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.

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!

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 Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @atmboutique, and instagram.

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

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!

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.

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!

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.”

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!

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.

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!

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.

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!

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

Pedro Zerpa, Fusion Peruvian Grill

Thanks to Working Solutions for this story!


Pedro receives his funding with Lending Associate Roberto and Business Services Director Lorena

Pedro Zerpa is used to working hard to achieve his goals. An immigrant from Peru, he worked his way up from dishwasher to head chef of a San Francisco restaurant with no formal culinary education. After 15 years as a chef, Pedro was ready to strike out on his own, and found a space in San Mateo that he was able to rent with his family’s help. He ran his restaurant, Fusion Peruvian Grill, for 3 years, before realizing how much he could increase his profits by expanding his restaurant into a bar. He obtained the liquor license, but lacked the money to build out a bar area. Due to some past credit problems, Pedro was not eligible for a bank loan, and was referred by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) to Working Solutions, a nonprofit microlender that works with start-ups and other businesses that do not qualify for traditional financing.

Thanks to the new Microloan Management Services (MMS) system implemented by Working Solutions, Pedro was able to undergo a streamlined process to receive his loan. Until recently, all applicants to Working Solutions were required to present their business plans, projections, and experience for approval in a Loan Committee session, a time-intensive process that could hold up the funding for months. Now that MMS has been implemented, when Working Solutions’ Lending Associate Roberto ran Pedro’s application through the system, Pedro was immediately approved. MMS is a proprietary software developed by CDFI Accion Texas that uses a matrix of criteria — from credit scores to industry experience and historical revenue— to determine whether a client should receive immediate approval or whether more information and consideration is necessary.

In Pedro’s case, his long career in the industry and his restaurant’s profitability outweighed his credit issues, and he had his loan check in hand just 9 days after MMS approved him. “Nothing is easy in this life,” says Pedro about the arc of his career in the restaurant industry. But thanks to MMS and the Working Solutions Lending Team, getting the money to improve his restaurant was—he’s now opened his bar and is using the profits his restaurant is earning to put his son through culinary school. “Nobody can say you can’t do it,” says Pedro of his success—a sentiment Working Solutions definitely shares.

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!

Alfredo Garcia, Watsonville Diesel

Winner, 2014 Faces of Entrepreneurship award

Alfredo Garcia receives the 2014 Face of Entrepreneurship award from Carmen Herrera-Mansir of El Pajaro CDC and Tyler Blackney from Representative Alejo's office.

Alfredo Garcia (pictured right with Carmen Herrera-Mansir of El Pajaro CDC and Tyler Blackney from Representative Alejo’s office) has an impressive resume of 20 years when it comes to the diesel trucking industry.

  • He started at Harnell College where he studied diesel technology,
  • He graduated to Salinas Valley Ford at 22.
  • After two years he took advantage of a better opportunity at International in Watsonville; they have shops and dealer in a few dozen states and Mexico. He worked there for four years.
  • He spent eight years at Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville taking care of their transportation needs, the fleet, and any license needs for school bus drivers.

Sometime in 2009, a friend who owns a building had a tenant that was moving out and asked if Alfredo was interested in the space. He had saved $50,000 over the years and decided to give it a try.

Large trucks are required to be inspected annually and every 90-days. Alfredo believes there was a need for a company that does the inspections and services the trucks, e.g. maintenance, dry train, brakes, small fabrication jobs.  He opened Watsonville Diesel on September 1, 2009.

The first and second years were hard. His business development strategy consisted of knocking on doors. By 2012, he had a small shop with two employees, and wanted to grow his company. He asked everyone where he should look for more business, where could he find business assistance. An owner of a small shop told him about Vinicio Vinedes of El Pajaro Community Development Corporation.

“You should talk to these people,” said the shop owner. “Everyone goes to Vinicio.”

Alfredo is constantly in learning mode, so he immediately contacted Vinicio. They worked together to expand the company’s target market and drum up more business. Vinicio also helped Alfredo apply for a loan to expand the shop. That didn’t pan out because the company was new and Alfredo’s credit was low.

But Alfredo saved money and has been working on his financial statements with Vinicio. Now he has lots of customers, opened a second location in Hollister to service the Hollister Fire Department, is working with city to get business loan, and hopes to become an international dealer.

Watsonville is home to 600-700 farms that run trucks, but parts are hard to find. Salinas is 35 minutes away and San Jose is over an hour. If he’s a dealer, he can hold $1.5 million in inventory and add to his staff of 8.

It’s not all business with Alfredo. He wants to give back to his community and provide opportunities for youth in a city. Lots of high school students love cars and want to learn what he’s doing. The teachers send him students and he does a mini-training. Then if they’re interested, they go to technical school for 18 months, learn the systems, get certified and if they’re good enough Alfredo will hire them.  About a dozen students come to his shop annually.  He’s hired two of them.

Patty Rodriguez, SF Parking

Winner, 2014 Faces of Entrepreneurship award

PattyRodriquezSFParkingPatty Rodriguez was studying Public Administration at the University of San Francisco when she was hired by Frank Miranda, the manager of ExecuPark, to assist him with his administrative work. Frank became her mentor, sharing his fifteen years of experience in the parking industry as they served ExecuPark’s many clients. He referred her to a startup parking company, where she helped organize the back end of business, setting up employee files and accounts receivable and payable. She enjoyed the work, and started to think about starting her own parking business. Toward the end of her first year, a few of the business’s contracts were coming to an end, so in October 2011, she started operating SF Parking in October 2011 and secured the expiring account, retaining the old employees who would have otherwise lost their jobs.

Patty and her parents emigrated from El Salvador to San Francisco’s Mission District, where she grew up. She knows people – friends, neighbors, and family members – who chose the wrong path and served time. Jobs are hard to find when they try to pick up their lives. One of her motivations to start her business was to give people a second chance, to provide economic stability and to teach a solid work ethic. If they’re willing to work and learn, she’s willing to hire them. Some of her employees hadn’t graduated from high school when she hired them, but have been able move on and get other jobs thanks to their time with SF Parking. Both her brothers were looking for work when she began running SF Parking, but because of their records no one would hire them. One brother still works for her; the other one became part of the Ironworkers Union.

Patty Rodriguez 7Every small business owner knows it’s difficult to own a business, that’s especially true in San Francisco’s parking industry. The Tax Collector Office requires that all parking business have Revenue Control Equipment (RCE). Every year business permits increase, valet licenses increase, and in 2011, Patty needed to spend a thousands of dollars per location on new equipment – money she didn’t have after taken money out of her 401K and borrowing from her mom to start the business. She went to the Office of Small Business at City Hall for help, who told her about Working Solutions. She met with Lorena Roman, and was approved for a microloan in the fall of 2012.

“They were able to give me a $25,000 lump sum to invest in the equipment so I could be compliant with the city,” said Patty. “If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t still be here, never mind doing well. Lorena broke everything down and gave me different ideas on how to manage the cash flow and increase profit.”

Patty continues to meet with Lorena on a quarterly basis to look at her profit and loss statements and her cash flow. Business is great; she has a great relationship with the #1 parking company in the nation and manages one of the employee parking garages at the airport. She is planning to become a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) so that she can go after larger statewide contracts. She hopes that within five to ten years from now, she will be able to buy a building in San Francisco and own her own parking garage.