Managing my business in partnership

The first business I owned in San Francisco was a gourmet cheese shop, called Cheshire Cheese, located in the Fillmore District. In a previous blog post I shared how my business partner, Michael, and I decided to go into business together and start Cheshire Cheese. Here’s the story of how we managed and expanded our business partnership.

Seize the opportunities

Six months after we opened Cheshire Cheese, the retail space next door became available for lease and the primary lessee offered us the master lease. (He also gave us his Pacific Heights mailing list and all his demographic studies on the neighborhood!)  We discovered that our sublease was already 75% of the master lease so we jumped at the chance to take over the entire lease.  We successfully negotiated a new 10-year lease with the building owner.  Now we could double our size with the security of a long-term lease.

With limited capital to cover the expansion, Michael and I created a new partnership.  We found two women who could bring new strengths and additional capital to the business.  Tara was a graphic designer and display expert and Lynn was experienced with HR and motivating employees.

With the new next-door location, we added a small café and expanded our identity.  Cheshire Cheese became Cheshire Cheese & Mad Hatter Tea.  With the infusion of additional capital, we could now afford to hire more part-time employees.

partnership

Communicate openly

We were now four owners who each brought different skills-sets and personalities to the business.  We had our differences but we were in agreement where it mattered most: our vision for the business, the impact we wanted to have in the community and, most importantly, how we would manage the business together.

We decided on a consensus-driven approach to management.  (An early philosophical decision was to continue only offering vegetarian items and to not expand into wine sales.)  We created a written agreement that reflected our values and our equal ownership.

We held “official” business meetings every Wednesday after the store closed.  We used this time to plan work schedules, discuss personnel, review financial statements, prepare for holiday celebrations, and eat all the free samples that new vendors would drop off for us to taste.  Transparency and honesty was essential for us, so we made sure we talked about money — how we were doing both by the day, the month and based on our annual budget.

Build on lessons learned

Every day was a team learning experience.  We learned about the subtleties of food products, how to serve customers well, how to make strong relationships with vendors, and how to follow health department codes.  Through a lot of trial and error, we were also getting better at running the business profitably, managing it jointly, and working through management and personnel challenges along the way.  The best lessons learned were from hands-on experience.

Plan our exit

After running the business together for five years, two of the partners wanted to move on – one to another business and the other to go back to school.  We all decided we would sell the business.  To get ready to sell, we had to learn how to value our business as an asset, organize our internal systems, leverage our long-term lease, and negotiate with potential buyers.  After several months of planning and negotiation, we successfully sold the business to new owners!  (Cheshire Cheese & Mad Hatter Tea continued to operate for 15 more years.)

Business partnership means attending to both the business and the relationship

Like a business with one owner, a  business with multiple owners must be based on a viable business concept and a solid plan for marketing, money and management.  Unlike a business with just one owner, co-owners must be constantly attuned to the needs of both the business and the owner relationship(s).

Starting off, Michael, Tara, Lynn and I were aware of the qualities that each of us brought to the business – our personalities, passions, purpose, work styles and areas of expertise.  Once we were in business together, we had to pay attention to the dynamics between us — how well our individual strengths or weaknesses meshed, and how well we communicated and made decisions together.  Our written partnership agreement was key — both as a guide for managing the business and as a road map for how we would approach our business exit.

Owning a business with others took a lot of work!  But it was also incredibly rewarding.  With business partners, we didn’t have to tackle business challenges alone and we all got to share in the business’ success.


Are you starting a business in partnership or already managing a business in partnership? At Paul Terry & Associates we help both new and established business partners understand key business issues and how to work best together.  We help co-owners define roles, address key financial issues and minimize areas of conflict.  We also help business owners write partnership agreements and create business action plans so that they can move forward with clarity.

Partnership advice from small business owners

There are many factors that must be considered when operating a business with others.  We asked some of our clients to share their partnership advice for small business entrepreneurs who are considering business co-ownership.  Here’s what they had to say!

Jane Lin of Urban Field Studio

Partnership adviceJane and her business partners provide a full range of urban design services, including strategy, design, conceptual architecture, and urban design education and communications.

Why did you decide to go into business with other people?

Two or three is better than one!  It is good to share responsibility.  You can do more as a team.  And, it makes life outside of the business more flexible, since we can cover each other when we go on vacation.

What do you love about owning a business with others?

I really like collaborating with my partners.  I learn a lot from them.  They are not just business partners but mentors.  I feel that I contribute to something bigger than just myself when I work as a team.  We all contribute energy, knowledge, encouragement, skill, support, and friendship to each other.

What is most challenging about co-owning a business?

Distributing responsibilities is a challenge that requires daily tending.  But, that’s what running a business is all about!

How do you deal with this challenge?

TALK.  Say exactly what you feel and state what you want.  For tougher moments it’s good to have a third partner who can hear you both out.  And, when you don’t get your way, have a good attitude about getting what you desire next time and understanding that it’s for the long haul.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs considering a business partnership?

Think of your potential business partner like a travel partner.  Use a similar filter as the one you apply when you are choosing a travel buddy.  This is a long journey.  You are going to get lost.  Can you handle being stuck somewhere with this person?  Will they help you figure out what you’re going to do next?  Will you choose the same path forward?

Write a partnership agreement.  The biggest deal of all is the partnership agreement.  It’s like wedding vows and a pre-nup (but not as romantic).  The value of your business is maintaining a strong relationship between you and your partner every day.  If that is strong, your relationship with your customers will also be strong.

What do you wish you had done differently?

There is not that much I would do differently, but I do need to remind myself to give props to my partners as much as possible.  I want to practice gratefulness in what they do everyday.  And, I want to make sure we are connected as much as reasonable.

Shamita Dhar of Coyote Coast Youth & Family Counseling

partnership adviceShamita and her business partners co-own a counseling business that provides therapeutic support services to teens and families experiencing emotional, behavioral and substance-related difficulties.

Why did you decide to go into business with other people?

Being a part of a team is extremely rewarding.  We each have important strengths, which compliment one another and support a balanced approach when making important business decisions.

What do you love about owning a business with others?

I like the security of knowing that if one of us is having an off day, there are two others dotting “I”s and crossing “T”s.  Building a business is filled with opportunities for both successes and failures.  It certainly feels better experiencing either case when one is not alone.

What is most challenging about co-owning a business?

It is inevitable that tension will build when one or more partners fails to pull their weight or during periods when a partner experiences a crisis of confidence or some ambivalence about the work.

How do you deal with these challenges?

With solid agreements, direct communication and healthy boundaries—without these, we can end up feeling misused and mistreated.  Fairness is essential for a working partnership.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs considering a business partnership?

Talk through every possibility and establish a solid partnership agreement, no matter how close you may be.  In fact, the closer you are, it is even more imperative to outline clear and specific agreements about how to work within the partnership and exit the partnership.

Deborah Bowes of Feldenkrais Center for Movement Awareness

partnership advice
Deborah co-owns the longest established Feldenkrais Center in the Bay Area offering individual sessions, classes and related wellness services.

Deborah’s partnership advice for other small business owners:

Make a plan.  It is important to plan for the changes that the future inevitably brings.  Not only to decide what will happen, but design a process for working through change.

Communicate openly.  Good communication skills are essential, as well as being able to have difficult conversations and still be friends, and work through different goals and values.  There will be times when you want to go in a different direction than your partner.  If you want the business to grow and develop, you have to accept the difference and see how you can make it work for everyone.  Then you can be happy to be in business.

Trust is essential.  You have to trust each other; you must trust that your partner will be honest, and fair. You may not be best friends but you both must consider each other’s needs and want the best outcome for both of you.


Are you thinking about going into business with someone else?  Check out these three important steps when considering a business partnership or joint venture.  If you currently co-own a business, what partnership advice have you received that has made a difference?  What words of wisdom would you want to share with others about business co-ownership?

Happy Entrepreneurship Month – Give Thanks!

Did you know that November is National Entrepreneurship Month? In celebration and recognition of entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country, President Barack Obama proclaimed November National Entrepreneurship Month.

This is a wonderful thing! It is important to recognize small businesses and their impact in our communities. Small business owners deserve our attention and our thanks because we all benefit from their passion, dedication, innovation and hard work.

I am thankful to all the small business owners that I teach and work with every day, and for the small businesses that improve life in my neighborhood. I am also thankful to the organizations and small business support professionals who make it possible for entrepreneurs to launch and to succeed.

Last month Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center gave awards to three remarkable women whom I had the pleasure to teach in Renaissance’s Business Planning Class. This video, which highlights their stories, illustrates why it is so important that we support the small businesses and small business owners around us.

Take a look, and be sure to thank the entrepreneurs in your life. They need and deserve our support and encouragement… not just this month but all year long!

Happy Thanksgiving.

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

Sustainability in Business

We frequently teach and meet with entrepreneurs who want to run sustainable and responsible businesses. For them, it’s not just about the bottom line but the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. How do we care for our employees? What kind of impact are we having on the environment? Can we build a good business that is also profitable?

Financial sustainability is a must for any small business’ survival and long-term success. But socially and environmentally responsible business practices are also essential if we want our businesses and communities to thrive.

What does “sustainability” mean for a small business?

It could mean…
• Offering employees great working conditions, paying competitive wages, and/or providing educational options and opportunities for advancement.
• Creating and/or selling products produced in ways that minimize harm to the environment and preserve resources.
• Sourcing materials locally and supporting local industries.
• Operating transparently – sharing data and treating competitors as colleagues.
Giving back to the local community – donating profits to a charitable purpose, mentoring other small business owners, etc.

Sustainability has certainly become a buzzword in business. Yet when implemented in real ways, it not only benefits the wider community but can have positive benefits for your business directly – attracting new customers and committed employees and increasing efficiency and profit.

We asked some of our clients and colleagues about their sustainability practices. They shared their advice for other small business owners who want to incorporating sustainable practices into their businesses.

Rachel Lewin of RxOrganics

business sustainability

Sustainability is central to Rachel Lewin’s business RxOrganics, which locally manufactures “green” kitchen and medical garments. Rachel’s sustainable business practices give her a competitive edge by distinguishing her products in the uniform/professional wear marketplace.

For Rachel, sustainability is not just a marketing tool. She is always thinking about the environmental impact of every decision, from her supply chain to her end products. Tracking and measuring those practices is also central to her operation.

“It is integral to maintaining our “green” certification status with the city and various accrediting agencies to have all of our efforts clearly documented. We are constantly checking our systems to make sure that we can confidently sell our values to our customers and end users, and seeking additional certifications related to sustainable and socially responsible business practices. We are currently seeking a Higg Index score for our manufacturing practice.”

Rachel’s advice to other business owners: Be sustainable from the start and track what you do!

“It is much easier to scale responsibly if you build your foundation sustainably. Keep it simple and clear and document all your steps and actions — even the little unglamorous ones, like changing your toilets and water faucets to low flow. It all adds up! Ultimately the customers appreciate a mindful organization over a cheap one. You’ll see!”

Melissa Joy Manning of Melissa Joy Manning Jewelry

business sustainability

When jeweler Melissa Joy Manning started her business, Melissa Joy Manning Jewelry, in 1997 she wanted to create jobs for other artists: “I distinctly remember being told that I could never operate a business in such a competitive market with on-shore labor. Thankfully, I followed my heart and built a business around a local community. Now “American Made” is a driving marketing force in our industry and we lead the fashion industry in responsible practice.”

Sustainable practices are central to both jewelry production and packaging at Melissa Joy Manning. They use only 100% recycled metal sourced from a “green” certified US refiner, their precious stones follow the Kimberly Process, and they are buying more of their stones directly from mine owners to have true clarity on their gem chain of custody. Additionally all MJM packaging is recycled, jewelry pouches are made in the US from certified responsible felt, and MJM carbon offsets every box shipped to neutralize their carbon footprint.

For Melissa, though, the most important sustainable business practices relate to the reason why she went into business in the first place. All Melissa Joy Manning jewelry is hand made in her own studios in New York and Berkeley by artists earning a living working wage, with full benefits, competitive bonuses and retirement packages.

Melissa’s advice to other business owners: Start small!

“Make little changes that can be easily incorporated into your business practices. You can then add or change your practices to increase your sustainability. It can be incredibly intimidating to try and change everything at once. Starting small, however, leads to greater, more successful cumulative change that can be grown as the business can afford it. In the long run being responsible is not only more efficient and sustainable, it is cheaper and leads to greater profit and stronger ties to your market.”

Gwen Kaplan of Ace Mailing

business sustainability

Gwen Kaplan, CEO and founder of Ace Mailing, has been focused on sustainability since founding her direct mail business almost 40 years ago. When she was president of the Small Business Commission in the late 1980’s she started the Green Ribbon Panel which provided small businesses with sustainable or “green” solutions and recognized San Francisco green businesses. (This panel ultimately became the San Francisco Department of the Environment.) Ace Mailing was the first company in the US to sell recycled paper retail in bulk cartons for copy machines. Since 2007, Ace Mailing has been carbon neutral through TIST and the Institute for Environmental Innovation.

Gwen’s advice to other business owners: Evolve!

“Ace Mailing is continually living, breathing and changing to meet the needs of our clients.”. Sustainability requires strategic evolution of your business. Focus on your target market and meet their needs to achieve long-term sustainability.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that…

There are many ways to create a sustainable and responsible business. The sustainable practices that you decide to employ will be unique to your type of business and your style of doing business.

Instituting new business practices may not be easy or quick to implement. Changing how you operate takes commitment, and often time and money to get new ways of operating established.

Creating a more sustainable business is a process. As Mark Dwight, founder of Rickshaw Bagworks in San Francisco says in this Inc Magazine article, “Sustainability is a journey, not a destination.”

The first step is to just take a step! As Melissa says, choose one small way to improve your practices. Implement that practice into your business and see the results. (This is what business action planning is all about.) You will learn from it and build on it!

How is YOUR business embracing sustainable practices?

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
entrepreneurs

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
entrepreneurs

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
entrepreneurs

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!

Launched!

There are many small businesses that launch every month in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Each launch is proceeded by months (if not years) of hard work, detailed market research and fundraising before the new business owner can “open the doors”. A number of our business planning students at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center launched their businesses in 2014.  Show your support by visiting them and spreading the word!

Calibur

launched
Sean Patrick and his business partner opened a new burger and fries place in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood featuring burgers, fries and milkshakes made from 100% organic ingredients sourced primarily from California. (They even have a veggie burger for me!) Check out their recent San Francisco Chronicle review.

Pinhole Coffee

launched
JoEllen Depakakibo just opened a new coffee shop on Cortland Street in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. The curated space features a variety of coffee roasters and other locally made goodies. Check out this recent profile of JoEllen and her new business.

Kinda Fancy

launched
Lindsey Hoell and her brother and sister have launched a line of surf bikinis! They are made in America of strong, stretchy material …and include zippered pockets. Check out their fun website and online store.

The Good Hop Bottle Shop

launched
Melissa Myers opened her bottle shop and tasting room on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, offering hundreds of craft beers from around the world, with mostly local beers on tap. You can enjoy your brew on site or take away, and attend their classes and monthly events.

Hoi Polloi Brewpub and Beat Lounge

launched

Viet Vu opened his brewpub with his brother and wife on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley. The pub features a variety of beers, including their own creations, and all beer comes with popcorn drizzled with truffle-oil. Check out this recent San Francisco Chronicle review.

Rilla

launched

Courtney Cummins has launched Rilla, an online style boutique featuring select clothing, accessories and textiles from independent designers, as well as highly curated vintage pieces.

Communitē Table

launched
Michele LeProhn opened the doors to her neighborhood restaurant in Oakland’s Laurel district this December — seasonal American comfort food to eat there or to take home. Check out this recent article about Communitē Table in the East Bay Express.

The ReCrafting Co.

launched

Andrine Smith opened The ReCrafting Co. as a crafter’s resource for quality recycled crafting materials, supplies and tools. The shop also offers crafters a convenient opportunity to recycle their surplus crafting material and supplies on consignment for cash.

Liquid Gold

launched

Tim Lee’s bottle shop and tap room opened in lower Nob Hill the Fall of 2014. The  focus is on locally sourced beers and wines.  In November, Liquid Gold made Zagat’s list of the 12 hottest new bars in the United States!

Urban Putt

launched

Steve Fox and his team have created Urban Putt, the City’s first and only indoor miniature golf course in San Francisco’s Mission district. It is a playground for people of all ages with organic and locally-sourced food and drink. Thrillist calls Urban Putt “quite possibly the best thing to happen to the Mission.”

Food Businesses In the News

PTA clients and students with food (and drink) businesses have been in the press over the past month and we want to share their good news…

Gail Lillian’s popular food truck business Liba Falafel expanded to a brick and mortar location in Oakland this year. The San Francisco Chronicle recently featured a great review of the business.

food businesses

Renaissance graduate and teacher Heidi Gibson’s and Nate Pollack’s business The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen has reached a milestone — 1 million grilled cheese sandwiches sold in just a little over four years of business. And they are in the process of expanding again!

food businesses

Rachel Saunders, owner of Blue Chair Fruit Company has a new book coming out this month — Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade!  It’s all about how to incorporate fruit preserves into your cooking.

food businesses

And Renaissance graduate, Tim Lee will be opening Liquid Gold on Hyde Street in San Francisco, the city’s newest bottle shop and tap room. The grand opening was Saturday!

food businesses

 

Please join PTA in showing your support for local small businesses and these hard-working, passionate entrepreneurs!

Good news for local small businesses

PTA clients and students have been in the press this month and we want to share their good news…

local small businesses

Judi Henderson-Townsend of Mannequin Madness

Judi Henderson-Townsend of Mannequin Madness was recently profiled in the New York Times about her goal to hit a million dollars in revenue.

local small businesses

Oxgut Hose Co. O-Type Chair

local small businesses

Oxgut Hose Co. Walsh Wood Carrier

LauraLe Wunsch of Oxgut Hose Co. was featured in San Francisco Magazine about her line of products made from recycled fire hoses.

local small businesses

Steve Fox of Urban Putt

Inside Scoop SF profiled Steve Fox of Urban Putt, the Mission District’s forthcoming indoor miniature golf course, restaurant and bar.

local small businesses

Kelsie Kerr

Inside Scoop SF also recently profiled local chef Kelsie Kerr, co-author of The Art of Simple Food and owner of Standard Fare, which will be opening in West Berkeley next month.

local small businesses

Wendy Lieu

And after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Wendy Lieu and her sister Susan are opening Socola Chocolatier’s first retail store on Folsom Street in San Francisco in early February.

Please join PTA in showing your support for local small businesses and these hard-working, passionate entrepreneurs!

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!