“Who we are, or where we come from, should not dictate how big we’re allowed to dream,” says Juliette Technologies Founder Rechelle Balanzat

Rechelle Balanzat is the CEO & Founder of Juliette Technologies. She’s a solo female tech entrepreneur and launched Juliette in Sept. 2014 from a basement laundromat in Murray Hill. She’s a graduate of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, a Tory Burch Fellow, an All Raise Female Founder, and a graduate of the International Drycleaning & Laundry Institute. Rechelle was also awarded Distinguished Filipino Women by the Philippine Consulate. 

Rechelle Balanzat

Rechelle Balanzat is the CEO & Founder of Juliette Technologies. (Photo courtesy of Rechelle Balanzat)

Her story begins in the Philippines where she was born to teenage parents and later became the first in her family to attend university, graduating with  honors from Fordham. Over the years she traveled and studied languages, worked in private equity and later digital marketing for brands like Max Mara, Pepsi, and Fresh. Then, in 2014, Rechelle set her sights on making a dream come true. 

“Juliette Technologies is my third venture. It is a comprehensive software solution for laundry and dry cleaning. Through our app, clients can have their dirty clothes picked up, cleaned, and delivered within 24 hours at the tap of a button,” Rechelle explains. 

Growing  up, Rechelle wanted to accomplish great things, do good work, and give back to her community. She looked for role models and found them, but few looked like her or represented where she came from—her gender, socioeconomic background, or diaspora. 

“It’s hard to be something you can’t see. But I didn’t let that stop me. I set out to become category leader in laundry and dry cleaning—a big dream, I know. But it’s my dream. Should who I am, or where I come from dictate how big I’m allowed to dream?” says Rechelle. 

Rechelle launched Juliette Technologies in September of 2014 after a year and a half of working on her prototype during her night while freelancing to pay the bills by day. 

“In 2012/2013 I was using Seamless frequently for food delivery. Around the same time, I would have to call my local cleaner to pick up and/or drop off my laundry.  Sometimes they would come, sometimes they wouldn’t. That was my a-ha moment!  I asked myself, ‘Why isn’t there an app that could pickup and deliver my laundry & dry cleaning?’” 

Shop organic laundry essentials

Working nonstop for the next few years, Rechelle built up her company brick by brick. She watched as her competitors raised—and lost—millions. Meanwhile she had nothing and raising money was a constant struggle. 

As a female technology entrepreneur, one of my biggest challenges was fundraising.  Even though I had customers from day one, a profitable business model, and a scalable solution – I failed to fundraise.  As a result I fell into a depression.  I questioned my skill set and my abilities.  Perhaps I am a failure?” Rechelle shares.   

“Then I learned that the systems and paths to success thus far were made for people who do not share my background.  For example, of all VC funding only 2% go to women.  Of that, less than 0.2% go to women of color.” 

While money does not always equal success, it does take money to make money and for Rechelle and her story not raising capital meant her path to success was longer and more difficult. 

Still, Rechelle continued to work harder in the face of these challenges. She would not give up on her dream and eventually she hit her stride in 2017 when she began doubling her revenue. By the summer of 2019 she expanded to a second location. Then the pandemic hit and she lost 90% of revenue in 2020. 

“It wasn’t until Q4 2021 that I was able to stabilize the business. Today we are back in growth mode. We expect to triple our revenue this year.” 

“We pickup, clean, and deliver clothes with the tap of a button.”  (Photo courtesy of Rechelle Balanzat)

Through these challenges and setbacks Rechelle has learned to lean on her strengths. Her “superpower” is her ability to activate the people around her and build strong communities. She leads with empathy and always finds ways to empower the people around her so that they in turn can empower their communities too. 

“I am an empowered woman.  As such, I empower my team to make the right decisions when it comes to running our daily operations.  In the end, we become aligned with our vision and our values and that is a win-win,” says Rechelle. “As immigrants, we are natural survivors, natural entrepreneurs, and natural problem solvers.” 

See Rechelle speak at our exclusive event the 2022 Women Entrepreneur Empowerment Summit! REGISTER NOW: Space is limited. 

For other minority women starting their own entrepreneurial journeys, Rechelle says, “It’s not about the challenges or the setbacks. It’s about never losing faith in yourself. It’s about believing in yourself when no one else will; believing in your dreams when no one else will. Standing up for those dreams. Standing up for yourself. That space of self-discovery can be intimidating. But I promise you, it’s the most powerful place you can be. All the challenges, all the obstacles, they refine you—they make you stronger, wiser, sharper.”

Along her own personal journey Rechelle has learned that being an immigrant does not have to be a setback and that each person has the power to change the narrative and create new pathways. 

“Who we are, or where we come from, should not dictate how big we’re allowed to dream – even if the world thinks we’re dreaming too big,” says Rechelle. 

“Be prepared to work twice as hard. Be prepared to get declined and rejected. And when that happens – see it as an opportunity.  Because it is up to us to break the cycle and find new pathways to success.” 

“In our daily hustle, in our daily fight striving towards excellence – we forge the future and create new pathways for the women after us.  Know this: no one can take power away from you. You have to give it away. As you strive to make your mark in the world, do so with grace and compassion. Because in many cases, you may be the first!”

You might be interested: Strong lineup of speakers announced for the 2022 Women Entrepreneur Empowerment Summit

*This article contains affiliated links. If you use these links to buy an item, we may earn a small commission.

Bibi Hidalgo

“We don’t need to do it alone” says SBA’s Bibi Hidalgo, to aspiring Latina entrepreneurs 

Bibi Hidalgo is the Associate Administrator for Government Contracting & Business Development at the SBA and is the first ever woman appointed by the President for this role. 

In this role, Bibi Hidalgo oversees and reviews procurement policies for small businesses hoping to work with the Federal Government. This includes for Small Disadvantaged Businesses, Veteran-owned firms, HUBZone firms, Woman-owned small businesses, and firms in the 8(a) Minority Business Development Program.

In her prior role, she was the SBA Government Contracting Policy Lead for the Biden-Harris Transition Team, developing policies that President Biden could execute in the first 100 days, with an emphasis on underserved communities. In 2014, Bibi and her brother Patrick Hidalgo co-founded Future Partners, LLC, which advised Fortune 500 corporate executives on procurement and minority business strategy, and created a model for how to facilitate significant opportunities for both.   

Bibi Hidalgo is dedicating her work to the memory of her brother Patrick who passed away suddenly at the age of 41 in March of 2020.

“We don’t need to do it alone” 

Working closely with Latinas and other women entrepreneurs, Bibi knows it can be easy to think we must do it all on our own in order to be seen as successful or capable, but that is not the case. 

“We don’t need to do it alone. And that’s really important for us to remember that we don’t need to do it alone. Because every day, we’re asking ourselves, is this the right thing? Am I doing the right thing? Am I alienating myself, or am I ingratiating myself, and you need to kind of touch base with someone to get a temperature check,” says Bibi. 

As women, having a supportive circle is crucial, especially in male-dominated industries where support may be hard to come by. 

“Whether you want to be an economist, finance expert, astronaut, or the best app developer, there is very much your place in your world to be there. And to and to be sure to lean on other women for support. Be sure to create that circle of support, that really wants to see you rise, and that you help each other do that. I have such a strong support system that I’m so grateful for.”

For Bibi, her support system helped her stay strong in the face of challenges and adversity. She advises women to seek out those mentors in their industry, lean into support, and also stay strong and believe in your knowledge and technical capabilities. Don’t question yourself. 

“I am the first woman appointed by the President to be an Associate Administrator of Government Contracting and Business Development. And if I have caved into some of my self-doubt, I would never be here because it’s very much a man’s world. And yet, I set that aside in my brain, and knew that I could tackle this issue, and hang with the guys on such a complicated topic. And now I’m able to lead and we’re effecting change together.” 

Jumpstart your entrepreneurial journey with inspirational titles on Audible today!

“Keep driving it home and pushing hard” 

As a woman in a male-dominated field you may not always be the most popular. You might be the first ever woman in your role, and that can be tough. 

“I very much learned in business, that you have to make tough decisions that not everyone’s going to agree with. And those are sometimes the loneliest moments, as I’ve heard other leaders say, leadership is lonely,” says Bibi. “And so that’s why you have to make sure you have that network of support, where you can get a pulse check every once in a while, and where you can continue to believe in yourself. Because as long as you do that, you’re going to be able to affect change, and then you get to look back on your career and say, ‘Yeah, I did that. It was tough. I have the battle scars to prove it. But I did it.’”

44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Photo credit: Pete Souza, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

For Bibi, there have been many challenges and wins. One story that always stands out is when she first joined President Obama’s Administration, in 2009. 

“Within a matter of weeks, my agency got a call from the White House saying that they were hit hard, they were getting hit hard on the issue of the recovery stimulus, and not enough contracts going to minority owned businesses. And so I was tasked with staffing our deputy, but what they asked us to do was do events around the country, which we did. And the challenge was that there were some folks who were not too excited about this issue…there was a lot of angst about it, and a lot of pushback.” 

Facing these pushbacks made it difficult for Bibi to do her work and as the struggles persisted she began to have doubts that she could get the job done and affect positive change. 

“I had to navigate a lot of complexities and really try to keep faith, which was hard, and it was getting harder day by day. But sometimes you don’t realize you’re at that point. At a tipping point, you don’t know until you’re there and sometimes it can get really, really hard, really tough until you get there and especially as a woman, in my case and Latina.”

However, Bibi persisted and really focused on driving home her key issues. This strategy was critical to her success. 

“If you try to be everywhere at once, you really have to pick one or two things and to drive it home. And so that’s what I did. I learned it really made all the difference to keep driving hard to keep pushing hard.” 

Her hard work was eventually recognized by higher up officials and Bibi was called to the White House to be acknowledged for her work.

“That’s what I mean by ‘don’t give up.’ Follow your instinct, follow your gut, know what’s most important. Because that changed my life permanently. I always go back to that day, that day that I got that request to go into his office, it was the last thing I could have ever imagined. And yet it affirmed the work I was doing and made me realize I was on the right track.” 

You might be interested: Latina career coach and author Cici Castelli shares key tips to unlock your success mindset in new book

Today, Bibi Hidalgo is grateful to be back and able to pick up her work where she left off. 

“So much has happened in the interim, and we have our work cut out for us in so many different ways. Businesses, minority women businesses were not always prioritized. And so we’re trying to get that back in a direction, where it is an important priority among all of our priorities in advancing socio economic groups,” says Bibi. 

She is excited to continue working to create opportunities for women and minority business owners across the country and continue working with and supporting women in business.

*This article contains affiliated links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission. 

Black and Latina moms are becoming entrepreneurs now more than ever 

Since the pandemic began, more Black and Latina moms have been turning to entrepreneurship as a way to balance both domestic responsibilities and work. 

Today, more minority women are finding freedom in running their own businesses, after struggling at low-wage, hourly jobs and job losses during the height of the pandemic. 

According to research conducted by online e-commerce platform, Shopify, the pandemic has inspired moms to explore alternative ways to work. The study surveyed 1,532 parents in the U.S., and found that 62 percent of mothers were interested in supplementing their income, with more than half of moms reporting at least some interest in starting their own business. 

Of these women, Black and Latina moms reported the highest levels of interest in entrepreneurship.

Image source: Shopify.

More than half of women with children are interested in entrepreneurship

  • 16% of women with children are “very interested” in starting a business.
  • 44% of women with children are “slightly/moderately interested” in starting a business.
  • 40% of women with children are “not interested” in starting a business.

Black and Latina moms are turning to entrepreneurship to regain control over their lives 

Women of color have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic, with Black and Latina women suffering the greatest job losses. Since then, many have been looking for alternative sources of income and other employment options. Entrepreneurship is one way for many Black and Latina moms to regain control, freedom, and balance over their lives. 

Image source: Shopify.

Black and Latina mothers were 2x as likely to report wanting to start their own business compared to White and Asian mothers.

  • 33% of Black women with children said they’re “very interested” in starting a business.
  • 29% of Latina women with children said they’re “very interested” in starting a business. 
  • 13% of Asian women with children said they’re “very interested” in starting a business. 
  • 13% of White women with children said they’re “very interested” in starting a business. 

Treat yourself this Mother’s Day!

Single moms and mothers with younger children also benefit from the freedoms of being your own boss. The Shopify survey found that:

  • 22% of single women with children said they are “very interested” in starting a business, compared to 14% of married women with children. 
  • Women with younger children (5 years old or younger) are more likely to want to start their own business compared to women with older children.

Part of this has to do with access to affordable childcare. For many working women, childcare is a struggle. During the pandemic, many moms were forced out of the workforce to take on caregiving responsibilities at home. For those with younger children and single parents, childcare is an ongoing issue that prevents many women from focusing on their career goals. 

Entrepreneurship allows women to balance their work and home life, and provides them with the flexibility to be both moms and business owners. With technology and the normalization of remote-work, working from home has never been easier! 

You might be interested: Meet Rosie, the Latina entrepreneur amplifying diverse voices with “Life 100” Podcast

These days, almost any business can be a home-business. The pandemic exposed many issues in the workforce and how these issues affect working moms. For Black and Latina moms disproportionately affected by pandemic layoffs and unemployment, entrepreneurship is a new horizon of opportunity and freedom. 

To all the moms out there who have been thinking of starting their own business, the time is now! 

*This article contains affiliated links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission.

Latina entrepreneur, Life 100 Podcast

Meet Rosie, the Latina entrepreneur amplifying diverse voices with “Life 100” Podcast

Meet “Rosie”, a Latina entrepreneur, content creator, and producer and host of Life 100 Podcast, a bilingual English and Spanish podcast featuring insightful stories, remarkable guests, and everyday tips for life. The podcast celebrates Hispanic diversity, creativity, and living to the fullest. 

Meet Rosie, Latina entrepreneur, content creator, and host of Life 100 Podcast. (Photo courtesy of Rosie)

A life-long learner and dreamer, Rosie came to the US from Puerto Rico to attend university in Florida. Today, she lives in Texas and is working to amplify the voices and experiences of Latinas with her platform. 

“Representation matters,” she says. “Growing up in Puerto Rico, it was a challenge to see all of our beautiful faces and great accomplishments represented in the media.”

The representation she grew up with was lacking and incomplete. She grew up surrounded by people who were a living example of diversity and inclusion. 

Her parents always provided her with examples of diverse cultures, physical attributes, professions, and more. Yet representation in the media still had a long way to go.

Now, Rosie is determined to create the things she wished existed when she was growing up. 

“I am constantly inspired by the memory of my parents. Their descendants inherited their tenacity and determination. I know they are proud of our accomplishments, of seeing us breaking barriers, moving forward, and pursuing our dreams while making the world a better place.” 

Rosie’s parents, Luis and Maria, were a big inspiration in her entrepreneurial journey and always encouraged her to follow her dreams. (Photo courtesy of Rosie).

People call Rosie “The Visionary,” because she is honest in sharing that “I don’t know how, but we will find out.” Rosie is always looking for ways to make her dreams a reality and help others on their journeys as well. Her own podcast started as one of these visionary situations where she had something to share with the world but did not yet know-how, so she found a way and made a path for herself. 

“I started podcasting as a result of what the world considered a failure, my presentation for a conference in town was not chosen,” Rosie shares. “I had worked on this presentation for weeks and it would have been a disservice to not share it so I investigated ways to share these ideas with the world.” 

Rosie’s goals were to share her presentation in a way that was easily accessible, convenient, available on-demand, highly engaging, free of charge to the listener, downloadable, and shareable. These objectives led her to the world of podcasting and soon Rosie was learning everything about the podcasting industry from the technical aspects of it, audio recording and editing, submission to listening platforms, and the business aspects of it, including forming the legal entity, marketing, promotion, and daily operations. 

Finally, on February 27, 2020, Rosie published the first episode of her podcast. Launching right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit meant there were some challenges and struggles along the way, but Rosie met those challenges head-on and persevered.

Check out: 5 Podcasts every Latina entrepreneur should be listening to 

Start your own podcast here

Rosie finally made her dreams a reality on February 27, 2020 when she launched Life 100 Podcast. (Photo courtesy of Rosie)

Follow Rosie on social media! And listen to Life 100 Podcast. 

She shares some words of advice to aspiring Latina entrepreneurs on how to navigate and overcome challenges: 

“Launching a business is a process with everyday challenges and opportunities,” she says. “Remember, your passion and commitment will be critical factors in overcoming roadblocks along the path of your new business. Yes, it will take time, money, lack of sleep, and maybe working other jobs while building your new venture.  Resources are abundant, free of charge in many cases, to guide you and inspire you along the way. Ask questions, ask for help. Practice presenting your business concept and its value proposition. Nurture your enthusiasm, and do not fall into the trap of denial.  Discipline and adaptability will play a role in your success.  Try and try again, get out of your comfort zone, keep your vision alive, and be humble enough to accept change when needed. Value progress instead of perfection. When you achieve success in your business venture, remember to help others do the same.” 

You might be interested: From backyard chef to restaurant owner, Chef Yala shares her entrepreneurial journey and rise to success

Rosie is grateful for the opportunities her podcast has opened up for her thus far, from meeting new inspiring people to share their voices and their diversity with the world, it has been “a beautiful journey,” she says. 

She hopes to continue to amplify Latina voices and promote diversity as she expands the Life 100 Podcast into a full-time venture. 

“Your voice matters. It is never too late. Be determined to move forward. Pa’lante amigas. Go and make it happen! I look forward to sharing your story.” 

*This article contains affiliated links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a commission. 

cactus water

Latina entrepreneur Sarita Lopez shares cactus water health benefits with beverage line ¡CACTUS!  

Sarita Lopez grew up eating Nopales but didn’t truly appreciate their health benefits and rich history until she began farming and selling the paddles at local markets. Since then, she has created two cactus water lines in hopes of introducing the amazing health benefits of cactus water to more of the US. 

Sarita Lopez, founder of ¡CACTUS! (Photo courtesy of Sarita Lopez)

Sarita’s career in the beverage industry began when she moved to Austin, Texas after college and soon received a job at a large soda company. After seeing the difficulties of having a beverage business, she swore she would never start one of her own.

However, all of that changed after she moved back to her hometown of Napa, CA, to start an organic farm with her family.

On their farm, wild cactus paddles grew on their land and one day a worker suggested they harvest the paddles because of their popularity in the Latino and Hispanic market. 

“Growing up, I knew what Nopales were and ate them, but never knew about their history or healthy benefits. I began to research them and spoke to family and friends familiar with this particular cactus. When I found out how much goodness was packed inside the paddles, I began to incorporate them into my life,” Sarita says. 

“Within two weeks, the eczema that plagued me my whole life began to clear up and my digestion felt better than ever. I became driven to learn as much as I could about this ancient plant and spent hours exploring its nutritional marvel, moved by the many studies about its benefits and rich background.” 

Through her research, Sarita learned the fascinating cultural history surrounding the cactus plant and its uses in medicine and wellness. 

Just a few amazing cactus water health benefits

The Nopal cactus leaf contains antioxidants, betalains, electrolytes, amino acids – plus a uniquely powerful hydrocolloid that promotes absorption and retention in your body. For generations, Latin American healers called curanderos have recommended cactus leaf for colds, skin conditions, digestion and more. 

Today’s research shows components of cactus leaf may promote health benefits such as muscle recovery, combat free radicals and oxidative stress linked to inflammation, support cardio and skin health, and may even lessen the effects of hangovers.

Nopal cactus leaves contain many amazing health benefits and have been used for centuries in Latin American folk medicine. (Photo courtesy of Sarita Lopez)

“I began to sell cactus paddles, and customers raved of their benefits and features.” 

Then Sarita found out that most of her customers were juicing the Nopales and this sparked an idea. She decided to combine her worlds of beverage and farming and launched her first cactus water in 2017, “Green-Go” which later evolved and became ¡CACTUS!

Standing strong like a cactus in the face of challenges

Aside from her passion for cactus water and sharing its health benefits with people, another motivating factor to launch her business was her desire to honor her heritage and her family. 

“I watched my father, a Hispanic scientist, face racism in his work world and while living in Napa. I swore that if given the chance, I would create something of my own, just like my dad, to help combat the idea that the color of skin would and could not dictate a person’s path in life. I am fiercely proud of my heritage and love that I have a platform to speak about Nopales, a food that has been eaten for centuries by indigenous people whom I share blood with,” Sarita shares with Latinas in Business

Throughout her entrepreneurial journey, Sarita has also learned a lot. When she first started out, there was some stumbling as she navigated this new process. 

“It’s easy to spend too much money too quickly,” she says. “Looking back, I signed with top distributors and brokers too soon and sold in too many states for the profits to make sense. I now work with the Small Business Development Center and connected with a financial advisor who helped me create a strong budget with realistic projected expenses and sales. There is a lot of free help for small businesses. I also realized the benefit of creating a business plan. Numbers truly don’t lie!”

After launching her first cactus beverage line in 2017, she received some good press and attention, but by 2019 Sarita decided it was time to evolve her brand. 

Sarita rebranded her business just before the pandemic hit, yet her company was able to weather the storm and come out strong and resilient like a cactus. (Photo courtesy of Sarita Lopez)

“I started with the product. After much research and taste testing, I moved from one unsweetened, zero-calorie cactus water in aseptic cardboard to three popular organic flavors, each lightly sweetened with organic agave (5g sugar, 30 calories) and packaged in 12-ounce recyclable sleek cans. And I changed the brand name to ¡CACTUS! to more directly convey that our product is cactus water—important given the multitude of beverage products on store shelves.”

With a new look, name, and flavors 2020 started strong for Sarita and ¡CACTUS! Even the pandemic could not sway them. 

“Just like a cactus being able to survive some of the harshest elements on earth, our company survived 2020 and we are stronger because of it,” Sarita writes on her site

Today, Sarita continues to strive for success with her company, not just for herself but for all the people who have been part of her journey and believe in her company. 

“I want them to share in the riches as well. The old cliché is true – there is no “I” in “team!” Knowing that I can share my victories with the people who have been by my side since the beginning is what gets me out of bed, ready to start a new and beautiful day,” she says. 

To other Latinas and minority women entrepreneurs thinking of starting their own venture, Sarita “really, REALLY” recommends creating a business plan! 

“Figuring out your market, expenses and sales projections helps you make sure you are on track for success. Use as many free or not-so expensive resources as possible, such workshops and classes through your local Small Business Administration.” 

“Everyone has a great idea or two, but the ones that have a chance in making that dream come to life are those who put ideas into action!” 


NJEDA Board approves creation of New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund to cultivate entrepreneurship

The New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund will drive investment and cultivate entrepreneurship in the state. 

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) Board  approved the creation of the New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund (NJIEF), a groundbreaking new tool to increase access to strategic resources and venture capital in New Jersey. The NJIEF will create partnerships between the state and the private sector to collaboratively align New Jersey’s well-resourced corporations, and national investors to support entrepreneurs and grow the innovation economy in the state.

Under the NJIEF, the State will become an equity investor in startups deploying up to $600 million into companies alongside professional venture capital groups. This strategic investment will not only support New Jersey’s entrepreneurs, but will also ensure that more companies start, grow, and stay in state. Established by the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020, the NJIEF is an innovative tool designed to incentivize investment in emerging New Jersey companies while creating mentoring, networking, and educational opportunities to help position these companies for success.

The New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund is a groundbreaking public-private partnership that will fuel our innovation economy by attracting entrepreneurs and venture capital to the state,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “The NJIEF draws on the strengths of New Jersey’s world-class corporate leaders to create a steady stream of investment and expertise that will nurture the next generation of innovators. By fostering investments in entrepreneurship and start-up companies, we are driving job creation and economic growth for New Jersey.”

The concept for the NJIEF was first announced in October 2018 as part of Governor Murphy’s economic development strategic plan The State of Innovation: Building a Stronger and Fairer Economy in New Jersey.

“New Jersey has long served as fertile ground for inventions that changed our world – from Thomas Edison and the creation of the lightbulb to Beatrice Hicks and the development of a switch that helped land the Apollo spaceship on the moon,” said New Jersey State Senator Andrew Zwicker. “Our state has a long history of investing in entrepreneurs, and the NJIEF is a key component of reclaiming New Jersey’s leadership role in innovation by creating a vibrant culture of investment that is dedicated to growing the companies of the future.”

“When entrepreneurs think of leaders in innovation, New Jersey should be at the top of their list,” said NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan. “The NJIEF will not only serve as a novel approach to investing in entrepreneurs, but also a key contributor for job creation and sustainable economic growth. Today’s announcement serves as a testament to Governor Murphy’s leadership in growing NJ’s innovation economy by investing in New Jersey companies and startups.”

“The NJIEF is a game-changing program that will catalyze venture capital investments into New Jersey startups,” said Kathleen Coviello, NJEDA’s Chief Economic Transformation Officer. “The state’s role as an equity investor will encourage established corporations to commit capital and knowledge-sharing resources, creating a dynamic cycle of innovation.”

The seed capital to launch the NJIEF will be raised by auctioning up to $300 million in transferrable tax credits — with an annual cap of $60 million during each of the first five years after program launch — to corporations registered to do business in New Jersey. Corporations seeking to purchase the tax credits must commit to supporting the state’s innovation economy through activities such as mentorship, internships, sales and distribution pipeline access, and availability to serve on the NJIEF Advisory Board for one year.

Auction bids will be evaluated according to price and the specific strategic commitments the bidding company makes to support NJIEF’s portfolio companies and the state’s broader innovation ecosystem, including networking and mentorship opportunities. Once the funding is raised, the NJEDA will partner with professional venture capital firms operating anywhere in the country to co-invest the funds in eligible high growth businesses in New Jersey.

Full details on the NJIEF are available at The NJEDA expects to launch the NJIEF later this year.

About the NJEDA

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) serves as the State’s principal agency for driving economic growth. The NJEDA is committed to making New Jersey a national model for inclusive and sustainable economic development by focusing on key strategies to help build strong and dynamic communities, create good jobs for New Jersey residents, and provide pathways to a stronger and fairer economy. Through partnerships with a diverse range of stakeholders, the NJEDA creates and implements initiatives to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the State and strengthen New Jersey’s long-term economic competitiveness.

To learn more about state resources available to New Jersey entrepreneurs and early-stage companies, visit and follow @NewJerseyEDA on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Valonne Smith

Natural Do founder and CEO Valonne Smith is giving back in a big way with new apprenticeship program

Natural Do, a black and woman owned natural hair care salon, is giving back in a big way.

Before Women’s History Month ends, we want to spotlight another incredible women founder who is paying it forward and creating opportunities for other women. 

Valonne Smith is the owner and founder of Natural Do, a membership salon and retail store offering natural hair care products specifically formulated for people with kinky, curly, wavy hair. 

As a woman of color with natural hair, Valonne thought, wouldn’t it be great to go to a salon and get the products and services I need? After searching for salons that catered to natural hair, she soon found that there was not much out there for this niche and decided to start her own salon with this vision in mind. 

Valonne Smith, founder and CEO of Natural Do. (Photo courtesy of Valonne Smith)

Leaning on her strength to put herself out there and engage with all kinds of people, Valonne began taking steps to build her dream business. Her vision finally came to fruition in 2016 when the first Natural Do location opened in Stockton, California. 

However, while building her business, Valonne encountered some struggles, as many entrepreneurs do. Unlike many businesses, though, the main struggle she faced over and over again was rooted in a lack of understanding from vendors and banks who did not understand her business’ niche and what they do. 

“They think we are just a regular hair salon, but because we are niche and cater to a specific client they don’t understand it,” said Valonne. “They don’t see how a natural hair salon is actually very different from the traditional salon.” 

It’s this specific client niche that makes Natural Do so unique and distinguishes them from other salons. 

Natural Do’s core mission is to educate “Curlfriends” on how to properly care for their hair and get the positive results they want, and embrace their natural hair texture using natural and organic-based products designed to nourish, strengthen, and maintain healthy hair growth.

 “My favorite part of my business that I love to see is when the stylist turns the client around in the chair and they see their hair. They look so happy and surprised that it’s their own natural hair that looks beautiful. There was no need to add chemicals or extensions. Just their beautiful natural curls.” 

Valonne is passionate about spreading that love for natural hair and continuing to educate individuals on how to care for their hair and embrace their natural look. 

Continuing her mission, Valonne is now expanding her reach with two new locations in the works in San Jose and Sacramento, along with introducing an exciting new opportunity for aspiring cosmetologists. 

With education at the center of Natural Do’s mission, the salon is now launching the Natural Do Apprenticeship Apprentice Academy, a training program approved by the Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) and the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology that allows people who have a talent in doing hair but may not have the resources to pay for cosmetology school, to be able to work in the salon and get on-the-job training all while getting paid. Under the guidance and supervision of a trainer, apprentices will hone their skills and after two years, they can then apply for the state board to get their cosmetology/barber license.

This incredible opportunity will help train more cosmetologists and barbers in the art of natural hair care and continue the salon’s mission while giving back. 

“Do what you love and have a strong interest in,” Valonne encourages aspiring entrepreneurs. (Photo courtesy of Valonne Smith)

Valonne encourages women entrepreneurs and professionals to focus on their passions. Her own business was founded on her passion for hair care and a desire to educate. Through her business she has also been able to help others follow their passions by providing education and apprenticeship opportunities. 

“Do what you love and have a strong interest in,” she said. “The business or your career will have ups and downs. There would be good days and amazing days,” she continued. “And the only thing that will keep you grounded is the love and passion you have for your business or career.” 

Valonne has faced her share of challenges throughout her journey, but ultimately it has all been worth it. She hopes to continue to reach more “Curlfriends” as Natural Do expands its reach with new locations and opportunities this year, and continue to educate and spread the love for natural hair. 

You might be interested: Meet the Frías sisters founders of Afro-Latina beauty brand LUNA MAGIC 

Take a sneak peak inside the highly anticipated book “Jefa in Training” by business development coach Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda

Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda is a business development coach, strategist, nonprofit founder and author of Jefa in Training—the first business-launching book for Latinas. 

The highly anticipated book covers the foundations of how to launch and grow your business and doubles as a workbook so that you can create a business plan while you’re reading. It also features tips from other successful Latina founders such as Ana Flores from We All Grow Latina, Marivette Navarrete from The Mujerista and more! 

As a development coach and entrepreneur Ashley has combined her experiences and expertise to create this must-read step-by-step toolkit for aspiring Latina entrepreneurs. 

Jefa in Training

Jefa in Training—the first business-launching book for Latinas.

A sneak peak inside Jefa in Training 

Jefa in Training is a much-needed guide for all of us who need a blueprint to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Not only does this book provide the tools, but it provides the inspiration we all need to make that first step! Bravo, hermana!” 

Eva Longoria, award-winning actress, producer, director, activist, philanthropist, and CEO of UnbeliEVAble Entertainment.

Jefa in Training

Taking the first step in your entrepreneurial journey. (Photo courtesy Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda)

Getting started is often the hardest part. Many women will hold themselves back from starting their ventures, afraid to take that first step. Ashley knows first-hand what it’s like to build a business from the ground up and the obstacles that come with it.

In 2017, Ashley launched her own nonprofit #WomxnCrush Music to help create opportunities and community for women and non-binary songwriters through programming, fundraising and marketing efforts. This project stemmed from her passion for connection. 

“I felt a need to have a support system as a woman singer-songwriter, a safe space for us to create and share resources with each other,” she said. 

Through the process of being a first-time founder, Ashley also worked on marketing and business development teams for startups and large companies. 

Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda is a business development coach, strategist, nonprofit founder and author. (Photo courtesy Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda)

“Soon after it was only natural for me to combine all of my experience and knowledge to coach other entrepreneurs to launch and grow their businesses. That is how I began working with more and more Latinas-founded brands like The Mujerista, Cadena Collective, Bonita Fierce Candles (to name a few) in 2019 and became known as the Business Hada Madrina.”

Her own experiences launching her nonprofit and working with other Latina entrepreneurs increased her desire to help build networks and communities which were vital to her own success. 

“When I first started working with The Mujerista to build our online community (The Mujerista Network), I met so many incredible rising Latina entrepreneurs who were actively seeking guidance on how to grow their businesses. They felt the same need I did when I was starting #WCM and suddenly I felt the same feeling I did when I created my organization. The feeling of wanting to fill a need for our community. And that is how my book Jefa in Training was born.”

Covering everything from imposter syndrome to micro-aggressions and bilingualism, Jefa in Training isn’t your typical small business book. Part Latinx book, it is a conversation with a special tribe of Latina immigrants, Hispanic American generations, and women of color in financial, media, entrepreneurial, and creative spaces. It’s a Latina book by Latinas, for Latinas

Featuring first-hand experiences, guest stories from successful business women in Latinx companies, worksheets, and more, Jefa in Training is the only Spanglish project-launching toolkit and female entrepreneur planner specially made for a new generation of boss women.

A business startup planner and toolkit for women in leadership, business, and beyond, Jefa in Training offers women entrepreneurs the female empowerment needed to take a side hustle to the next level. Whether it’s learning to define your brand, set up a beta test group, or draft an LLC operating agreement, this compendium of lessons, anecdotes, worksheets, templates, and quotes teaches the next generation of women in business how to work for yourself and turn your ideas into something much bigger. —Jefa in Training

Covering everything from imposter syndrome to micro-aggressions and bilingualism, Jefa in Training isn’t your typical small business book. (Photo courtesy Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda)

Pre-order Jefa in Training today! Releases Feb. 22, 2022

“I’m eager for Jefa in Training to get into the hands of as many aspiring business owners as possible because that is how we will create change in the world. Representation in any kind of industry is important and the more of us that take that first step into pursuing entrepreneurship, the more we can build wealth, create safe spaces and provide opportunities for each other,” said Ashley.

You might be interested: Feeling like a fraud? It’s the imposter syndrome talking

Advice to aspiring Latina entrepreneurs  

“Develop your personal “why” and work towards fulfilling that mission. And don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way!” Ashley advises. 

When she was launching her own venture, one of the main obstacles she faced was finding reliable resources and not having a proper support system throughout the process. These challenges led to consistent burnout and several versions of her first venture.

“Develop your personal “why” and work towards fulfilling that mission. And don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way!” (Photo courtesy Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda)

“I’ve learned that by finding a community that aligns with my values, can support me when I’m struggling, celebrate my wins with me and can share resources – it makes all the difference. Learning to let people in and trust people with the vulnerabilities of my business did not make me weak – it allowed me to grow stronger as a founder,” she said. 

Another piece of advice is to lean into your personal strengths and always be resourceful. For Ashley, one of her strengths has always been her ability to develop connection with others easily.  

“I was able to take this superpower and create a true network of like-minded and supportive contacts who could help me as I entered the next phase of my business.”

When it comes to being resourceful, Ashley says, “Building a business can get expensive but if you can find creative ways to make an impact without a large budget, it can help you get the attention you need to get to that next level!” 

If you’re ready to take things to the next level and finally turn those dreams into reality, let Jefa in Training lead you step-by-step along this exciting entrepreneurial journey. The time to build your enterprise is now!


How to be a great innovator and learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Todd Saxton, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at IUPUI shares the secret to being a great innovator and entrepreneur. 

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America’s first female self-made millionaire. She pioneered a line of hair care and beauty products for people of color early in the 20th century, and the recent Netflix series “Self Made” details the story of this talented innovator and the challenges she overcame on the way to her success.

Madam Walker

Madam Walker was willing and able to face uncertain situations as she grew her business.
The Smithsonian via Wikimedia Commons

To accomplish her goals, she had to face overwhelming uncertainties. How would she finance her business? Would her partnerships fail? Would her products sell? Would ruthless competition and racism get in her way? Madame Walker’s future was far from certain when she began her journey, but that did not dissuade her.

I am a researcher and professor who studies strategy and entrepreneurship. I am also myself an entrepreneur, angel investor and board member for startups and innovative firms. Pop culture might have you believe it is a tolerance for or even an obsession with risk that makes great innovators. But in fact, research has for decades demonstrated that innovators and entrepreneurs are no more risk-taking than the average person.It is tempting to think that innovators are a breed apart or perhaps lucky to be in the right place and time. But research shows this is not the case. So what characteristics do innovators like Madam Walker have that lead them to the seemingly serendipitous moment? What makes for a successful innovator or entrepreneur?

Generally, innovators are much more comfortable making decisions under conditions of uncertainty than the average person. Additionally, innovators tend to have a set of skills that allows them to better navigate this uncertainty. My experience and research have shown that not only are these abilities effective, but they can also be learned and practiced and anyone can improve their innovation skills.

What is risk? What is uncertainty?

Risk is when the factors determining success or failure are out of your control but the odds of success are known – a game of dice, for example. You can’t control whether a 2 or a 12 is rolled, but you know the odds.

Uncertainty is when the factors determining success or failure are not necessarily out of your control, but are simply unknown. It is accepting a challenge to play a game that you do not completely know the rules of. Innovators tend to be more willing to venture into the unknown, and therefore are more likely to engage in ambitious projects even when outcomes and probabilities are a mystery.

Interestingly, risk and uncertainty appear to trigger activity in different parts of the brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has allowed researchers to discover that risk analysis is a largely rational and calculation-driven process, but uncertainty triggers the ancient fight-or-flight part of the brain. This research would suggest that experienced innovators are better able to maintain their analytical capabilities in spite of the adrenaline and instinctual response that arises when confronting uncertainty.

Innovators don’t ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

Dice with different numbers of sides of different colors.

With dice, the risks are known but out of your control.
Diacritica via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

Skills of innovation can be learned

The chemical response to risk and uncertainty may be hardwired in our brains, but that doesn’t mean you are either born an innovator or not. Innovative capacity can be learned.

Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and the late Clay Christensen spent years investigating the characteristics of successful innovators and broadly divide the skills of innovation into two categories: delivery skills and discovery skills.

Delivery skills include quantitative analysis, planning, detail-oriented implementation and disciplined execution. These are certainly essential characteristics for success in many occupations, but for innovation, discovery must come before delivery.

Discovery skills are the ones more involved in developing ideas and managing uncertain situations. The most notable are:

  • The ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas and contexts.
  • A tendency to question assumptions and the status quo.
  • A habit of looking at what is contributing to a problem before rushing to a solution.
  • The frequent use of systematic experimentation to prove hypotheses about cause and effect.
  • The ability to network and broaden a set of relationships, even without an intentional purpose.

Like any skills, these can be learned and cultivated through a combination of guidance, practice, and experience. By asking the right questions, being observant or mindful, experimenting, and networking with the right supporters, innovators will be more likely to identify opportunity and succeed.

My colleagues’ and my own research and experience are summed up in our book “The Titanic Effect.” We describe the PEP model of successful entrepreneurs and innovators. It stands for passion, experience, and persistence.

Successful innovators are passionate about the problem they are solving and share this passion with friends and family, potential customers, supporters, and other stakeholders.

Innovators also tend to have personal experience with the problem they are solving, and this yields valuable insight and firsthand knowledge.

Finally, innovation takes persistence. As Walker experienced, growing a business – even with proven products – does not happen overnight. It takes someone willing to push the boulder uphill to make it happen, and often, the more disruptive the innovation, the longer society may take to embrace it. Madam Walker amply personifies the PEP model.

Innovation now and in the future

During this pandemic, many people might be inclined to batten down the hatches, tighten their belts and ride things out by sticking to what they already know.

But uncertainty and change create opportunity and a need for innovation. The pandemic has created or exacerbated many problems that are ripe for innovative solutions.

Practices that were until recently on the fringe of acceptance – such as telehealth, food or grocery delivery, e-sports and online education – are now being accepted by mainstream society. As with anything relatively new, there is lots of room for radical improvement.

Now is not the time to put blinders on and close your eyes to uncertainty. If you build your discovery skills, you are more likely to create opportunity and persist through uncertainty. Like Walker, anyone can cultivate the abilities to navigate uncertainty and create positive change. Innovators are not a breed apart.The Conversation

You might be interested: Innovative attitude: the 7 keys to becoming an innovative entrepreneur

Todd Saxton, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.