On April 4, the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Foundation (SOE) held its annual Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards where it honored Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree as the Lifetime Achievement Rock Star and honored 11 other Santa Barbara and Ventura County entrepreneurs as well. Proceeds from the event benefit high school and college student winners of the Santa Barbara City College Scheinfeld Center New Venture Challenge. Through this novel event, SOE fulfills its mission of supporting entrepreneurship at all levels in our area.
The evening began with the 300 guests mingling in the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort’s Plaza del Sol and checking out booths set up by the student finalists from the New Venture Challenge. The students enthusiastically shared their business ideas with guests, many of whom were entrepreneurs themselves: current year SOE finalists, three in each of 11 categories, and many other notable business leaders.
Guests were welcomed in the Grand Ballroom by emcee and boardmember Caroline MacDougall, who was an SOE recipient in its inaugural year, 2011, for her company Teeccino Caffe. She shared how over the years, SOE has honored more than 225 women and awarded more than $75,000 to student winners.
SOE Boardmember and Scheinfeld Center Director Julie Samson explained how the New Venture Challenge, held the week before, promotes youth entrepreneurship and is the only local competition that allows high school and college students to showcase their businesses and earn seed money and scholarship funds. The three high school finalists and three college finalists were presented with a total of $12,500 in seed money. An undetermined amount of scholarship aid will also be available. Over the years, $8,000 has been awarded in scholarship funds.
In discussing the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Rock Star Award to Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree, MacDougall declared that Ridley-Tree epitomizes what female entrepreneurship is about: doing good for others and making an impact on our community. MacDougall shared how Ridley-Tree, in her nineties and still CEO of Pacific Air Industries, uses the vehicle of business to make money so she can give it away.
Montecito Bank & Trust President George Leis explained how he requested to make the award presentation to Ridley-Tree because of his personal connection to her and because she is such an amazing person whose kindness and generosity are legendary. He related how impressed he was with Ridley-Tree’s in-depth knowledge when she gave him a tour of Pacific Industries. She identified in great detail specific airplane parts: their function, inventory level, churn, and financial data. Leis closed by praising Ridley-Tree, who “every single day inspires me to do a better job” and shows that there is nothing that can’t be accomplished with hard work, determination, and a smile.
To introduce each of the 11 finalists, MacDougall read a quote from the winner, who first learned she won upon hearing the quote. The winners, who each received a Tiffany & Co. engraved award, were:
Agricultural/Wineries: Marta Alvarez, YCE, Inc.
Emerging Business: Raiza Giorgi, Santa Ynez Valley Star/SB Family Life Magazine
Green/Social Entrepreneur: Diana Pereira, Impact Hub
Health: Robin Long, The Balanced Life
Hospitality/Tourism: Nirasha Rodriguez, The Food Liaison
Media/Communications: Lindsey Carnett, Marketing Maven Public Relations
Nonprofit: Sarah Otterstrom, Paso Pacifico
Professional Services: Ann Levine
Retail: Zdena Jiroutova, Zfolio
Science/Technology: Kristin Denault, Fluency Lighting
Wholesale/Manufacturing/Global Trade: Michele McDowell, Wiggins Lift Co.
Judges were women entrepreneurs located outside of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties who are not affiliated with SOE.
MacDougall then announced that with SOE’s founder, President and CEO Cathy Feldman celebrating her 75th birthday recently, SOE began strategizing about SOE’s future. The board decided that given its mission of nurturing the development of the next generation of entrepreneurs, and the similar mission of Women Economic Ventures (WEV), SOE and its award program will henceforth become part of WEV.
A very moving video tribute to Feldman followed, with boardmembers and other business leaders heaping praise on her for being a trailblazer and supporting them and so many others.
Lynda Weinman thanked Feldman for her unconditional love and support, which Feldman extended before Weinman achieved her success, and which, according to Weinman, Feldman has extended to so many other women. Boardmember Darya Bronston related how Feldman set the standard for thoughtful, caring, businesses by women, businesses that are here to make a difference, and strove to support women starting these types of businesses.
An additional award, the Successful Entrepreneurs Giving Back Award, was presented to Nirasha Rodriguez, co-founder and Executive Chef at The Food Liaison, along with a $10,000 check. Rodriguez was recognized in part because of her extensive volunteer efforts in feeding workers involved in the debris flow recovery.
For more info about SOE, go to soefoundation.org.
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By Gail Arnold