Susan Difuntorm, Smiles & More Photo Booth

Susan Difuntorm is a retired Air Force veteran of 23 years, recent State of California retiree, a mother, grandmother, and a dear friend to many. This fun-loving grandma has had a camera in her hands since she can remember. She combined her love for taking photos with her desire to start a business of her own and created Smiles & More Photo Booth.

Tim Obert & Clint Potter, Seven Stills Brewery

Seven Stills Brewery began as a bootstrapped business in a garage, making whiskeys from craft beers. Tim Obert and Clint Potter, who became friends at UC Santa Cruz, started brewing and distilling for fun at Clint’s parents’ house in Novato. 

Karim Kaderali, Santa Barbara Axxess

Santa Barbara Axxess was founded by Karim Kaderali and a friend in Santa Barbara, California in 1999. By creating an upscale local Membership Program that was unique and trackable, they figured out how to bring local businesses the right local customers. Shortly after launch, they received a startup loan from WEV to print the physical books for their members.

Corrina Pena, Frosted Bakery

Corrina Pena was constantly making cakes and cupcakes for family and friends. She decided to turn her baking hobby into a real business called Frosted. Her first step was to visit West Business Development Center, who advised her on the fundamentals: getting her business license, food handler’s certification, and thinking about her brand and how to get out there marketing her creations.

Don & Jake McPeck, Mess Hall Canteen

Don McPeck started his business with only an idea. His gourmet food truck, Mess Hall Canteen, got started thanks to The Food Network. An appearance on the show Food Truck Faceoff gave Mess Hall Canteen a vehicle — in more ways than one.

Koy Saichow, Stony Point Strawberry Farm

Koy Saichow grew up in a subsistence farming community in Thailand, where each season relatives, friends and neighbors would come together to harvest in their family’s vegetable and rice fields. When the Saichow family immigrated to the Bay Area in 1989, they brought along their values of self-sufficiency and generosity and continued to grow Southeast Asian vegetables in their backyard for themselves and their neighbors.

Andrea Wasko & Meaghan Gilbert, Connoisseur Creations

Andrea Wasko and Meaghan Gilbert of Los Osos, California launched their flagship product, the Quick Pickle Kit after starting Connoisseur Creations in 1996. After struggling with weight issues, Andrea wanted to develop a healthy alternative snack that would help people in similar situations. The Quick Pickle Kit is a safe, quick, simple, and natural way to make delicious pickles in the comfort of your own home.

Pancho Kachingwe, The Hatch

Pancho Kachingwe founded The Hatch Oakland Bar & Restaurant in 2014 to cater to a booming downtown Oakland. “Everything was self-funded,” he recalls. “It was myself doing the cooking, bartending, cleaning, shopping, everything.” But the business grew fast, and by year two, he had 18 employees.

Meredith Pizzi, Roman Music Therapy Services

Meredith Pizzi started playing trumpet in the fifth grade and joined her school’s jazz band. It was after a performance of “Gonna Fly Now” from the motion picture Rocky that Meredith recognized the profound connection she felt to others through the power of music. “We still talk about that concert. Feeling that level of connection and understanding and life-giving force that is music, that’s what it was for me. It opened my eyes to what happens when people come together and make music.”

Zea Sonnabend, Fruitilicious Farm

Zea Sonnabend’s organic farming bona fides cannot be overstated. With an MS in Plant Breeding from Cornell University and 35 years of experience as a farmer, gardener, inspector, educator, policy specialist, organizer, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified. Yet running her own farming operation still came with its challenges.