Blog Posts

Melissa Villanueva, Brewpoint Coffee, Elmhurst, IL

Melissa Villanueva is a visionary leader on a mission “to create and empower authentic community spaces through coffee.” As the owner and CEO of Brewpoint Coffee, Melissa’s business has been booming since it began five years ago.

After meeting her now husband Angelo, Melissa’s life was completely turned around. He could tell that she was unhappy at her corporate job and encouraged her to dream. Before she knew it, she’d quit her job, created a vision for a community space, and bought a coffee shop. “We had no business plan and little to no idea what we were doing.” Melissa said. “A lot of it has been having the mentality that we need to get better every day, learn as we go, and be as engaged as possible.”

Melissa believes in the power of representation and it is important to both her and Angelo that she stay at the helm of Brewpoint. This mentality extends to their partnerships, in which they prioritize working with female-owned farms to supply their beans.

When Melissa and Angelo were looking to open their third shop, traditional banks were not able to provide the capital they needed. Melissa came to Accion and received a $76,000 SBA loan to help open the location. “Accion tried to accommodate us to make sure that we got what we needed,” Melissa said. Brewpoint’s newest location sits in a 4,000 square foot former loading dock with custom-made furniture by local partners, a wholesale roaster, and event space.

Melissa is dedicated to Elmhurst and employs 25 people. “We want to be as hyper-local as possible, while creating a national brand that can help others do what we’ve done in Elmhurst,” Melissa explained. She plans to work with other small business owners to demystify entrepreneurship and create more opportunities for communities to flourish.

Bianca Bentley, Love Ya Bunches, San Diego, CA

At the initial stages of Bianca Bentley’s business, Love Ya Bunches, Bianca was blending custom teas and arranging flowers for friends and family. She felt that with the proper knowledge of business operations, she could formally launch her business and open a shop, but getting started was challenging because Bianca had never owned a small business before. Not knowing exactly where or how to start, Bianca was seeking training that would help her concept grow from a dream to reality.

In Bianca’s search for business training, a friend told her about a training program for entrepreneurs offered by Accion. After completing a competitive process in which she was interviewed by Accion staff, Bianca was accepted for the fall of 2017 session. The ten-week program taught her everything she needed to know about formalizing her small business, including education on startup fundamentals, marketing, and business financials.

Bianca graduated from the program with her business plan, marketing plan, and profit and loss projections written. These plans created the foundation for her business, and Bianca felt like she was part of a supportive network of business owners through the connections she had made with Accion staff and fellow classmates. Bianca was now able to successfully open Love Ya Bunches in early 2018. Located in El Cajon, California, the business is off to a great start.

Tanya Tarango, Tanya’s Family Childcare, Chula Vista, CA

Years ago, when Tanya Tarango was searching for a daycare for her daughter, she was discouraged by the lack of affordable childcare available in her community of Chula Vista, CA, just south of San Diego. Tanya firmly believes that all families deserve access to excellent childcare services regardless of their budget. Tanya knew she could offer such a daycare to address the shortage of high-quality options in her community, so she opened Tanya’s Family Childcare 17 years ago. Tanya has been able to fill this critical childcare gap through her hard work and with help from Accion.

Since it started, Tanya’s business has continued to grow as past clients refer new families. Tanya is a licensed childcare provider who includes an educational curriculum and a nutrition program as part of her services. Her business is run out of her home, which she feels provides a cozy environment for the children she cares for. Staying true to her original motivation to start her business, Tanya accepts all subsidy programs so that families of all income levels can afford her services.

Tanya’s Family Childcare utilizes play as a fundamental tool for learning. Tanya brings in learning activities involving animals, plants, and science projects that encourage children to connect with the world around them. Finding quality curriculum remains a central focus of Tanya’s work, and she is always looking for the latest and best lessons for her children. The most inspiring moments for Tanya are when she sees the triumphant look on a child’s face who has just overcome an obstacle.

Tanya also helps single mothers through her business. She often goes above and beyond for single moms because she wants to help ease their worries, as parenthood can be particularly difficult for single parents. Tanya regularly buys things like additional food or clothing for the children of single mothers to help offset the cost of childcare. Tanya’s generosity further contributes to the family-friendly environment her childcare service creates.

Due to her business success, Tanya needed to invest in new equipment. Tanya initially visited her bank to ask about small business loans, but she was discouraged by the stringent criteria needed to qualify. Tanya learned about Accion’s flexible loan program, and she was very happy to receive her $5,500 loan, which she used to purchase an outdoor infant play area. This additional capital also allowed Tanya to focus more on marketing, which has already yielded results.

With this new-found capacity in place, Tanya feels prepared for the future of her business. Tanya’s Family Childcare is ready to transition from her home to a childcare center. Tanya’s family looks forward to taking on new responsibilities in the business after they expand to a daycare center.

The family’s long-term vision for the center is to have plenty of open, outdoor space where the kids can interact with animals and play outside in a garden. Tanya wants a space where children can connect with nature and one another. She looks forward to the future of her business, and how expanding it will allow her to reach more families with affordable, high-quality childcare.

Rachel Bernier-Green, Laine’s Bake Shop, Chicago, IL

It may not be her grandfather’s South Side of Chicago, but Rachel Bernier-Green is working on it. “I grew up listening to my grandfather tell stories about the South Side, and how it was one of the biggest retail centers in America,” Rachel says. “That’s not the South Side that I grew up with.”

Once a juggernaut of economic prosperity and cultural achievement for African-Americans, some areas of Chicago’s South Side were debilitated by decades of neglect by the time Rachel had come of age. Still, she found herself beckoned by the echoes of her grandfather’s past. In 2013, Rachel and her husband Jaryd launched Laine’s Bake Shop, a socially conscious artisan bakery serving the recipes Rachel learned in her mother’s kitchen. Laine’s is more than a bakery. It’s a strategy. Rachel and Jaryd designed it to be a vehicle for economic development on Chicago’s South Side. They champion community partners to whom they donate a part of their proceeds. They source their ingredients from like-minded local businesses, and, as they grow, they are committed to employing residents in their neighborhood and paying them a living wage.

As the business grew, Rachel and Jaryd needed access to resources to support this growth. In 2016, Accion provided them with coaching and other business resources to meet demand for the bakery’s products at Whole Foods grocery stores and Starbucks. As she continues to expand her business, Rachel plans to hire more residents from her Chicago neighborhood of Morgan Park. She also has plans to open a new bakery café in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood in spring 2018.

“When we wake up every day we know that we’re doing what we’re meant to be doing, and there’s a lot of value in that,” she says. And as for Laine himself?  That’s Rachel’s grandfather, and she says he couldn’t be prouder of both his namesake bakery and what it represents: a vision for the future of Chicago’s South Side that reflects the luster of its past. It is, quite literally, a work in progress.  

Erin Carpenter, Nude Barre, New York, NY

A former dancer, Erin often struggled to find hosiery that matched her skin color. “We were required to wear nude undergarments as part of our uniform and therefore spent hours dying/spray painting tights and shoes as most hosiery brands did not produce the appropriate shade of nude,” explains Erin. Identifying a huge gap in the industry, Erin started Nude Barre in order to create a product that would fill this need.

“I knew what I wanted to create and why, but I did not know how to create it. I did not have a fashion design background. I did not have large sums of money in my savings to use for startup capital.” Erin began the business by attending classes at incubator spaces, and slowly built up Nude Barre’s brand. Suddenly, her product was being featured on Wendy Williams’ show and being worn by the New York Knicks’ dancers.

After such lucrative exposure, Erin saw a sudden drastic increase in demand for her product and needed support in navigating this new challenge. In addition, in order to continue sustainably growing her business, Erin needed to better understand her finances and credit. She worked directly with an Accion loan consultant to address the challenges in her loan application, specifically how to improve her credit, make payments on time, and manage her bank account and finances.

While her business was beginning to take off, Erin was starting to feel stretched thin from investing so much of her time in both the retail and ecommerce sections of customer outreach. Erin quickly realized that the primary appeal of her brand also posed significant challenges for selling her inventory both online and in stores. Since Nude Barre offers 12 different shades of tights, a uniquely expansive palette that allows customers to find tights that match their skin tone much more closely than other brands, buying a pair of tights online before trying it on was risky. In addition, Erin found it nearly impossible to convince a small boutique store to carry her complete inventory. Erin was cold-calling 60 retail stores a day while also managing her online presence. She needed guidance to figure out what she should be prioritizing and the most productive way to allocate her time. Accion connected Erin to a group of volunteer mentors through the Accion Microfinance Council, and she was able to come up with a strategy on where to maximize her investment.

As interest in Nude Barre continued to increase, Erin also needed guidance in developing a marketing strategy, including maintaining a steady cashflow for marketing and deciding on the best marketing tools in terms of ads versus partnerships. In 2017, Erin was able to address these concerns when she attended one of Accion’s small business coaching events. “New York City has a lot of small business programs to help start-ups,” Erin said.” I found mentors to guide me and asked tons of questions.”

From her professional experience, Erin has learned the invaluable impact of outside advice and guidance. Erin continues to remain actively engaged with Accion because she has found the mentorship and networking opportunities to be consistently rewarding. It is through these opportunities that she has been able to make smart and effective decisions in order to grow her business successfully and sustainably.

Breanne Acio and Lacey Mayer, San Diego Campervans, San Diego, CA

As full-time teachers, married couple Breanne Acio and Lacey Mayer had regular school breaks throughout the year. Their love of travel inspired them to build out a van so that they could travel affordably and conveniently when school was out of session. Unlike the typical #vanlife experience, Bre and Lacey developed a livable, upscale space that comfortably accommodated the two of them for months at a time.

Bre and Lacey, who both had previous experience as entrepreneurs, recognized the opportunity to build a business and make van life more accessible for others who are passionate about travelling. In February 2018, the couple opened San Diego Campervans, a campervan rental and remodeling company.

Campervans are a growing trend in outdoor recreation due to the convenience and mobility they provide to those who love the outdoors. With affordable rates and chic, cozy designs, San Diego Campervans adds a new level of comfort to the campervan experience.

Bre and Lacey needed additional capital to hire staff and support their growing business. As a young business, San Diego Campervans was unable to receive a traditional bank loan. Accion worked with the couple to help them access the capital they needed. By working with Lead Business Development Officer Rosalinda Delgado at Accion, Lacey and Bre learned more about future financing options, including how they can prepare themselves for a loan from a bank down the line.

Cynthia Boyd-Yette, Cynthia’s Gumbo Express, Chicago, IL

Over 20 years ago, Cynthia Boyd-Yette had dreamed of owning her own business. She was working at the local U.S. post office and decided she wanted to open a hot dog stand. Realizing that she lacked the training and knowledge necessary to operate any type of food business, Cynthia decided to attend culinary school while working full time and raising two children.

A year flew by and Cynthia received her certificate from culinary school. During this time she tried different soup recipes, while catering to coworkers at the postal office, where she created the name “Cynthia’s Soups.” She started to also experiment with gumbo, and her coworkers were asking for more. “I had an epiphany,” said Cynthia, as she realized that there was not a single place in Chicago where you could just pick up gumbo. “You had to find a sit down restaurant, and even that was difficult.”

Cynthia continued to experiment with the recipe and began sharing it with friends and family, even creating a YouTube channel for making homemade gumbo. In 2014, Cynthia and her husband Terry purchased a food truck, officially branded as Cynthia’s Gumbo Express, and started to sell her gumbo to restaurants in the area. Despite such progress with her business, Cynthia realized that she still needed training. “Just because I know knew how to cook, didn’t mean I knew how to run a business,” Cynthia remarked, “I had a lot of growing to do.”

Cynthia put the truck on hold and enrolled in an entrepreneurial class being offered at The Chicago Urban League, a nonprofit that specializes in training opportunities for small business owners. The class provided education on a variety of topics related to cash flow and, marketing. Soon after the class Cynthia started working at farmers markets and festivals in Chicago. She expanded her gumbo to include different offerings, such as seafood, chicken yaya, turkey sausage, and vegan. She saw each festival or market as a new opportunity, and very quickly outgrew her home kitchen. In 2014, Cynthia officially moved into her first shared kitchen space.

Today Cynthia’s Gumbo Express is booming. Cynthia expects to soon leave the shared kitchen space with her recently being awarded a grant from the City of Chicago through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to purchase her own kitchen, which will be used for catering and carry-out. She recently used capital from Accion to renovate her food truck. “Next year my goal is to be at Taste of Chicago,” she says.

While Cynthia and her husband, Terry, are currently the only employees of Gumbo Express, she has hopes of training employees in her community to cook her gumbo at the new kitchen so that she can interact with customers on the food truck. She also plans to expand her menu, to include other popular New Orleans style dishes such as po boy sandwiches, jambalaya, and beignets.