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Women’s Economic Ventures Hosts Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards

11 Women Honored; Proceeds Support Student Entrepreneurs

Award winners, front row: Claudia Cordova Rucker, Emily Barany, Carol Duncan, Laurie Gross, Shawn Sullivan, Leanne Schlinger; back row: Sara Caputo, Caleigh Hernandez, WEV CEO Marsha Bailey, WEV CEO Elect Kathy Odell, Jamie Edlin, Jen Baron, Andrea Ridgell, and Carmen Curtis

On May 3, Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) hosted the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, where it honored 11 Santa Barbara and Ventura County women entrepreneurs. Proceeds from the event benefit high school and college student winners of SBCC’s Scheinfeld Center New Venture Challenge. Through this unique event, WEV recognizes and supports entrepreneurship at multiple levels.

Since its inception in 2011 through last year, the SOE Awards were hosted by the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Foundation. With the retirement of SOE Foundation’s founder and CEO Cathy Feldman, WEV integrated the SOE Awards and SOE networking components into its programs.

The evening began with the nearly 300 guests mingling in the Plaza del Sol and checking out the Startup Showcase with student winners of the New Venture Challenge. Students enthusiastically explained their businesses to guests, many of whom were entrepreneurs themselves.

Guests were welcomed in the Grand Ballroom by WEV CEO Elect Kathy Odell, who explained that Feldman founded the awards to recognize leading women entrepreneurs and to encourage aspiring student entrepreneurs through grants and awards. WEV, she shared,  is proud to be entrusted with Feldman’s legacy. Over the years, SOE has honored more than 250 women and awarded $87,000 to 120 student winners.

The New Venture Challenge, held the week before, allows high school and college students to showcase their businesses and then receive seed money and scholarship funds at this event. The three high school finalists and three college finalists were presented with a total of $12,500 in seed money and a small amount of scholarship aid will be available. Over the years, nearly $10,000 has been awarded in scholarship funds.

The night’s highest honor, the Rock Star: Life Achievement Award, was presented to Carol Duncan, co-founder, CEO and owner of Rusty’s Pizza Parlor. Duncan co-founded Rusty’s 50 years ago and it has now grown to a 500+ employee company with eight locations from Goleta to Carpinteria and another nine in Bakersfield. 

Ten other awards were presented, with the recipient learning she won by hearing a quote that she had written. Nonprofit winner Jen Baron of Girl’s Rock Santa Barbara knew she won when she heard these wise words:  “Have a good plan. Plant the seeds early. Be fearless. Take well-calculated risks. Trust your instincts. Surround yourself with a team of smart people to help guide your vision. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

The winners were:

Arts & Entertainment:  Laurie Gross, Laurie Gross Studios

Green & Social Entrepreneurs: Emily Barany, Visionality

Health & Wellness: Carmen Curtis, The Aerial Studio 

Hospitality & Tourism: Leanne Schlinger, Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals

Media & Communications: Jamie Edlin, Hollywood & Wine

Nonprofit: Jen Baron, Girls Rock Santa Barbara

Professional Services: Sara Caputo, Sara Caputo Consulting

Retail: Claudia Cordova Rucker, Aqua Skin and Nail Bar

Science & Technology: Shawn Sullivan, Above All Aviation

Wholesale, Manufacturing & Online Sales: Andrea Ridgell, Glop & Glam

Nominations for an SOE Award can be made by anyone in the community. Judges are women entrepreneurs located outside of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties and not affiliated with WEV.

There was a lovely tribute to Feldman, who passed away in February, including a video of her sharing some of her last words. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson presented an award for Feldman’s extraordinary service to Santa Barbara and Ventura County women, which was accepted by SOE Committee Member Caroline MacDougall.

WEV founder and CEO Marsha Bailey presented the Successful Women Giving Back Award to RoHo founder and owner Caleigh Hernandez along with a $10,000 check and a business support package. This award, whose recipient is selected by a group of WEV supporters, recognizes an entrepreneur who has been in business five years or less and exemplifies the spirit of giving back. RoHo purchases for re-sale sandals and other products made by marginalized groups in East Africa.

In appealing for pledges, Bailey reminded guests of the importance of networking, which WEV facilitates. She shared how WEV recognizes that women need not only a safe learning environment and technical training, but also role models and a support system. She cited the alarming statistic that last year, women received only four percent of venture capital dollars and attributed this to the lack of networks.

WEV provides economic empowerment to women through training, consulting, and loans to start and grow a business. With offices in Santa Barbara and Ventura, WEV serves both counties. For more info about WEV, go to wevonline.org.  For more info about SOE, go to https://soefoundation.org.

Send invites to gail@independent.com.

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