Women’s History Month: Renaissance Honors Trailblazing Women in Business

Sharon Miller (bottom left) at her first high school International Women’s History Day Celebration.

All of us at Renaissance are thrilled to invite you in to join us in celebrating our trailblazing women entrepreneurs. This year’s Women’s History Month is especially exciting as The National Women’s History Project declared “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business” as its annual theme.

I am proud that supporting women to achieve their true potentials, create wealth and establish economic self sufficiency through small business ownership is what we do at Renaissance not only during Women’s History month, but year-round.  Our training classes, access to capital, markets and networks, and ongoing support bring women together in very powerful and empowering ways to achieve entrepreneurial success.

As you may know, while the number of women-owned firms in the U.S. has grown from  5,417,034 in 1997 to an estimated 9,087,200 in 2014, an impressive 67.8% increase, there is still much more that needs to be done. According to the Kauffman Foundation, regardless of race, women are half as likely as men to own businesses with 2 or more employees. The persistent gender business gap continues, with women starting businesses that are significantly smaller and less profitable than our male counterparts.

Our featured event for Women’s History month 2017 will be our Renaissance Women’s Network held on International Women’s History Day, March 8th from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm at our SoMa location. This  inspiring event will feature a panel of international trailblazing women entrepreneurs: Maria de Davila from El Salvador, owner of Artesana Sausages; Maritza Hurtado from Colombia, owner of Señora Maritza Catering; and Kofo Domingo from Nigeria, owner of MKD & Associates. We hope you can come, but if not, please join us for our upcoming Renaissance Women’s Network events – held on the second Wednesday of every month with  each featuring a panel of dynamic, inspiring women entrepreneurs.

As we shine the spotlight on women this month, we know that this celebration is symbolic of the larger struggle for inclusion and equity. 76% of Renaissance’s clients are women. While our numbers show that women typically seek out business support more than men, we know that women are not the only ones who need help navigating the challenges and opportunities of business ownership.

Renaissance’s doors are open to all who are seeking business assistance, and we make extra effort to reach out to those who face barriers to opportunity. We know that by lifting only one segment of the population we would not achieve our vision to create economic opportunity and access for all.  We invite everyone who wants to be part of that vision to join us.

This Women’s History Month, as we honor the contributions women make and have made to society, I especially want to honor all the women and men who are fighting the good fight to ensure that we can uphold women’s rights, human rights and access to the economic and social opportunities that will create a better future for us all.

  • By Sharon Miller, Renaissance CEO


Fall in Love with Chicks and Love Pizza Patio

Chicks & Love was created from the love, passion and talents of two native Bay Area professional women: Chef Kellie Joe and her wife, Vanda, a designer. Together, they are known as The Chicks.

Kellie Joe, also known as Chef Chick, got started in 2010 by selling pizzas at the Orinda Farmers Market, then ended up at the Walnut Creek and Danville Farmer’s Markets with her wife. Kellie was also teaching culinary classes in Danville, CA, where she was the founder and instructor of the Monte Vista Culinary Academy for twelve years. She even hired students from her culinary classes to work at her farmers market stands. Yet, little did she know that she was destined for more. In 2014, Kellie left teaching and decided to put her focus completely on running her business.

In order to learn the foundation of business, Kellie signed up for the Renaissance 12-Week Business Planning class at the SoMa Center. She had this to say about the class: “Renaissance taught me invaluable basics of business planning ” Her intention was to grow her farmers market business, but about one year ago, she found the opportunity to open a storefront, and was quickly able to shift gears. “I always wanted to check off the box of having my own restaurant, from my bucket list!” And the chance came thanks to her wife Vanda, who works at the Rainbow Grocery store in San Francisco. A small trailer with a patio had opened up right next to the grocery store and Vanda and Kellie took the space to sell their pizzas.

In February 2016, Kellie took over the patio and the eight by ten feet coffee cart and completely transformed it. She purchased new kitchen equipment funded from her business savings. She also put in patio heaters and an awning made of recycled sails from a sailboat  to provide shelter from the rain. Draped with trees and vines, the space could easily be described as a cozy pizza haven.

Kellie is delighted and overjoyed with her business. She tells us that she is proud of her ‘baby’ and that all the blood, sweat and tears she’s put into this business has been an awesome experience!

In the next few years, Kellie’s goal is to build up her sales.  Kellie plans to grow her business with the help of Renaissance’s Financing Resource Center. “When I feel stuck, I like that I can call Renaissance and get help. I feel secure knowing that somebody cares and has my back.”

More about the Pizzas at Chicks & Love Pizza Patio:

What makes Chicks & Love pizza’s so unique? The ingredients! Kellie proudly serves baked-to-order, handcrafted, personal-sized flatbread pizzas with ingredients that are local, organic and backyard farm raised.Kellie and Vanda raise chickens and are beekeepers.  

They use their own bees’ honey in their pizza dough. On special occasions they use their own chickens eggs for their pizzas. Any of their pizzas can be prepared with an organic egg. They also have gluten-free and dairy free options.

Owners, Kellie Joe (left) and Vanda (right)








Chicks & Love Pizza Patio

1701 Folsom Street in San Francisco (right next to Rainbow Grocery!)
Open Monday through Friday 9am – 3pm
Walnut Creek Farmers Market Sundays 9am-2pm.

Tips for future food business owners:

Tip #1: Use your resources, ask for help. For anyone who is in a bind, take classes and use your resources.

Tip #2: Ask questions, do research and investigate. Before landing a space at the Walnut Creek farmers market, Kellie and her wife went around and asked vendors about their experience. What did they like and did not like? What were the worst and best things about having a business there? She found that most people are willing to help!

Pizza Discount! With any pizza purchase, get a complimentary Stumptown Drip coffee or Spindrift Fruit Selzer.

(Just show Kellie this page!)

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chicksandlove/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chicksandlove

Astrid Lopez, Elite Sport Soccer and Financial Consultant

Who would have guessed that getting in financial difficulties can turn someone in a financial expert! It happened to Astrid Lopez.

The Lopez family immigrated to the U.S. in the late eighties from Bogotá in order to escape Colombia’s political, social, and economic unrest, and live in a safer environment. Astrid and her husband pursued the economic opportunity afforded them and opened Elite Sports Soccer, Inc., a retail business selling soccer clothing and accessories like their shop in Colombia. Having built a successful business in Colombia Astrid enrolled in Women’s Initiative, where she learned how to do business in the U.S. Eventually Astrid’s family business helped pay for her childrens’ college tuition, purchase a home in San Francisco, hire eight part-time employees and open a second store.

In 2014, their new landlord discussed plans of using their building for a different purpose when the lease ended. Astrid’s family entered a period of crisis. They worried about the future of their business constantly. If they were to close the store, she wondered, would they be able to afford to sign a lease at a new location or pay off her mortgage and children’s college debt? They considered selling everything and moving back to Colombia.

Fortunately, a friend encouraged Astrid to study finance. She enrolled in a seminar, which made her eager to learn how she could save her business. She soon realized how much she would need to work in order to plan for retirement and accumulate family savings, which she did not have at the time. She continued her studies, earned a license as a certified financial planner and started a financial coaching business.

Astrid enrolled in Renaissance’s Women’s Paso a Paso class in 2016. She appreciated learning business concepts in her native language and the comfort of being with peers with similar cultural backgrounds. She said the class was “like fresh water where I could reminisce my early years as a business owner and share my knowledge with classmates, reexamine my values, and look at how I can improve upon my new financial consulting business.” Astrid enjoyed the empowerment classes and positive class environment, which gave her the confidence to know that anything is possible with sufficient preparation and planning. As a result, she is now conducting market research, researching the competition, organizing her finances and building strong relationships with clients.

She became passionate about educating individuals and business owners on the importance of budgeting, savings, investments or retirement plans and organizing business taxes. Although she works with clients of all backgrounds, she especially enjoys working with Latinos and confronting the cultural barriers they have to offer lessons on the value of financial planning. She strives to reach as many families as possible so the number of parents passing financial literacy down to their children is tremendous. Finally, she wants to make sure that small business owners don’t go through 26 years of being in business without financial planning like her family.

Today Astrid stands without fear of what the future will bring. She plans to keep Elite Sports Soccer, Inc. operational as long as she is able. At the same time, she will continue to build her clientele for her financial consulting business and grow her own financial investments. Renaissance is proud that Astrid is now a consultant in Futuros Seguros, our financial empowerment program for Latino women.

Meet Patti Quill and Patti Davidson, owners of Industrious Life

industrious-life-photosIn December 2014, Renaissance alumnae and partners Patti Quill and Patti Davidson opened their retail storefront, Industrious Life, in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Their focus is on curating a mix of both new and vintage design that is useful and thoughtful by smaller U.S. based makers and manufacturers. They also work closely with many local and west coast based craftspeople.

The partners curatorial sense pays homage to what was historically an industrial neighborhood and appreciates the continued work by a new generation of designers and manufacturers. The area has evolved into a growing art and design district, and Industrious Life is proud to be part of it.

Davidson completed one of the Renaissance Center’s early business planning programs in 1985, and Quill attended in 2012 – both partners were working on prior businesses at the time. They have used what they’ve learned from the Business Planning Class, as well as their work experience in bookkeeping, marketing, and management of small businesses to pursue their new business.

Learn more about Industrious Life here.

Viet Vu and Hoi Polloi Brewpub and Beat Lounge

Four years ago Viet Vu was working full-time as a paralegal. Feeling bored and unenthusiastic about his profession he determined that the only way he could grow in his career was to apply to law school. Attending law school to become a lawyer was not something he wanted to do. He didn’t know what to do, but he did know that he wanted to be more creative and independent.

Viet became interested in brewing through his father, who was a brewer. The two talked about opening a brewery together one day but that dream would never be able to become true as a result of his father contracting liver cancer and eventually passing due to the disease a few months later. For a time Viet thought that his dream of starting a brewery ended with his father’s passing. However, a year later he decided to cash in his 401K (which in hindsight he doesn’t recommend doing!), and enroll at the same brewing school his father had studied at years prior. Viet eventually graduated brewing school in the summer of 2011.

He then enrolled in Renaissance’s Business Planning class and it took two more years of working as a Contract Analyst and saving every penny before he decided to launch Hoi Polloi Brewpub and Beat Lounge.

Viet came to speak at Renaissance’s Business Planning class graduation in May 2016, offering congratulations and guidance to graduates. With all that he has learned he had five tips to share with graduates:

1. Be patient.
After four years planning and just two years since launching, Hoi Polloi is still in its infancy. Viet finds he is still constantly learning and making changes.

2. Be flexible.
A business plan seems solid, but it’s not. Be prepared for inevitable changes.

3. Get advice. But don’t necessarily take it!
Every one has something to say. It’s up to you to use critical thinking and make the best decision.

4. Pay for your time if you can afford it.
Hire people to do administration and bookkeeping.

5. Take time for yourself.
Business can be all-consuming, but don’t let it be. Your brain needs time to refresh. Don’t burn-out!

Hoi Polloi Brewpub and Beat Lounge
1763 Alcatraz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94703


Photo By John Storey

Meet Andrine Smith & Her ReCrafting Consignment Store

Andrine Smith is a lifelong crafter. She is an avid traditional rug hooker and knitter, among other crafts. In discussions with her fellow crafters over the years, she learned that many had amassed stashes of perfectly good and oftentimes costly crafting materials they no longer used or needed, but were reluctant to part with unless they would be put to good use.

Andrine SmithAndrine learned that crafters had few options for putting their surplus supplies in the hands of other crafters who could use and enjoy them. There were consignment stores where people could efficiently sell surplus clothing, household items and even sporting goods, so why not crafting supplies? Thus the idea of a crafting consignment store was born.

In 2014, Andrine’s unique idea became reality when she found space at 2449 Santa Clara Avenue in Alameda. The Recrafting Co. accepts yarn, fabric, beads, scrapbooking, quilting, needlework and other craft supplies on consignment and sells them at affordable prices. Consignors recoup some part of their investment in supplies and express gratitude that their consigned items will be used as intended by another crafter. Customers are delighted to find otherwise expensive tools and supplies at very affordable prices.

One key to the success of the business is an awareness of what sells and what doesn’t so Andrine is careful to accept only those items that are in good condition and will be sure to sell. She knows which crafts brands, materials and tools are popular and in demand.

So, if you are a quilter, knitter or general crafter, check out the great selection and bargain prices at The ReCrafting Co. in Alameda.

Renaissance wins SBA’s Lean for Main Street competition

Is there really a demand for your product or service?  What problem are you solving and how are your target customers already solving this problem without you?  Lean Startup helps new entrepreneurs answer these questions by encouraging them to get outside and talk to actual potential customers. Lots of them!

The Lean Startup philosophy emphasizes the importance of doing customer discovery and validation to determine whether a new product or service has enough customers to make the business viable. Figuring out exactly who these customers are and creating a business model is a vital part of a successful launch.

We are very excited to announce that Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center won the SBA’s Lean for Main Street competition in February to pilot a modified version of the Lean Startup curriculum!

We were one of only five economic development organizations across the US to be given the award, which included $25k for Renaissance and the opportunity for two Renaissance staff to travel to Washington DC to learn about the Lean Startup curriculum.  April Gilbert of Renaissance SoMa and Tim Russell of Renaissance Mid-Peninsula attended the kickoff of the training (see photo in front of the West Wing of the White House with other winners of the SBA award).

We will pilot the curriculum at our SOMA location this year, catering especially to women at the pre-launch stage of their business. Stay tuned!

Kareen Boncales
Program Associate