Agency helping small businesses grow

March 17, 2009 7:00:23 AM PDT
With this economy, Silicon Valley's unemployment rate is soaring - it stood at 9.5 percent in January. Just in time, an organization that's been transforming low-income women into successful business owners is setting up shop in the South Bay. It just opened up a new training center in Santa Clara County and may be able to help you.

SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you

Teresa Olivas owns and operates a coffee and snack kiosk at National Hispanic University in San Jose. She's profitable and even has an employee.

It's hard to believe only last summer Olivas was laid off, just three months before she was set to retire. That's when she turned to the Women's Initiative - a non-profit that helps low-income women become business owners.

"They started me on my business plan. I had wanted to make coffee and lattes, and they said look at your surroundings, see how you can incorporate it into a business," said Olivas.

Olivas noticed there was no coffee vendor at the university. So she approached them, got loans and got started. For 21 years, the Women's Initiative has been helping Bay Area women like Olivas, many of them minorities or single mothers. But the agency is just now opening its first Silicon Valley office, in San Jose - at a time when women's needs are greater than ever.

"They are losing their jobs. And it's time now for women to decide am I going to take my life into my hands?" said Lorrie Williams, Women's Initiative Exec. Director.

The Women's Initiative puts clients through an 11 week course that teaches them all aspects of starting a business. There are group and one-on-one sessions. The program costs $100, less for women who can't afford it.

"So women will learn marketing, they will learn operations, production, the rest of the business competencies in order to start their businesses," said Williams.

Martha Zuniga is a client now. The teaching assistant and mother of three children has dreams of opening her own daycare center.

"How can I do my license? I need to get my license, the insurance," said Zuniga.v In addition to answering questions like those, the Women's Initiative provides start-up loans, and helps clients stay in business by offering marketing advice.

When Olivas' sales dropped recently as students cut back during these tough times, she added food to her menu, and began advertising daily specials through signs and email. With her new business savvy, Olivas says the sky is literally the limit.

"I'm looking into something at SJ Mineta airport, and I'm starting a small catering business in the area. I hope to grow," said Olivas.

For more information please click on: