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Home Impact Success Stories & Testimonials

Success Stories

Heidi Gibson of the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen


As an MIT trained engineer with 20 years of experience working in the software industry Heidi Gibson would seem at first glance and unlikely candidate to oversee a growing grilled cheese empire. The events that took Heidi from Silicon Valley to the helm of one of San Francisco’s favorite foodie destinations are anything but ordinary and plenty cheesy.

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Gillian Shaw of Black Jet Baking Company

paigegreen-gillian12510-344As the child of two avid bakers in Worcester, Massachusets, Gillian Shaw knew from an early age that she had a knack for the oven. “Baking was the first thing I realized I was really good at,” says Gillian, “Even as a kid it was fun to see people eating and enjoying what I’d made.”  She parlayed this youthful passion into a baking career, working at famed Bernal Heights eatery, The Liberty Café where she became friends with Max Newman. When the owner passed away Gillian headed across the bay and worked in Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen and began baking cookies of her own on the side.

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Marilyn Luong of Source to Target Translations


The Company

Many say a lot can get lost in translation, but NOT with Source to Target Translations.  The company has both traditional values of customized services as well as innovative practices which elevate the standards of the translation profession.  Its website,, serves as an educational tool for clients and Source to Target's legal translation workshops help attorneys who use translation services.

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Cheryl Burr of Pinkie's Bakery

CherylBurrPinkiesFor over ten years Cheryl Burr worked as a pastry chef at famed San Francisco eateries like Bacar Restaurant and EOS Wine Salon.  Cheryl, however, had a self-acknowledged hard time with authority and knew that sooner or later she would have to become her own boss to be truly happy.  Knowing that she needed comprehensive business training to couple with her exceptional skills as a baker, Cheryl enrolled in Renaissance’s Business Planning Class in the Winter of 2008.

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Gail Lillian of Liba Falafel

Liba_smallAfter 18 years of working in the food industry, where she had held a wide variety of positions, including stints as a pastry chef and as the owner of “The Lilly Pad” café on the CCA Campus in Oakland, Gail Lillian acquired the skills and experiences she needed to strike out on her own and pursue a new venture. In the spring of 2008 Gail enrolled in Renaissances 14-week Business Planning Class to learn how to achieve her goal of opening a café featuring her own breads and pastries. A standout student, Gail received the Best Business Plan Award and left the class ready to start baking.

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Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream

3twinsAfter spending years working in corporate finance at Gap and Levi’s, Neal Gottlieb knew he wanted something sweeter out of life.  After weighing his options:  enroll in Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business or open his own small business, Neal decided that the freedom of entrepreneurship was the way to go.  Neal found the inspiration for his business, an ice cream company, from a childhood memory of his mothers fresh orange sherbet which she’d make in their kitchen, and after hearing that Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center’s Business Planning Class had been called “The Mini MBA Program,” Neal enrolled at Renaissance in the fall of 2004 to learn how to turn his dream into a viable business. 

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Christiane Schmidt of Walzwerk & Schmidt's

 christianeSeeking new experiences and adventures Christiane Schmidt moved from her native Germany to San Francisco in 1997.  Having worked sixteen years in the restaurant industry prior to emigrating to America Christiane was confident she could run her own eatery.  Like many Bay Area entrepreneurs, Christiane had the industry-specific knowledge and experience required to succeed but came to Renaissance in 1997 to obtain the comprehensive business training she needed.

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Eifya Asabi of Iyoba

Efiya Asabi started her business, Iyoba, in 2005.  Iyoba is an organic soap and skin care products company that was born out of the need for Efiya to find a product for her son that helped his eczema condition.  There was nothing on the market so Efiya made natural oatmeal soap for him, and it worked!  Friends and family started to order soap and Efiya started to realize that she could start a business!



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Sharon Eisenhauer of Haiku

When Sharon Eisenhauer moved to the Bay Area from New York in 2000, a union strike made it impossible for her to find the voice-over work that had sustained her for years.  Sharon took this as a sign that it was time for her to move out of the entertainment industry and fully pursue her passion by starting her own business in sewing and design.  Like many aspiring Bay Area entrepreneurs, Sharon came to Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and enrolled in the Business Planning Class to help her gain the comprehensive business training she would need to be successful. 

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Geraldine Martinez

GeraldineWhen Geraldine Martinez turned 15, a very important year for young women in Mexican tradition, her parents threw her a “Quinceañera” or debutante ball.  That experience led them to open their own party decorations store in Michoacán, Mexico.  Eventually, the family immigrated to the United States and opened a very similar business. 

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Myra Holmes & Jacqui Heard of Star Partners Security, Inc.

olson_myrajacquie_colorTwenty-five years at the Department of Defense, private patrol certification, and special events patrol.  These are all credentials of a female small business owner.  What does one do with 25 years of experience in the security field when she wants to put that experience to work on her own terms?  For Myra Holmes, starting a small business that provides high quality, professional armed and unarmed security guard and private patrol services is the only answer.  After working for over two decades in a variety of capacities at the Department of Defense and private firms, Myra Holmes started Star Partners Security, Inc. with her sister, Jacquie Heard, who also possesses extensive experience in the private security industry. 
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Angelique Clark of Angelique Interiors

AngeliquecResizeAfter working in a sewing workroom serving interior designers for over 12 years, Angelique Clark took the leap and opened her own custom workroom, Angelique Interiors in 2001.  While simultaneously taking the Business Planning class at Renaissance, Angelique was able to successfully start what has become a very lucrative sewing workroom that produces high-end customized window treatments, pillows, table coverings and more.  Angelique has done showhouses with Bay Area designers, and has worked from Napa to Carmel as her reputation has grown.
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Marlene Cazares of Las Muchachas

olson_marlene_colorEating establishments are constantly tested by fickle customers, fierce competition and high overhead costs.  When Marlene Cazares received a notice that her landlord intended to nearly double the rent for her Mexican restaurant six months prior to the lease expiring, she turned to Renaissance/Start Up for assistance.  Marlene worked at a taqueria for twelve years before opening Las Muchachas at 2483 Old Middlefield Way in Mountain View in 2003.  Despite her inexperience as an entrepreneur, her undeniable skill preparing made-to-order Mexican food from scratch made the restaurant a success.


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Alex Salazar of Salazar Architects Studio

 For years Alex Salazar, owner and principle architect for Salazar Architects Studio, Inc., has been fueled by duel passions for eco-architecture and social justice. Motivated by his desire to fuse his two passions, and help change the world in the process, Alex founded Salazar Architects Studio, Inc. in 2007 and began working with non-profit developers to design affordable and ecologically-sound housing in California. Even though he was busy running his own business, Alex still made the time to share his knowledge with local non-profits, volunteering for East Bay Housing Organizations,  the Association for Community Design as well as founding the tenant’s rights organization Just Cause Oakland.  Years of previous work experience provided Alex with the architectural training necessary for success, and in 2008, Alex came to Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center to gain the comprehensive business knowledge needed to expand his firm. 

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Simonida Cvejic of Bay Area Medical Academy

simonidaSimonida Cvejic immigrated to New York from Macedonia in 1995, and struggled for a couple of years before landing a position as an analyst at Goldman Sachs.  While the war raged in her former Yugoslav republic in 1999, she was selling Goldman Sachs research on wartime investment opportunities.  Simonida says, “While everyone was investing, I was sending money home and worrying about my family.”  Ultimately, the 70 hour work-weeks, fierce competitiveness, and Wall Street’s moneyed culture left her feeling deprived, and she jumped at the opportunity for a job transfer to California.

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Ernest East of Miz Lynn's Pies

ErnestEastErnest East wanted a way to uplift people! He was not doing that as a bus driver, despite singing while he worked. When his lady friend baked him a pineapple-upside-down cake, he realized his calling.

Ernest comes from a large southern family, where eating dinner together was a nightly tradition. He remembers tasty home-cooked meals followed by delicious desserts, all prepared with real, natural ingredients.

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Feliciano Zavala of Peninsula Party Rentals

felicianozavalaPerhaps the first indication of Feliciano Zavala's potential for entrepreneurial success was a rapid promotion from truck driver to general manager during his ten year employment period with a party rental company. In 2005, the business-minded Feliciano followed his instincts, placed his bet and rolled the dice. Quitting his job with the party rental company, he and his wife opened the doors of their own business, Peninsula Party Rentals.

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Alicia Lopez of W & A Transport

alicialopezAlicia Lopez, owner of W&A Transport, emigrated from Mexico in November of 1986 with her husband Jose Luis. They arrived with only the clothes on their backs, and today run a successful and sustainable interstate trucking business.

After years of working on the production line and as a mechanic for a Bay Area soap manufacturer, Jose Luis was injured on the job and forced to make a career change.

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James Adams of Adams Smoked Meats

jamesadams2James Harold Adams came to Renaissance's Bayview Business Resource Center after he completed 16 years in prison. While incarcerated, James picked up literacy as well as culinary skills. In his own words, James previously "hustled" through business. However, his inability to read (which he did not admit to others) prevented him from succeeding.

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Yvonne Hines of Pralines

yvonnehinesYvonne Hines has a talent and passion for making mouth watering Southern American style homemade sweets and specialty desserts. The incredible feedback she got from friends, family and her community about her delicious treats encouraged her to start her own business, Pralines by Yvonne.

Yvonne is a single mother and worked in a low income job for the city of San Francisco when she began selling her pralines at local events.

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Alex Saldarriaga of Home Health Advocates

alexsaldarriagaWhen Alex Saldarriaga was working as a nurse, he noticed a lack of quality home health care services for seniors. In 2003, Alex launched his own company, Home Health Advocates, to fill this unmet need. His tagline is "Care without Compromise!" Alex was recently featured in a San Francisco Examiner article titled "Nurse Launches Business to Address Unmet Needs". 

Alex is passionate about his clients, and the foundation of his success is exemplary customer service. Each senior is individually assessed so that every aspect of his or her life can be taken into consideration, and a care plan.

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Jill Litwin of Peas of Mind


The idea for Peas of Mind, an all natural and organic prepackaged food line for growing kids, came to Jill Litwin after seeing a co-worker struggle to come up with fast healthy meals for her growing child.  At the time Jill was working for a snowboard company in Vermont and decided she would rather cook for her friend's child than see him eating only canned vegetables.

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