The award honors those advancing innovative solutions to the state’s challenges and provides $200,000 to recipients like Dora Westerlund to use to further work in their community.
Westerlund was selected from a pool of 400 nominees because of her work at the Downtown Business Hub. The Foundation has provided $5 million in microloans and assistance to 5,000 start-ups since it was founded in 2004.
“Dora is a great example of the ingenuity and spirit of service our Leadership Awards recognize,” James Irvine Foundation CEO Don Howard said. “Dora stood out for her comprehensive approach to helping entrepreneurs who may be overlooked by traditional lenders. Her work to empower small business owners to create jobs and economic gains for the region are a model for others looking to expand economic opportunity for individuals, families and communities.”
Westerlund said she is honored by the award and plans to use the funding to expand the Downtown Business Hub’s efforts in rural communities surrounding Fresno.
“Now, we can go even further in the rural areas to help those underserved small businesses start and expand,” Westerlund said. “In our region, there are so many challenges with unemployment, so many issues we’ve been facing. However, I believe through our work we can give more individuals an opportunity to own their own business and have a better quality of life.
“We’re based in Fresno, but businesses come to us from all over and my goal is for us to go to them more and do workshops on their doorsteps in the rural communities. I’ve done some workshops in places like San Joaquin and Mendota, so I know there is a need in those areas.”
Pending approval from the board of directors, Westerlund said she would also like to see some of the funding set aside to help small businesses struggling to obtain financing.
The Downtown Business Hub and Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation offer local entrepreneurs training, access to financing, technical assistance and help with government paperwork and contracts to launch their businesses. Many of the start-ups are launched within the Downtown Business Hub walls, but any small business is welcome to seek support from the hub. Workshops, Westerlund said, are normally eight weeks and cover topics like business planning, marketing, business projections and finances.
The impact of Westerlund’s work at the hub goes beyond assisting the small business owner. More businesses equals more jobs in the local economy and more opportunities for future generations, she said.
“My father was a small business owner and because he did well he was able to provide me with an opportunity to have a better education and opportunities,” Westerlund said. “By providing small businesses with an opportunity to open and grow and thrive, we are providing opportunities for their sons and daughters to have better lives also.”