uniforms to be featured in museums in Germany and Austria.

Before leaving her home in Ukraine, Irena struggled to make a living despite being a highly skilled tailor. Today, with help from Opening Doors’ Prosperity Project, Irena is a thriving entrepreneur who supports her family doing the work she loves.

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Candance Pilgram-Simmons, All That & MORE Boutique

Thanks to Pacific Coast Regional SBDC for this story!

candancepilgrimsimmonsallthatandmoreboutiqueCandance Pilgram-Simmons and a partner opened All That & MORE Boutique, a women’s clothing and accessories store, in Culver City, California more than three years ago. The boutique features contemporary fashions, accessories, handbags and men’s accessories. She also takes consignments from fashion and jewelry designers.

Candance came to Pacific Coast Regional’s Small Business Development Center in March 2012 looking for advice and counsel on management issues and possible loan financing. At that time she and her partner were in discussions about ending their partnership venture, requiring her to refashion her plans in order to continue.

PCR SBDC first helped Candance deal with the hard business of dissolving the partnership, helping her and her partner get a mediated settlement agreement. We also helped her deal with the lessor of the store premises resulting in her getting a new lease.

In this new beginning, with our assistance, Candance began a successful debt reduction plan, incorporated the business, hired a part time employee and has taken on two interns. Candance has also expanded the marketing reach of her boutique, attracting more customers including some from the arts and entertainment industry.

The Culver City News voted All That & MORE boutique as 2013 Best of Culver City for “Special Occasion Dress.” Most importantly, during her first year as sole owner she has almost doubled her monthly sales.

All That & MORE boutique is located at 10754 Jefferson Blvd Culver City, CA 90230 (310) 559 7332 www.allthatnmoreboutique.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @atmboutique, and instagram.

“We all deserve an All That & MORE boutique experience.”

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Rhonda Wiedenbeck, Beck’s Bakery

Thanks to North Coast SBDC for this story!

Beck’s Bakery is a wholesale bread bakery located in Arcata, California. They use locally grown grains in their breads and crackers and grind them fresh in-house with a stone mill!

Owner Rhonda Wiedenbeck had always dreamed of starting and running a bakery, so she got experience in baking, large-scale food production, and attended a few workshops, but when it became a more feasible goal Rhonda realized she needed more help with running the business-end of the bakery. She needed financial projections, marketing help, and a commercial kitchen. Rhonda was familiar with North Coast SBDC, but now it was time to put ideas into motion.

Rhonda met with North Coast SBDC advisor Janet DePace and quickly realized that the preparation needed to apply for a commercial kitchen space was one of the most involved processes she would undertake because she needed a full proposal which included a detailed business plan. Ms. DePace assisted her to develop these plans, and Rhonda also participated in a specialized program and workshops that helped her to move forward with her business. Rhonda was especially smart in that she created a Kickstarter campaign “Delivering Beck’s Bakery to Humboldt!”, with which she raised $4,065!

Rhonda was approved for a commercial kitchen space in a highly competitive application process, and Beck’s Bakery successfully opened for business. The bakery currently employs five people. Because Rhonda purchased a grain mill, she is able to sell the milled grains as an additional source of income for her business.

“I had so many ideas and concerns around starting and running my business, and my SBDC business advisor helped me to focus and prioritize them so that I could achieve great success,” said Rhonda of her experience with the SBDC.

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Jeremy LeBlanc and Chad Berkey, Tin Play

Thanks to Accion San Diego for this story!

tinplayJeremy LeBlanc and Chad Berkey, founders of Tin Play, were bartenders when they came to the conclusion that there needed to be an all-in-one bartending tool that helped them mix drinks more quickly, while producing less waste. Over four years of development, the duo perfected their prototype and were ready to launch, only to realize that the creation of an entirely new product line required a major infusion of capital.

Having already exhausted the funding they invested from their personal bank accounts and from relatives and friends, Jeremy and Chad attended one of Accion ’s small business workshops to learn about the various small business financing options available to them. Learning that traditional lenders are often hesitant to offer financing to startups, they found Accion’s flexible loan requirements to be a good fit for their business and took out a $25,000 loan from Accion. “Accion got the concept. Our loan officer was very friendly and made it feel easy,” shared Jeremy.

Once the funding was secured and the stainless steel prototypes had been perfected, Chad and Jeremy produced an initial inventory run of the “Tin Play Well Kit” comprised of their Precision Pour Flair Tins, Cheater Tin and their Ultimate 4-in-1 Muddle. When used in lieu of the many bar implements that are available to bartenders, the waste and time to prepare beverages is reduced dramatically. Furthermore, Tin Play allows even amateur bartenders to perform entertaining maneuvers such as the five drink waterfall that only veterans could accomplish otherwise.

Early adopters of Tin Play have reported that the tool pays for itself and saves money in the long run. Bartenders spill thousands of dollars of ingredients annually; Tin Play not only helps eliminate this problem, but also entertains customers as their drinks are being made.

“It’s all about creating an experience,” Jeremy elaborates. “This is our stage, it’s a performance every night… the server defines the experience of the customer.”

Another appealing aspect of the Tin Play product line is the potential for businesses to uniquely brand their bar tools. Jeremy believes that this will appeal greatly to many potential clients. “Wouldn’t you want customers to see your name every time we pour or mix?” Jeremy asked.

Making Tin Play a reality has not been without its share of hurdles however. Lead time with manufacturers abroad has made it difficult to keep up with demand. Furthermore, the patent process has been both costly and time consuming, and the pair has learned to produce their own patent documents to save funds. Jeremy shared, “If I could give advice to some-one hoping to start their own product, I’d tell them to find a great patent attorney and never give up. Nothing happens overnight.”

Though they have sold a modest 2,500 units to date, Tin Play is starting to gain widespread attention. Tin Play products are already on shelves at major retailers such as Bed Bath and Beyond, and there are many more retail deals in the works. Recently, the Home Shopping Network inquired about a 10,000 unit order for their show, and they have also caught the attention of Diageo, the world’s largest distiller. Chad and Jeremy hope that such partnerships would allow Tin Play to be distributed internationally. Furthermore, they have been the subject of a special feature with the San Diego Union Tribune and last year, the entrepreneurial television series “Shark Tank” approached them for an appearance and potential equity deal. Although it was a huge publicity opportunity, Jeremy and Chad had reservations about relinquishing full control of their company, as they remain committed to their vision of developing “bar products made by bartenders.” They believe that this commitment will put them in the most advantageous position for growth, and both are extremely optimistic about the future of their company.

So what’s next for these two entrepreneurs? Jeremy says that they have been careful to not divulge too much too soon. “We have some new ideas that we are very excited about, I can’t exactly say what they are but we always look for multiple functions in our design process.”

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Bertha Magaña, Magaña Farms

Thanks to California FarmLink for this story!

BerthaMaganaFarmBertha Magaña was one of the first farmers to receive a loan through California FarmLink‘s loan program for her 7 acres of diverse organic vegetables in Prunedale. Along with the $10,000 loan, FarmLink provided technical assistance to help Ms. Magaña parlay her experience as a farmworker, dependable sales outlet in ALBA Organics (a produce distributor affiliated with the Agricultural and Land-Based Training Association), good credit, and outside source of income (from her husband’s job) to obtain financing and move forward with her farm business. Ms. Magaña exemplifies the underserved beginning farmers that FarmLink helps to overcome barriers to financing, such as low income, limited English, and lack of access to capital.

In the last 2 years, Ms. Magaña’s farm has done well. Her husband has been able to quit his job and join her on the farm. She repaid her original operating loan and received a larger operating loan in 2013 which she has also repaid. This fall she is working with FarmLink loan officer Brett Melone to obtain a $60,000 operating loan for 2014 and expand her business. FarmLink’s Central Coast regional coordinator, Eric Winders, is helping her lease additional acreage for the expansion. The long-term relationship we have built with Ms. Magaña illustrates the importance of one-on-one technical assistance for small farmers.

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Kimberly Haines, Pampered Pet Salon & Boutique

Thanks to Opening Doors for this story!

kimberlyhainespamperedpetsalonSome call it posh; Kimberly Haines calls it elegant. The Pampered Pet Salon & Boutique in Folsom is Haines’ unique vision and passion for grooming healthy pets for happy owners. The salon is not clinical or bland with plain white walls, nor does it smell like most pet grooming shops. Instead, Haines has created a safe and relaxing place where pet owners can drop off their furry loved ones for a one-of-a-kind grooming experience.

Haines worked for a chain pet grooming store for about seven years, but after earning a business marketing degree from Sacramento State and with support from her family, she realized she didn’t have to work for someone else the rest of her life.

She combined her skills and knowledge of pet grooming and utilized resources from SCORE to put together a solid business plan for a pet grooming business and retail store. Haines had help from an Opening Doors loan committee member and SCORE mentor, Frank Cuzzo. Haines was unable to secure a loan from banks because her personal capital was not high enough, so Cuzzo recommended she apply for a loan through Opening Doors.

The advice turned out to be revolutionary. Haines applied for a loan in June of 2013 and was accepted the following month. On November 13th, she held the salon’s grand opening, and her business success has been improving ever since. Thanks to the business loan from Opening Doors, Haines became self-employed doing the work she enjoys most.

Haines is truly passionate about pet care and is committed to providing great service. Haines loves to see her customers light up when they leave with their freshly groomed, happy, and pampered pets.

Three months after the grand opening, the salon is doubling its projections. Haines credits her success to her happy customers spreading the word as well as the salon’s great location in a busy shopping center on the corner of Folsom-Auburn Road and Greenback.

With plenty of space and strong encouragement from customers, Haines wants to make the store a retail destination and plans to start a doggie daycare. After helping Haines achieve such remarkable success, we are excited to watch Haines’ business improve and expand in the near future.

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Torrey Douglass, Lemon Fresh Design


Thanks to West Company for this story!

Torrey Douglass designs websites under the name Lemon Fresh Design. And if your business is designing websites, your own website had better sparkle. That was a “no brainer” for Douglass, who studied digital design at S.F. State and worked in the fast-paced Bay Area dot com world before moving to Anderson Valley.

But Douglass soon found that it takes more than talent, training, and hard work to build a successful small business. “The business side was not my strength,” concedes Douglass, who turned to West Company’s Loyd Hambrick for help with her fledgling enterprise.

One of the first things Douglass learned from Hambrick was targeted marketing. “Not everyone on the planet needs a website,” Douglass explains. And even if a website may be a helpful tool for a small business, it has to fit the needs and products of that business.

As Douglass explains it on her own site: “Your ideal website is like your ideal dance partner: light on its feet, responsive to your needs, and easy on the eyes. It accommodates your idiosyncrasies. It behaves itself in different environments. It knows how to attract and keep the attention of its audience. It knows, in short, how to boogie.”

The Lemon Fresh Design philosophy also notes: “There are a lot of applications and interactive features out there. Some of them will be appropriate for your site, some of them won’t. We analyze your needs, match them with suitable online services, identify the appropriate technology, and build them accordingly. Ecommerce, online calendars, geo-locators and mapping services, and customer communications, such as blogs and newsletters, engage users and expand the functionality of your site beyond a simple digital brochure.”

This philosophy has helped Douglass garner a client base that ranges from the Apple Farm and the Boonville Hotel in Anderson Valley, to Wells Dental in Comptche and California Adult Schools. She even has clients as far away as Los Angeles and engages in what entrepreneurs call “income patching” by working on-call for Sonoma Technology, Inc.

Douglass says that the best piece of advice West Company’s Hambrick gave her was to “take appropriate business precautions, as in utilizing contracts with my programmers, and also to trust my instincts.” She is also grateful to West Company for recommending her to their other clients and to local businesses.

“It’s scary to be self-employed,“ says Douglass. “My goal is to provide top-notch graphic and web design services that hit a standard you would find at the best design firms in San Francisco. Business-wise, there are areas in which I am not strong but that are essential to creating a successful company. So when I hit a situation that’s got me stumped, it’s great to have Loyd and the West Company to turn to.”

Lemon Fresh Design is located on the top floor of Boonville’s Farrer Building, 14111 Highway 128, and can be reached at 272-8592 or hiya@lemonfreshdesign.com.