By Marie-Elena Schembri
Reneta Jenik quickly saw the benefits with her Folsom-based home chef service, Foodom, when she gained her first corporate customer from a connection made through the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
It all started when Tracy Jackson, chief human resources officer for Clutch, another women-owned business based in Sacramento, began offering their employees the option to use Foodom as a wellness benefit after having met Jenik at a NAWBO event.
Now, Jenik’s business serves customers across metro areas throughout California.
“The other thing that was incredible is one of the women loved what we’re doing and actually invested in Foodom … so it actually helps more women small-business owners to become angel investors,” Jenik says. “So we’re growing even the angels in our area, which is fantastic.”
For Jenik, whose business has clients across the state with future plans to go national, NAWBO’s network of female entrepreneurs offers something unique over other local business organizations like chambers of commerce.
Women face significant challenges in business, from sexism and wage disparity to fewer resources and opportunities. The National Women’s Business Council’s 2022 annual report found that the number of women entrepreneurs has increased steadily in recent years, yet women-owned businesses still make up only about 20% of all United States employers.
Women entrepreneurs in Sacramento aren’t letting the statistics get them down, though. As members of the Sacramento Valley chapter of NAWBO, women-owned businesses in the region are making connections, sharing advice and finding opportunities for growth.
NAWBO was founded in 1975 with the mission to propel “women entrepreneurs into economic, social and political spheres of power worldwide,” and currently has over 5,000 members and 60 chapters nationwide. The organization has advocated for legislation around women in business, including the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, which allowed female business owners to take out loans in their own names (not their husband’s or a male relative’s) for the first time.
The Sacramento chapter, chartered in 1987, currently has about 90 members. Current president of the Sacramento chapter, Liliana Bernal, joined the organization when she formed her diversity-centric recruiting and consulting company, Balanced Diversity Sacramento (a division of Balance Staffing) just before the pandemic.
For Bernal, the networking opportunities provided by NAWBO are the best benefit to member businesses, meeting varying needs from social to financial.
“Not only are we able to offer resources and kind of a sense of community and camaraderie and just sharing of resources … but also, we have quite a number of corporate partners that are in the area,” Bernal says. “A lot of them are financial institutions that offer special programs for women-owned businesses, for small businesses.”
NAWBO’s corporate financial partners include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Five Star Bank, PNC Bank and Principal Financial. Other partners include utility companies like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, or SMUD, which offers NAWBO members the opportunity to become contracted vendors through the Supplier Education and Economic Development (SEED) program.
Along with networking opportunities on a local and national scale, NAWBO offers its members professional development opportunities like conferences and workshops where experts share business-building skills. Recently, Sacramento-based lawyer Jennifer Shaw spoke to NAWBO members about business law at a luncheon.
Loraine Scott, NAWBO Sacramento member and owner of Acheson Wine Company, called the luncheon “one of the best professional development events that I’ve been to.” Scott joined NAWBO after opening an eco-friendly winery and tasting room in Midtown Sacramento about two years ago. Scott’s wines are made locally from grapes grown in the Central Valley, bottled at the tasting room using reusable bottles and sustainably stored in stainless steel kegs.
For Scott, a first-time business owner, connecting with other women in business has been “huge” for the growth of her business. These connections, she says, have led to collaborations with other member businesses and earned her new customers.
“Sometimes being a female business owner, it’s nice to bounce different ideas with other female business owners,” Scott says. “That’s a really big part of NAWBO. I’m part of another women’s organization, as well, that’s great, but NAWBO really, I feel like their members are across the board, so they have some very seasoned members that really can give you great advice.”
NAWBO invests directly in women by partnering with other women empowerment organizations like She Shares, a mentoring and public speaking program, and utilizing only women-owned businesses for event vendors.
The volunteer-run organization is “a labor of love,” according to chapter president Bernal.
“We donate our time, we donate our energy, we donate our experience just because we’re passionate, not just about the cause, but really about giving back and also helping to support each other,” she says. “Together, we’re so much stronger.”
And the collaborative spirit within the organization has not only strengthened existing businesses but has also made way for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Jenik joined NAWBO after being recognized as a woman innovator at NAWBO’s 2021 OWL (Outstanding Women Leaders) Awards gala. Jenik’s daughter, Jasmine, then a teenager in high school, also attended and was inspired to bring NAWBO to her peers. NAWBO’s first high school club was formed and served as a pilot for a national program that officially launched this year.
“It was a very unique moment of understanding the power of NAWBO and how women can inspire other women,” Jenik says.
Women may have to beat the odds in business, but having “to find their way up” makes them even better entrepreneurs, according to Jenik. “I think this community is very strong and [has] a lot to offer, and I think we should invest more in the community here, just each one in the other.”
This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.