Gym managers Taylor Branum (left) and Jenny Pimentel (right) stand beside Doyenne Barbell and Fitness Founder and Owner Yvette Mora, who opened up her own gym after promising herself to get healthy after having children. Photo contributed by Mora.
Written by Edward Smith
Entrepreneurs face any number of challenges when starting their business.
If you are doing it in a place like Fresno, with some of the highest levels of concentrated poverty in the country, there are even more challenges.
For women entrepreneurs, it could be that much more difficult.
Over the last three years, JPMorgan Chase has supported 122 small businesses in Fresno’s top five most disinvested zip codes, making 84 small business loans totaling nearly $5 million.
In 2020, technical assistance funded by the grant helped local businesses access $2 million in Covid-19 relief funding.
Chase awarded the grant to the Central Valley Community Foundation in 2019 to be used by community development financial institutions (CDFIs) including Access Plus Capital, Community Vision and Accion Opportunity Fund — known as the Fresno PRO Collaborative.
These CDFIs provide capital and resources to support the development of small businesses, with a focus on women and minority-owned businesses in the zip codes of 93701, 93702, 93706, 93721 and 93725.
The Fresno PRO Collaborative partnered with the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation (FAHF) to provide coaching and mentorship for business owners, as well as helping them prep to qualify for microloans.
FAHF runs the “Womanpreneur” and “Latinapreneur” programs that help women and Latina entrepreneurs grow their businesses by implementing marketing tools and helping them develop a strategic marketing plan.
Sandra Vidrio, executive director of the Women’s Business Center at FAHF, said that 462 women have gone through the program since its inception two years ago.
There is a combination of factors that women entrepreneurs face that make starting a business more challenging, including access to capital and the digital access divide, Vidrio said.
She said it is rewarding to see women learn computer skills and social media platforms for marketing because it is a soft skill they could use in business as well as everyday life.
“We are thankful for the support for the program and we are excited to share success stories of women entrepreneurs during Women’s History Month,” Sandra said.
Working in, working out
For Fresno native Yvette Mora, 33, participating in the FAHF Latinapreneur and Womanpreneur programs helped her realize her dream of starting her own business at a crucial time in her life. A $25,000 grant from FAHF was also instrumental.
She started Doyenne Barbell and Fitness, an all-women’s barbell gym, in Fresno in 2020. It’s located at 2225 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 110.
“I thought I was just a mom and a wife — that was my place in life,” Mora said. “I came to the realization that this wasn’t it, and I didn’t limit myself just because I was a mom and a wife. I just started by taking care of myself.”
She made a list of things she wanted to accomplish, and on top of that list was getting healthy and losing weight — which she did.
This inspired her to get more involved in the fitness community. While doing that she met women with a clothing line called Doyenne Active Wear. Plans for the activewear brand fell through, and Mora asked to take over.
She then started selling, networking in the fitness community through various events and pop-ups.
Because the clothing brand was selling so well, she began looking for a space for inventory in June 2020.
She found a space she couldn’t pass up, and since everything was reopening after Covid-19 closures, she thought it was big enough to house a gym where women could workout comfortably.
Unfortunately, after signing the lease, businesses were temporarily shut down again.
Mora earned a certification for her gym from the Medical Fitness Association, which allowed her to see clients for therapeutic workouts beginning in November 2020 when most gyms were still closed. She was able to open to the public at large in January 2021.
“The community was amazing. Women who saw what we were doing came out to support,” Mora said. “That is what kept me going — knowing that women like myself saw the potential in what I was trying to do and supported us fully.”
Currently the activewear line is on hold, and Mora is happy with the growth the gym has seen. The 1,200 square-foot space is already feeling too small for the 80 members
Mora has plans to open a 2,4000 square-foot space in the next few months to accommodate the growing membership.
As a mother of four children herself, Mora said that the mission of her gym is to have a safe space for women to exercise — and to empower them to be who they want to be.
“I didn’t start this until I was almost 30 and I barely feel like I’m living my life purposely,” Mora said. “There is no time limit, but every day you wait, you’re letting time pass. Just goes after it.”
Nourishing minds as a calling
Tamar Grigsby, founder and director of Blossom Bright Early Learning, a family day care service in Fresno, was also a recipient of the $25,000 grant for FAHF’s Womanpreneur program.
Originally from Southern California, Grigsby has been in the childcare field since 2004. She moved to Fresno with her husband in 2012.
She has worked in classrooms helping schools earn accreditation, has a slew of certifications in childhood assessment tools and has degrees in psychology and child development.
Prior to starting her Blossom Bright Early Learning, Grigsby was working for First Five Madera County as an early childhood education facilitator. The five-year grant that funded her position was halted due to impacts from Covid-19 and she was let go.
“When I had to transition out of my position due to the grant ending, I knew this was something I felt passionate about and that I wanted to continue to do the work — whether it be on my own. That’s when I jumpstarted my own business to provide services to young children and do consultations for those who want to start their own in-home programs,” Grigsby said.
She opened Blossom Bright Early Learning in August 2020 after being let go from her previous position in June 2020.
Grigsby is also a mother to small children, and said that opportunities such as the Womanpreneur program are very important. It is also important for the children of woman entrepreneurs, she said, especially at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has made childcare more difficult.
Grigsby is also the author of a children’s book, “Little Lady Rose,” published in 2019. It is the story of a young girl who learns about her uniqueness after she takes a walk with her mother through a rose garden.
“It’s important to expose our little ones, especially my little ones, with the possibility of choice,” Grigsby said. “The possibility of ownership, making things happen in difficult times, resilience, being creative, and to make the steps to go after your passion.”