Wendy’s Wisdom

As the coordinator and teacher of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center‘s Business Planning Class, I help small business entrepreneurs create solid business plans focused on management, marketing and money. Students learn, struggle and grow through the process… and many return to Renaissance to share their lessons learned as guest speakers, consultants and mentors.

At the last Business Planning Class graduation, Wendy Lieu, graduate of the Fall 2012 Business Planning Class, shared her wisdom. As of owner of Socola Chocolatier, Wendy Lieu handcrafts delicious artisanal confections.

In the news

PTA students and clients have been receiving great press over the past few months and we want to share some of their news…

This summer SF Chronicle included an interview with Andrea Kenner, owner of the Sebastopol boutique, Tamarind. Andrea took the first 14-week Business Planning Class offered at Renaissance Marin in the Fall of 2012. The article also plugged another Renaissance (SF) Business Planning Class graduate, Ali Golden, “Oakland’s It designer”.

bay area small business

Rusty Olson, Renaissance Business Planning Class graduate from Spring 2013, opened Rusty’s Southern in the Tenderloin this Spring and has received nice press from Inside Scoop SF and the San Francisco Chronicle about his delicious Carolina-style BBQ.

bay area small business

In August I opened the paper and saw the smiling face of Beth Vecchiarelli, BP Class graduate from Fall 2014 and owner of Preserved in Oakland. Beth teaches classes on traditional methods of food preservation and her store carries D.I.Y. supplies for everything from cheesemaking and fermenting to pickling and dehydrating.

bay area small business

Blake Joffe, BP Class grad from Winter 2011 and co-owner of Beauty’s Bagel Shop was mentioned in a New York Times article, “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?“. His co-owner and wife, Amy Remsen, was a featured guest on an early August episode of KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasney about the same topic. Also this year, Thrillist named Beauty’s Bagel one of the 12 most important restaurants in Oakland, and Blake and Amy were featured in the recipe section of the SF Chronicle.

bay area small business

This year PTA client and Renaissance graduate LauraLe Wunsch has been receiving some great press for her unique product business, Oxgut Hose Company, which creates beautiful hand-crafted products with recycled fire hose salvaged from US fire departments. The Culture Trip labeled LauraLe one of 10 contemporary designers in San Francisco you should know about, there was a nice article this month in Country Living Magazine, and the final issue of Anthology Magazine (issue 21, Fall 2015) includes a feature on the business.

bay area small business

The SF Chronicle Island Style Section in mid October include a nice feature on jeweler Luana Coonen, BP Class grad from Summer 2014, and the impact of nature in her jewelry.

bay area small business

The Dogwatch neighborhood in San Francisco has a new design destination – Industrious Life, co-founded by Renaissance BP Class grad from Winter 2012 – Patti Quill. Patti and her co-owner Patti Davidson opened the shop this year and were recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle.

bay area small business

In October, PTA client The Good Life Grocery was honored with the San Francisco Examiner’s Reader’s Choice Award for the Best Grocery Stores! bay area small business

And last but not least, we are thrilled that PTA client Bay Area Medical Academy, founded by Simonida Cvejic, was one of just 20 Mission Main Street Grant recipients for 2015, chosen from applicants around the country to receive a $100,000 award from Chase! Congratulations!

bay area small business

Entrepreneurs of the Year

On Wednesday, October 7th, Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center will be honoring three graduates of Renaissance’s 14-week Business Planning class at their annual gala. The award winners are exemplary business owners who have minimized personal risks and were motivated to plan carefully in order to launch successful small businesses. It has been a pleasure to teach them, provide one-on-one support when needed, and watch their progress as they establish their businesses and positively impact their community.

Established Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Wendy Lieu, owner of Socola Chocolatier, had already been operating her chocolate business part-time with her sister for many years when she took the Business Planning class in 2012. With the business skills and confidence she gained in the class, she  was ready to take the business to the next level.  In early 2014 Wendy and her sister Susan opened their retail shop on Folsom Street in San Francisco. They now employ five people and also have a thriving wholesale business!

Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Antoinette Sanchez, owner of Endless Summer Sweets, was a long-time Renaissance employee who worked with me to coordinate the Business Planning Class at Renaissance SoMA. She took all the Renaissance classes, received access to financing support from Gwendolyn Wright of The Wright Consultants, and studied with La Cocina. She left Renaissance two years ago to focus full-time on bringing funnel cakes and kettle corn to parties, events and street festivals all over the Bay. She will soon open her own store on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley!

Angela Cain Memorial Award

A graduate of the Business Planning class and a long-time Renaissance business incubator tenant, Brigette Renee LeBlanc, owner of LeBlanc and Associates, LLC has used all her training, support and referrals to develop her own business providing full-service event consulting to Bay Area clients.

These three women were committed students, wrote great business plans and took what they learned and applied it to their businesses. We are so proud of them and what they have accomplished. Please join me in congratulating these amazing small business owners!

Join Renaissance at City View Metreon on Wednesday October 7 at 5:30pm to honor the Entrepreneurs of the Year and enjoy the Renaissance pop-up café, dessert bar and marketplace. Many  Business Planning Class graduates will be in attendance. Many graduates have generously donated their products and services to the auction, including Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, Seán Patrick of Calibur, Gail Lillian of Liba Falafel, Nick Hormuth of Pedal Inn Bike Tours and Provisions, and Steve Fox of Urban Putt. We invite you to attend the Gala, reconnect with business colleagues, and enjoy the program plus networking, food and music!

Do you have an entrepreneurial dream?

TeleSmart Communications founder Josiane Feigon understands the benefits of a great business plan… and that plan set her on the path to success in business.

entrepreneurial dream

“When it came to launching my own business, I needed a plan. I couldn’t just work it out on a cocktail napkin. I needed time to think it through. I might be brave and adventurous, but I’m also very methodical.

An entrepreneurial friend told me that she’d registered for a Business Planning Class at the San Francisco Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. They offered a 14-week planning session to help entrepreneurs work on their business plan and give their idea wings.

So I decided to register… I worked on firming up my idea, looking at it from all angles, and finally creating a robust business plan that would set me up for success.

I can’t recommend the RenCenter enough. Today it has offices in SF, the Peninsula, and Marin, with more small business incubators for new entrepreneurs. Sharon Miller is an amazing CEO and visionary. Their instructors are brilliant (special shout out to my mentor, Paul Terry) and the support is amazing. They are not your Shark Tanks.”

(thanks for the shout-out, Josiane!)

Now, Josiane wants to encourage others who are passionate about a business idea and ready to take the plunge. TeleSmart Communications is offering a scholarship to one lucky person who would like to register for Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center’s 14-week business planning class in 2015.

Do you have an entrepreneurial dream? Click here to learn more about TeleSmart’s scholarship opportunity!

Honoring an influential institution

Last Thursday night, May 1st, Small Business Network San Francisco (SBN) celebrated its 30th anniversary and recognized six small business organizations and individuals during an awards ceremony at the Marines’ Memorial Club of San Francisco. One of the winners was long-time PTA client Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, recognized with the Influential Organization Award. Renaissance’s mission is to empower and increase the entrepreneurial capacities of socially and economically diverse women and men to help create sustainable new businesses and new jobs and promote financial self-sufficiency. The SBN award was accepted by Renaissance Managing Director, Lisa Kirvin.

renaissance entrepreneurship center

It has been my pleasure to help design services and provide training, consulting and support to Renaissance students and graduates over the past twenty+ years. As the coordinator and lead instructor for Renaissance’s 14-week business planning class in San Francisco, I know first-hand how Renaissance helps support so many Bay Area small businesses each year. Congratulations Renaissance!

(I was honored to receive SBN’s Small Business Advocate Award last year.)

Social Enterprise on the Tibetan Plateau

social enterprise

Tibetan Social Enterprise Lab Fellows

This past month, twelve entrepreneurs from the Tibetan Plateau in Western China have been immersed in an intensive learning experience in the San Francisco Bay Area. They were selected as the first group of Fellows in a new program called the Tibetan Social Enterprise Lab. This program was created to help Tibetan entrepreneurs build their business skills and make connections with the Bay Area social enterprise community so that they can start or expand their own social enterprises on the Tibetan Plateau.

The Fellows spent their first two weeks on the Stanford campus attending classes, meeting with teachers and students, and developing their business models. Some have well-defined ideas and are in full business start-up mode, while others are at a very early stage, exploring the potential of social enterprise as an alternative to a charity giving model.  They are starting product businesses –selling yak dairy products, solar cookers, baked goods, and traditional artisan products, and service businesses –providing digital medial skills training, eco-travel services or vocational training.

Sharon Miller, CEO of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center connected me with the program, knowing of my long-standing interest in the Himalayan region and Tibetan culture. I got the chance to attend one of their mentor evenings on the Stanford campus, listening to the Fellows “pitch” their business ideas and sharing feedback in one of their “mastermind” sessions.

These young entrepreneurs face challenges unique to the Tibetan Plateau – including extreme weather conditions and limited local markets (one Fellow plans to start a farm-to-table farm business but must figure out how to get his products to the nearest farmers’ market—a seven-hour drive away). Yet as I learned about their ideas and projects, it was clear that they also face some of the same challenges as entrepreneurs everywhere.

social enterprise

Fellows visiting La Cocina

During the last two weeks of the program, the Fellows visited Bay Area small businesses and social enterprises. I gave them a tour and overview of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and we talked about the Renaissance approach—a business planning model within a supportive environment, with teams of advisers and peer-to-peer support. We discussed some of the many Renaissance graduate food and product businesses where they might seek direction and mentorship, such as Cheryl Burr of Pinkie’s Bakery, Judi Henderson of Mannequin Madness, Jackie Huang of Woolbuddy, Eloisa Serrano of Bay Thread, Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and Neil Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream. We specifically talked about the importance of getting hands-on advice and specific direction from other small business owners. The Fellows then visited Renaissance graduates Laurie Kanes of 12 Small Things and Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit Company, as well as La Cocina and other Bay Area social enterprises.

I believe that mentorship and support from other business owners is key to small business success and is just as important as training in business planning, budgeting, evaluation metrics, and market research. By hearing success stories and lessons learned directly from other business owners, and getting questions answered by people who operate businesses every day, new entrepreneurs can tangibly see what it means to start and run a small business.

As so many of us know, being a small business owner is a job like no other. It can be incredibly rewarding but also potentially isolating. In this virtual age, though, these Tibetan entrepreneurs have the opportunity to create lasting relationships with the people they met during the program and most importantly with each other. With peer support from the Fellowship cohort and support from advisers (ideally other small business owners), these young entrepreneurs will be able to stay focused on their goals, put their plans into action, and ultimately create positive economic and social change in their communities. I look forward to staying in touch with all of them!

Teaching Entrepreneurship Hands-on

teaching entrepreneurshipI have taught for many years, starting as an ESL teacher in Europe and Canada while in my early twenties. I learned a valuable and practical lesson from teaching ESL—that we learn best through hands-on, practical experience. To teach English to new immigrants I used the art of play, street theater and humor to help students deal with a new environment and their fears related to learning a language. Together we learned about culture and language, out loud and in full view of each other.

New and emerging entrepreneurs are also dealing with an unknown environment and many fears. They are often wedged between the fantasy of what they hope will happen with their new enterprises and the reality of money, management and marketing.  This can be an exciting time but also a scary time.

In classroom teaching with new business owners, it is essential to use a hands-on approach and involve the whole class or cohort in the process. Humor is key, as well as helping to foster excitement about learning together. Teaching entrepreneurship is not just about lecturing (although content and theory is important), it is a doing process.

Business workshops or classes can introduce business skills, demonstrate social media and traditional marketing techniques, and present real world financial projections. However, it is also important for students to get out into the real world themselves to test their assumptions. Then they can use the classroom for sharing, reporting back, and group problem-solving sessions with actual business models.

When I teach small business classes, students research how their business idea fits in the marketplace with face-to-face interviews, they expose their ideas to the reality of the numbers by doing rigorous financial analysis, and then they develop a practical, realistic plan of action that they can test week by week. This plan can be adjusted as the marketplace and their own level of confidence and excitement reveal the right directions.

The focus must be on empowerment and building confidence as well as teaching entrepreneurial skills. Emerging small business owners need to tap into their passion and also have the ability to mitigate risks. It is important for business owners to continually cultivate the right balance of business skills and intuition.

By guiding students through an engaging curriculum, giving them access to resources and mentors, and providing direction related to good management practices, we can help emerging entrepreneurs launch and sustain a successful venture. The process is fun and richly rewarding for both student and teacher, because in the best learning environment, the teacher is learning from the students, too.

Yoga and Small Business Week

It was San Francisco Small Business Week this past week and the city was full of entrepreneurial energy.

small business week conference

With Renaissance’s Lisa Kirvin at Flavors of San Francisco

At the kick-off celebration, Flavors of San Francisco, last Monday the Cityview Room of the Metreon was filled with great food from over 30 San Francisco restaurants and catering companies. The room was packed with small business owners and supporters. I got a chance to connect and catch up with Mark Quinn from SBA, Gwen Kaplan of Ace Mailing, PTA Associates Ken Stram and Monika Hudson, and Lisa Kirvin from Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center.

On Wednesday, as part of the Small Business Conference at San Francisco State, I gave a workshop on Business Planning 101+ to a crowd of about 100 people. Things got off to a rocky start. (There always has to be a tech problem, right?) The PowerPoint presentation wouldn’t work so I got everyone on their feet for a little yoga… and a chance to get to know each other. Then, with a some help from the SBW tech staff and Renaissance’s Executive Director Sharon Miller, we got back on track.

small business week conference

Back on track after technical difficulties

I focused my talk on the basics of business planning and eight critical success factors for a small business launch (more on that soon). I also shared student stories from Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center’s 14-week business planning class, including Neil Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream, Judi Henderson-Townsend of Mannequin Madness, Zel Anders of Tomboy Tailors and Lori Shannon of See Jane Run.

The room was full of people with small business ideas eager to take their business concepts to the next level. It was fun to share stories and help motivate them to take the leap of faith into small business ownership. The point is to s-t-r-e-t-c-h, focus, and make it happen!

Outstanding Service

Last week I received the Outstanding Service Award from Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center.  This award was presented by CEO Sharon Miller to recognize over twenty years of work with Renaissance as an independent business consultant in developing classes and incubator programs and as the primary business planning instructor and coordinator.


receiving the Renaissance Outstanding Service Award

It was such an honor to receive this award in front of colleagues, students, friends and family during Renaissance’s gala event, “Small Business, Big Impact: Celebrating 28 Years of Small Business Success” on October 2nd at the Bently Reserve in San Francisco.

It was quite surprising to realize that I have taught over 5,000 business planning students and supported over 100 incubator tenants at Renaissance. The secret is that I’m constantly inspired working with new and emerging business owners. I love the experience of helping students to explore options, get organized, develop practical business skills and take the steps necessary to make their small businesses work. I am inspired each day by the diversity of people who want to start their own businesses, the variety of business ideas, students’ focus and passion, as well as their willingness to put in the time and make the commitment to be successful.

While the award was so appreciated, the people who truly deserve the accolades are the Renaissance graduates — the new entrepreneurs who are doing research, creating prototypes, testing concepts, launching on a trial basis, and then jumping into the marketplace.


with fellow Renaissance graduate award winners, Heidi Gibson, Yvonne Hines and Alphonso Rhodes

These small and micro businesses are the engines of our local and national economy. We need to support them so they can thrive, continue to expand, offer jobs, and become community-based institutions for our neighborhoods and cities. When you choose to frequent small, independently owned businesses you are directly building the local economy and, in the process, supporting some amazing, dynamic people. Our small business owners are heroes. They are making a difference through their focus on sustainability and their attention to the local community. We need to award the local, small business owner for outstanding service!