Weaving entrepreneurial passion, the desire to build wealth, and feminine energy with the nuts and bolts of business planning and development, Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) has quickly made a name for itself as the go-to organization for aspiring business owners who want to find success on their own terms.
“Like (in) that movie, The Sixth Sense, ‘I see dead people.’ I see WEV graduates everywhere,” said Barbara Lanz-Mateo, publisher/editor of Coastal Woman Magazine and herself a WEV graduate. “People have no idea how big of an impact it’s had on this community,” said Lanz-Mateo, who returns each session as a guest speaker — along with the South Coast Beacon’s own Andrea Estrada and public relations firm owner Mo McFadden — to offer expertise on P.R., marketing and media relations to WEV’s 14-week Self-Employment Training (SET) class.
“WEV began providing economic development programs to women in Santa Barbara in 1987,” said Director of Training and Client Services Marie Spaulding. In 1991, WEV established its SET program and micro-loan programs and in 1997 added a career development program. Today WEV provides services throughout Santa Barbara County and licenses its training curriculum to organizations throughout the nation.
In the last three years WEV has served more than 933 clients, in the areas of business consulting, loan consulting and SET classes, said Spaulding. WEV is growing rapidly. “For 2003 we’re projecting, 1,688 (clients served),” she said.
Among the many satisfied WEV clients is Suzy Godsey, owner of The Happy Dog, a dog walking and pet sitting service. “Without the class training I wouldn’t have been able to have a successful business,” said Godsey, who took the class a year ago and still meets weekly with her former classmates in a “Mastermind” peer accountability group. “We’re really focused,” said Godsey about the four-person group. Everybody really puts a lot of energy and effort into it, she said.
At the first class, Victoria Starr, owner of Indoor Environmental Technologies, recalls Spaulding saying, “It’s not what you’re going to learn here, it’s who you’re going to meet.” Indeed, of the dozens of women interviewed for this article, most seemed to echo Starr’s sentiments about the value of WEV.
“We are a referral society. Success comes from people helping people. Yes, we learned … experts come in on just about every topic we can think of. Those are skills that we can learn anywhere. However the bonding and the friendships that you make, those endure. Those people have opened more doors for me in this community than anything else,” said Starr, whose business specializes in commercial and residential air purifiers. “…Certainly what boosted me and gave me confidence was the way WEV alumni and my own class graduates encouraged me and got me started.”
WEV Class of 2003
“I like to think of our trainers as tour guides,” said WEV Director of Training and Client Services Marie Spaulding, as she conducted the orientation meeting for the class of Fall 2003. “We can show you the doors, but it’s up to you to … knock on doors that you’ve never even looked at before, and make phone calls that you’ve always been afraid to make. You have to ask people for help that you maybe wouldn’t have asked for yesterday. You really have to get out there and do the work yourself.”
Here are some of the 50 women out there making it happen for themselves during this Self Employment Training (SET) Session.
Barbara Bartolome started Santa Barbara Scrapbooks just a few months before enrolling in the WEV training. While she doesn’t feel she made any fatal new business mistakes, the WEV classes offer “so much more insight into how to do things an easier way,” she said. “I love the connection with all the people,” said Bartolome, whose scrapbooking business grew out of her loves of photography and genealogy. “People not only connect across generations, but they also connect across every other line that could be drawn,” she said regarding the fast–growing scrapbook craft.
“I feel like a big sister to some of the other people in class. I have a lot to add to the class (having started my business already). Everything (the instructor) said is really right on,” said Bartolome.
Another WEV classmate with experience launching a business is Monica Bulger, who in partnership with her husband, Tosh, in January launched Memorypost.com, an Internet service to celebrate life events. Bulger, a former academic, said she has found the reading assignments very helpful, along with gaining a better understanding of her target market. “We now realize that it is a family-centered website” as a result of taking the WEV class, she said. “I’ve really learned a lot about customer needs.”
“Ken Warfield at Santa Barbara Library is absolutely incredible,” said Bulger about one of the classes’ many field trips. He gave a fabulous presentation then set up another meeting and spent an hour with us. His ideas were just incredible, said Bulger.
“I’d say the thing that I’m most struck with is the easy encouragement and energy and everybody wants to help. It feels great to share this experience with a group of women. It makes you feel like a success even if you don’t end up starting a business,” said Natalie Castaneda, who is pursuing a business importing women’s clothing and jewelry in partnership with her best friend, Krista Caballero. “The emphasis is on indigenous women, whatever their craft is, the emphasis is on woman to woman,” said Castaneda.
“It’s hard not to feel enthusiastic. I know at different times I felt discouraged it felt like everyone could relate, it would be pretty hard to stay in a negative attitude while in the class,” said Castaneda, who graduated from college a year ago.
“They don’t teach you about business in art school, said home portrait artist Sarah Dwyer, who praised the nuts and bolts nature of the WEV course. In a sentiment echoed by several of her classmates, Dwyer said that college-level art courses really don’t tell you anything about the practical realities of making a living. “If you’re selling, that’s commerce. It’s not like it’s crass. That’s something that’s changed in me,” said Dwyer, who plans to market her original oil paintings of homes and gardens to real estate agents (“a unique closing gift”) to begin with.
“(The class is) getting me focused and realizing you have to concentrate on one thing at a time,” said Dwyer. “If I could have seen myself 10 years ago would never have believed it.” I’m starting to time myself. I clock in and out when working on multiple pieces. “(I see the class) as part of growing up, being mature,” she said.
Creating a business that will allow them flexibility with their kids is a big part of the motivation for Elan Firpo and Dawn Carlson, partners in the burgeoning Doggy Duty pet waste removal service. Initially inspired by a magazine article about unusual jobs, taking the WEV class has helped the partners to focus their business direction. “We thought we’d make it a co-op, a non-profit at first,” said Firpo. “Now we’re getting a more solid plan, looking at how to do it,” added Carlson.
The class has also helped the women refine the target audience for Doggy Duty. Market research showed that the service would appeal to average income families. “They don’t want to argue over who cleans up,” said Carlson. She also commented on having better control of her finances as a result of the WEV class, an observation echoed by many of her classmates. “I just wish I’d done it years ago,” said Firpo.
Ceramic artist C.J. Jilek is actually doing the WEV homework (estimated to be about 10 hours per week) twice — once as an artist and once as a studio owner. A former instructor and head of ceramics for the Ridley Tree Education Center, which lost funding from the Museum of Art earlier this year, Jilek sees a business opportunity for a community-based studio. “Our community has a lot of programs for clay (UCSB, SBCC, Recreation Department) … but what happens is that there’s so much equipment required and no transition place to move to,” said Jilek, who currently travels to Chico to finish her wood-fired vessels.
“I think it’s a fabulous program. I think it services all levels,” said Jilek, who is still undecided about whether to pursue her own art or the studio. (Part of the class experience) is that I can see the vision, she said. “If I do the studio I will be doing very little of my own work.”
“ARTtalk — Travel to New Places of Understanding” is the business being developed by Joy Kunz, who will complete her PhD in art history in December. Kunz plans to offer a menu of services, with a base in art history. “I want to be the consultant that meets with them to say ‘you have three days in Paris and your husband or wife isn’t a big art person or you have the kids along, and their interests are x, y and Z, so let’s see how you can make really efficient use of two hours in the Louvre,'” said Kunz.
Another component to ARTtalk will be Kunz’s services as personal art coach, where she would spend a few hours getting clients up-to-speed on the visual art world. “A lot of times they’re personal or business opportunities to be had if a person looks like they’re conversant on the major issues,” said Kunz, who also plans to offer thematic seminars.
“I think WEV is great because at the beginning you just feel all these individuals who have cooked up something in a very isolated way come together and then WEV is completely practical. …I know I’m a humanities person so I always was comfortable with saying ‘I don’t have a head for business’ or ‘I’m not great with numbers,’ but I’m seeing that’s a cop out and that’s just standing right on the path to failure, because you have to have to have both,” said Kunz.
“In a nutshell, Moonjata is about providing tools for healing. And that’s from healing and jewelry gemstones to retreats,” said Lisa Lemley of the business she is incubating through WEV. “The class really just helped me realize that I don’t really know that much about marketing. … That’s a big part of the business. It’s also pushing me to take the steps that I need to take for the business. … It’s really fun to talk to all the people about their businesses, and get excited about some stupid little step,” said Lemley.
“It’s nice to have that group setting. We get to congratulate each other on little accomplishments,” said Lemley, who has been primarily vending her jewelry at festivals to date. “In a year I’ll be moving into more of the retreat aspects of it.”
Julie Smith’s business, Swim with Phyn, offers swimming lessons, primarily to “learn-to-swim-age children.” A former UCSB water polo player, Smith has been in aquatics for years, but only recently returned to Santa Barbara. “I am loving the class,” said Smith. “It’s so nice to be in an environment where you’re surrounding by strong, freethinking women who all are kind of on the same wavelength as you are. Most people are not entrepreneurial by nature and so when you come into a group where everyone is thinking along the same lines as you are, most people are doing it because they have goals for themselves. They want to be home with their kids or they don’t’ want to be tied down for some reason. I’ve found it so incredible. … You come up with different things that you never would have thought of.”
Small business consultant Maida Smith, who specializes in QuickBooks consulting and recruiting, hiring and training bookkeepers, described her business as a “moving beast that keeps changing.” Among the things that WEV has helped her with are the “idea of formulating your business in terms of your pricing. Looking at your personal needs in your life and going back from there. … It gives you tangible goals to work toward.”
Like most of her classmates, Smith praised the program. “I think it’s just an incredibly wonderful offering for women in the community. My two sons, I would love to see them be a part of something like this.”
Christobel Zamor has been the proprietor of Circus Hoops for the past year. She makes handcrafted, oversized Hula Hoops, teaches hoop dance fitness classes, does performance art with them, and teaches children. The business has been hugely successful, said Zamor, “But it’s been growing so fast that I found that I lacked certain fundamentals for running a business.” She said WEV has dramatically changed her business by providing an amazing support group and holding her accountable to her own goal setting.
Zamor’s overall assessment of WEV: “I think it’s outstanding. I can’t imagine going into business without it at this point. I feel like if all women had this kind of training in high school that the world would be a radically different place.”
Mandatory orientations for the next SET training will start around the second week of January, said Spaulding. Interested people should check the WEV website (www.wevonline.org) or call 965.6073 for more information. The next session will start in Mid-February.