Women Elevated! Celebrating the Fearless Pursuit of Success is the perfect
theme of this year’s 20th Annual BRAVO Awards, which showcases how exemplary women in business and leadership are breaking barriers, forging new ground and pursuing their goals with fearless fortitude.
Celebrating its 20th year, BRAVO is the annual signature awards luncheon hosted by the Ventura County chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners — NAWBO-VC. The chapter is committed to strengthening the wealth-creating capacity of its members, while promoting economic development within the entrepreneurial Ventura County community, said Lynnette Coverly, 2018-2019 President-Elect of NAWBO-VC.
“Additionally, the local chapter advocates for innovative and effective change in the business culture, building strategic alliances and transforming public policy for the benefit of its members,” said Coverly, adding that membership is open to women sole proprietors, partners and corporate owners as well as those companies that support women-owned businesses.
“The quality of our honorees, both past and present, is stellar,” stated Diane de Mailly, president of NAWBO-VC. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the caliber of these women. They are truly outstanding business women and community leaders.”
The following women will be honored by NAWBO-VC on April 12 at the Serra Center in Camarillo during the 20th Annual BRAVO Awards.
Woman Business Owner of the Year: Catherine Von Burg
SimpliPhi — pronounced simplify — is a powerful play on words in which “phi” represents the golden ratio or mean, which is the irrefutable mathematical equation found all throughout nature that creates a balanced whole.
“Phi came really out of a desire to represent or capture in our company’s name what we offer in terms of people’s lives and their relationship with power,” explained Catherine Von Burg, co-founder and CEO of SimpliPhi Power in Oxnard. “Whether you’re grid or solar plus grid or off the grid, having storage allows you to take control of your own power.”
When the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, you can store power, “so homeowners, businesses and communities, if they have energy stored, when the grid goes down, they have backup power to run during the outage,” she said. And because the whole issue of energy shortage is so critical, “the idea of phi — the golden mean — you can capture power and use it when you need it.”
Under Von Burg’s leadership, SimpliPhi has deployed energy storage and management systems in more than 40 countries, providing access to power in some of the most remote, harsh environments globally since 2010. The company offers a range of mobile, residential and commercial storage solutions that combine non-hazardous lithium iron phosphate — also known as LFP — energy storage chemistry with proprietary manufacturing processes and materials, battery architecture, power electronics and a battery management system to create safe, reliable, durable and highly scalable on-demand power.
“The golden mean is really symbolic of what we do and why we do it,” Von Burg added. “Our whole idea is to simplify things for people around their access to electricity so they’re not dependent on large distribution systems alone like the grid. They become their own personal generator of power; they can capture it and use it on their own terms.”
Innovator of the Year: Michelle Wilner
As the CEO and Co-Founder of VIRTIS in Newbury Park, Michelle Wilner is “especially proud” to be recognized as Innovator of the Year, especially in today’s global cyber security crisis in which game-changing technology is instrumental in keeping organizations and, more importantly, people’s data protected.
There’s not a week that goes by without news of a major corporation getting hacked through their website, online customer portal, online shopping cart or some other public facing web app, Wilner warned.
“These high-profile cases show how even large organizations with plenty of resources struggle to fully protect their web assets and the data that sits behind them,” she said, further emphasizing that it’s “especially concerning” for companies that don’t have in-house resources. “The current way to fix vulnerabilities — weaknesses in web apps that make it easy for hackers to breach — isn’t working. It’s hard, too time consuming and is costly. To be recognized for my innovation reaffirms I am making a difference.”
More specifically, VIRTIS is a full-service, woman-owned cyber security consulting firm providing ground-breaking technology and globally unique solutions and services.
“Proprietary solutions that others cannot deliver on, combined with our outcome-based approach and boutique, white glove customer service, enable us to provide strategic roadmaps, leading-edge technology and support services to some of the most technically advanced organizations in the world,” Wilner said.
She is also dedicated to making a difference in an industry with only 11 percent women, championing diversity and inclusion for women and minorities. “Knowing that women are incredibly underrepresented in technology, generally, and cyber security, especially, is what inspires me to promote STEM careers and cyber security certification paths to young girls.”
As far as the strides women are making as business owners in today’s times, she added, “be fearless. I am reminded every day of inspiring words from my 17-year-old amazing daughter, Catelynn James, ‘Stay fierce, Mom.’ ”
Rising Star of the Year: Breanne Cochran
When Breanne Cochran found out that she was chosen as Rising Star of the Year, “I was really taken aback,” adding that “it feels so nice to be to be recognized for all the hard work because it’s been so hard. I feel like I’m grinding every day, so it was a nice moment to be able to take a step back and go, ‘Wow — people outside my community are taking notice of what we’re doing in here.’ ”
The Vent Human Performance Center in Ventura, which Cochran opened two years ago, is considered the ultimate CrossFit training center and best gym in Ventura County committed to helping people achieve their health and fitness goals.
This is especially true for females, Cochran said, because “as women, we try to do it all. We want to be everything, so . . . as women, you need to find time for you. When you’re here, it’s about you.”
Another aspect that makes The Vent so unique is that all the coaches are certified by MobilityWOD, which focuses on eliminating pain, preventing injury and maximizing athletic performance.
“Our focus on movement in general — we want pain-free movement, always,” Cochran explained. “So we focus a lot on mobility and being able to move your body the way it’s designed to move. That’s what we’re doing that other gyms aren’t. With every single class, our focus is you. We train a very specific way. I know we can teach movement the best out of anybody.”
As far as members are concerned, the majority of clients are in their 40s and 50s. “The oldest one is 76 and we have multiple 60-plus,” Cochran said. “You can see their confidence build over time; they make these dramatic changes in their life, and that’s what inspires me so much.”
Young Woman Entrepreneur of the Year: Alison Kenis
Alison Kenis was 22 years old when she started her Sugar Lab Bake Shop business in Ventura with her mom, Kelly Shirk. Now 29, Kenis said the mother-daughter team has earned a reputation for their cookies, brownies, French macaroons, pies and cakes; and some of their most popular treats are Shirk’s recipes, which include white chocolate macadamia cookies, lemon bars and snickerdoodle cookies.
“Our stuff tastes good; that’s my first priority,” said Kenis, noting that customers also love the shop’s “hearty cookie” made with coconut oats and almonds concocted from a recipe made by her grandma, Loretta.
Kenis also believes people “have fallen in love with our story,” especially through her presence on Instagram, where she has a huge following. “They tell me they feel like they know me. I talk on Instagram like I’m talking to people.”
Customers especially love her cupcakes, including the shop’s “signature” chocolate peanut butter truffle, which is also her personal favorite. “And we’re regularly selling out of chocolate chip cookies; those are also a favorite of mine.”
She also makes gluten-free treats, including French macaroons, as well as a few different flavors of cupcakes and cookies. “We also make a couple vegan recipes for cupcakes and cakes.”
Above all, Kenis makes customer service a priority, trying her best to make “everybody feel like family. I think our customer service is really strong, because sometimes things go wrong. How we handle it is what sets us apart.”
Community Advocate of the Year: Christina Shaffer
Christina Shaffer, who opened The Law Office of Christina Shaffer in Thousand Oaks in 2006, said she’s “completely honored and humbled” to win Community Advocate of the Year, which is a fitting award for the attorney who has earned a stellar reputation for assisting victims of domestic violence.
In addition to that focus, her practice areas include divorce and legal separation, child custody, property division, child support, spousal support and domestic partnership.
On the domestic violence spectrum, Shaffer’s cases have included men who prevented a woman’s transactions from posting to her account, men who stopped a woman’s credit cards so she couldn’t use them, as well as “women who call me from a shelter or from the emergency room,” Shaffer said.
The biggest message she wants to convey to victims of domestic violence is that “these women are not alone . . . the stats are staggering.” She has many clients who come to her office that really need assistance, and they don’t have the means to hire an attorney, “so I’ve offered my service pro bono, whether it’s helping out with paperwork or, in extreme cases, going to court for them . . . More times than not, I offer my service for free.”
Men aren’t the only perpetrators of domestic violence, she noted; “I do have men that come to my office that are not victims of physical assault, but victims of harassment and stalking. Domestic control, the mental illness that goes along with it, doesn’t discriminate.”
Education Advocate of the Year: Lisa Barreto
Lisa Barreto was “speechless” when she heard she won Education Advocate of the Year, and as a three-time breast cancer survivor, “I’m still in treatment . . . I’m fortunate to be alive to see it.”
As the founder of the Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation in Ventura, Barreto recalled the time she was a student at Ventura College in 2002, when she was first diagnosed with cancer, and a female professor asked Barreto to start the first breast cancer group on campus.
“I wanted it to be an education and advocacy group,” she remembered, and years later, the volunteers running the nonprofit organization are “doing such a fantastic job and the community behind us is so amazing.”
The first thing people think about when they’re diagnosed with cancer is death, she said, however, “breast cancer is not necessarily a death sentence.” Rather, “it’s a life sentence — it makes you look at life in a new and different way. You look at what matters and what doesn’t matter, and sometimes, you look back at your life and say, ‘Oh gee, that was nothing.’ ”
Among other efforts, Ribbons of Life presents monthly “breast fests” open to women with cancer and their loved ones that take place at Mimi’s Café in Ventura at 8:30 a.m. “These have been proven so successful in providing social and emotional support,” Barreto said.
Ribbons of Life also has a Breast Cancer Resource Center located at 1500 Palma Drive, Suite 239, in Ventura. In future efforts, “we’re opening a Create for Life studio directly across from our resource center so women can go and be in a quaint group; they can create a masterpiece that they can take home.”
Today, she’s grateful to be alive, “and I’ve got a lot of women behind me that have passed away; I consider them still alive in my heart — they’re with me, behind me, moving me forward.”
NAWBO-VC Member of the Year:
Brenda Terzian has been running the office of her and her husband’s construction business, Doug Terzian Construction Camarillo, since 1982, and when she first read about NAWBO-VC in the Sunday business section of a local newspaper, she said to herself: “I’ll check it out.” After attending NAWBO-VC’s dinner meeting, “I joined that night,” realizing, “these are the women I’ve been looking for.”
“I love women business owners,” said Terzian, who served on NAWBO-VC’s board for five years, and also served as president. “I’ve learned so much from them and become friends with them. It’s about relationship building, and I love doing business with them. I learn so much from the NAWBO ladies; we collaborate all together, and it opens up the doors for a lot of opportunities that I would have never found without it.”
The NAWBO women — and women growing in the business world in general — are living proof that “women are empowering, and they’re now able to get loans and financial help whereas years ago … women could not get a loan without a male signature. Women are now so empowered and so educated and finally are really having a voice.”
Leadership in Public Policy Award – State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire
In recognition of their work on the ground-breaking SB 826 legislation, mandating gender diversity on publicly-held California corporations boards, NAWBO-VC will be honoring State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire with the Leadership in Public Policy Award.
Jackson is the author of Senate Bill 358, the California Fair Pay Act, landmark legislation to strengthen California’s equal pay law, and was named by Huffington Post as one of 11 women around the country “blazing new trails” in American politics.
As of January 2018, Berkhemer-Credaire became national CEO of the 501c3 nonprofit public awareness campaign, “2020 Women on Boards,” which is dedicated to achieving at least 20 percent of all public company board seats held by women by the year 2020.
Women entrepreneurs in the new millennium
In the new millennium, women-owned businesses have grown exponentially to form the fastest growing segment of the economy, emphasized NAWBO’s president, Diane de Mailly.
She noted that women entrepreneurs have “bootstrapped their way” to company ownership, many jumping ship from male-dominated companies where glass ceilings have limited their leadership growth and income producing capacity, and many have created home-based businesses to sustain their families and feed creative juices.
For instance, in 2014, Woman Business Owner of the Year, Lori Volk, started a lemonade stand to pay for her children’s education, and now Lori’s Original Lemonade is distributed nationally.
“In part, women entrepreneurs have multiplied in the last 20 years out of financial necessity and the need for financial independence,” de Mailly said, noting that this growth has been fueled by support from organizations like NAWBO, but also the Small Business Association, SCORE, Women’s Economic Ventures and a myriad of other organizations and academic institutions that support entrepreneurship.
“Mentoring and peer support can also accelerate a woman’s entrepreneurial success and why we encourage all our NAWBO Ventura members to take part in our mentorship program or to join one of our mastermind groups,” de Mailly said.
A big change has also been that women are getting in the game earlier, she added. “For BRAVO, we started recognizing Young Women Entrepreneurs a few years ago because we saw teens and young women in our community who were starting businesses and we wanted to support them. They are our future.”
For more information on NAWBO-VC, call 877-629-2682 or visit www.nawbovc.org.