How do you turn a deep-seated passion for peace, justice and community engagement into a living?
This is the question Tyrone Botelho, 31, and Tiffany Hoang, 26, were asking themselves in 2014, huddled over a computer and educational materials in Botelho’s rented room in Oakland.
The two former Peace and Conflict Studies majors at the University of California, Berkeley, hit it off during a restorative justice training session Botelho was helping run and Hoang was attending. They were desperately trying to find a way to earn a living while promoting and maintaining their ideals.
Help came from an unlikely source – Botelho’s landlord, Robin Nasatir, who just happened to be the program director for Youth Business USA (YBUSA), an organization dedicated to helping young entrepreneurs succeed.
“It was almost magical,” said Botelho. He and Hoang admit that initially they were completely lost when it came to the business side of things. “We didn’t even know what a business model was.”
With help from YBUSA, the ambitious duo learned to put together business plans, create budgets, plan strategies, submit proposals, start and maintain a business – Circle Up Education. What’s more, they were given access to a network of fellow entrepreneurs to call on for advice and support.
In 2014, they made just $1,900, but the next year they brought in $94,000. Thanks to a real demand for their workshops and consulting services, revenue grew to $245,000 for 2016. This year they have already earned about $250,000 and are projecting a phenomenal $600,000 by years end. Major clients include the City of Oakland and Fremont Unified School District.
Hoang says a huge part of the challenge was the unexpected emotional toll of being a start up business owner, and without the steadfast support of a mentor like Nasatir, the two may never have been able to make it. “Believing in us is the biggest thing she’s given us,” said Hoang.
The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Hoang’s family wanted her to be a successful doctor or engineer, but largely because of her parents’ experiences as refugees and immigrants, she was drawn to justice and diversity issues.
Likewise, Botelho, who went through 14 foster homes before aging out of the system, believes his early life struggles gave him the extra drive to help others by working to create healthy, diverse communities where each person is a vital, respected stakeholder.
Circle Up Education provides clients with tools for inclusivity and relationship building, diversity and equity, and conflict resolution, with the goal of making businesses, communities, schools and cities thrive.
They’ve grown and thrived by tailoring programs to each client’s needs and focusing on interactive activities and conversations instead of lectures and presentations.
Circle Up Education currently has four consultants, but thanks to this increase in revenue and contracts, plans are underway to add three employees by fall. They’ve expanded their client base from the San Francisco Bay Area down to Southern California.
If business continues as it is, they would like to expand nationally and perhaps even form a spin-off non-profit or B corporation to offer free or very low-fee trainings to small community and civic groups currently unable to afford these kinds of trainings and workshops.
It’s hard work, but worth it.
“After a 70 or 80-hour work week I just want to sleep,” said Botelho, “Then I remember the smiles on people’s faces.”