Two Danville business owners and one San Ramon businesswoman were chosen for the 2011 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award last week, Sponsored by the Women's Initiative for Self-Employment, a microenterprise training and funding organization, the award recognizes exemplary local women.
"Women entrepreneurs are one of the strongest economic forces in this country," said Julie Castro Abrams, CEO of Women's Initiative. "We want to create a movement that promotes women's entrepreneurship and makes people aware of the incredible contributions women business leaders make not only to their local communities but also to economic recovery."
Approximately 600 businesses were nominated for the award and more than 42 women were selected, including Dynamic Office and Accounting Solutions owner Tiffany Stuart, Norm's Place owner Cindy Walsh and Dawn Duggar, of San Ramon-based Lea Journo Cosmetique. Winners must exemplify how business ownership is beneficial for women, have a positive impact on their community and be successful despite barriers that exist for female entrepreneurs.
"All the business women who are winners in Contra Costa went into business to make a difference in the community or society with their products and services. They are proud to give not only their customers but their employees a positive experience," said Ludmyrna Lopez, Women's Initiative executive director for the county. "They are all women that despite facing adversity at some time in their lives are capable of creating successful businesses and give back to the community."
For Walsh, who opened Norm's Place on Hartz Avenue seven years ago, giving back meant donating to local schools and "giving the community a place to have a good time." The Walshes employ 30 people at their restaurant, which prides itself on being family friendly and full of events nights, and their revenues continue to grow.
"If we didn't do the type of promotion and events and be apart of the community, our business wouldn't have grown like it has in the last seven years," Walsh said, adding that 80 percent of her business comes from regular customers.
While Walsh admits that staffing and buying supplies for an industry with traditionally high overhead can be a struggle, Norm's advertising and marketing powerhouse said the pressure to be innovative has proven fruitful.
"It's really exciting because it's nice to be recognized for the work that you do," she said. "There's always a good woman behind a man."
Danville resident Tiffany Stuart was also excited to receive the Entrepreneur of the Year award, but for slightly different reasons.
"I have no idea how I got nominated, but I'm so grateful someone did," said Stuart, a staffing industry veteran. "I just feel so humble and fortunate that I'm getting recognition."
Stuart opened Dynamic Office and Accounting Solutions in 1997 on what she describes as a fluke. The company has anywhere between 300 and 600 people in offices across Northern California and prides itself on employing a wide variety of people.
"I think we're a great local resource for people that like to stay local, we have a lot of local companies," she said.
And while recognition of her efforts within the San Ramon Valley is humbling, Stuart said she felt particularly honored because she does not have a college degree.
"I think there are a lot of people in the world today that need to see that you can make it. There are a lot of things you can do in your life with perseverance and a lot of belief and a lot of faith," Stuart said. "I think college is a very, very wonderful thing but I think that a lot of people who don't go and I'm thrilled to share (my story) with other women."
Lack of degree aside, Stuart said the biggest challenges she's had to face aren't specific to women business owners.
"I survived three booms and busts. I think the hardest thing that I've had to go through is being able to fall flat on my face and not know what direction to go. I'm not a degreed business owner who has this really perfect plan in place at all times," she said. "I started because I was really ambitious and incredibly sales driven, but what really brought us thru that was a lot of faith."
Stuart, Walsh, Duggar and their fellow entrepreneurs will be honored at regional events and award ceremonies in October and November. An awards ceremony for Contra Costa County winners will be held on Nov. 14 at the Round Hill Country Club in Alamo. For more information about the awards, visit www.womensinitiative.org.