Karisma Senegal, 20, at the Vision View Business Formation Center. She hopes to attract investors to renovate the building and create a food court.
Written by Frank Lopez
For many people, becoming a home or property owner is on the checklist of life.
Unfortunately, the obstacles of capital, credit and socio-political factors such as race, income and age prevent many people from getting to the arena of owning real estate.
For 20-year old Karisma Senegal and her vision, the hard times in life motivate her to rise above them.
Senegal works at Vision View Partners, a business formation center in Fresno founded by her mother Laneesha Senegal. It helps businesses and entrepreneurs start and grow their ventures from beginning paperwork to developing marketing material. It also provides access to resources, offices and spaces to operate in.
Senegal’s work with the business incubator focuses on assisting clients of Vision View with leasing offices and workspace in its three buildings that cover 33,000 square feet on Clinton Avenue, right near the Fresno airport.
She works to set up with clients of the business center with a space for owners to use as an office, as well as furniture, desks, detailing and even computers — whatever a business owner might need to create an office.
Senegal also coordinates maintenance with items such as fans, locks, painting and other property management tasks.
“Any business that is interested in getting space — it’s open to anybody,” Senegal said. “We want to lease to the community and to everybody.”
Senegal has been working at VisionView for about seven months, but even before that, she was always coming in and out of the office when she was younger, helping her mother with whatever needed to be done.
Senegal herself has lived through some of the struggles that make it more of a challenge for financial independence. Laneesha had to work hard as a young mother of five to make ends meet, and Karisma saw the barriers that many people face when trying to escape the cycle of poverty.
At 17, Senegal had just graduated high school, attending classes at Fresno City College, and working at Taco Bell.
She was also pregnant with her first child.
She was at home one day when a door-to-door PG&E salesperson knocked and she inquired about how to get a job there. Once she turned 18, Senegal started working as a sales representative for the utility company, quickly moving up to become a general manager with 25 people working under her.
During her time with PG&E, from age 18 to 20, she made around $58,000 annually — pretty good money at that age. Earning the salary and being able to set her own schedule with children at home led to her wanting to become an entrepreneur.
Even as a teenager, Senegal was working for Faith in the Valley, a non-profit, faith-based organization, doing community work and talking to people door-to-door.
Prior to solely working at Vision View, she worked at T.O.P. Marketing in Fresno doing customer acquisition, helping people navigate new laws and going door to door to facilitate business-to-business communication and helping them with utility services.
All of this experience — sales, engaging with people and managing other workers — has helped in her entrepreneurial journey.
Senegal, along with other members of Vision View, are building up Five Ladies Development Group, which she plans to make into a platform for real estate and property management.
In April, right after the onset of shutdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, many clients vacated their offices at Vision View. With the economic shutdown causing ripples across the business world, and the fear of the contracting the coronavirus, it was understandable that many people didn’t want to pay for an office space at the time.
“In April, because Covid-19 hit, a lot people stepped out from their offices here. Some people didn’t have the finances, or feel comfortable in being in the social environment any longer. In April, my mother, my sisters, my aunt, my cousin and all of us women sat down and said, ‘how can we come together with all of our talents and bring them all together as one to keep going and build this shop and not let it fall,’” Senegal said.
Currently, Five Ladies is working on building a food court in the center of the Vision View complex, finding investors to open up some eateries on the first floor and making a lounge on the second floor.
Senegal said with so many business people flying in and out of Fresno, and with Vision View being so close to the airport, travelling entrepreneurs and business owners would be able to rest there, conduct business meetings or use their resources as they wait for appointment or flights.
“We are working on a lot of projects. We are trying to build up membership, how to bring in more people to use our space and resources and get some work done. I am also working on a career choice type center for kids and help them find jobs,” Senegal said.
Eventually Senegal wants to take the Five Ladies Development Group into residential real estate investment.
There are plans for a business expo in September, with tours for open and occupied offices spaces at Vision View to show potential clients what it has to offer. It will also be the grand opening date of the Java Bar, a coffee shop in the complex.
Senegal is balancing her busy work life with being the mother of two girls, taking in a five-year old cousin, and also helping to raise her boyfriend’s child. Her vision, as well as her family, is what motivates her everyday.
Being a young, “unapologetically black” mother, Senegal said she does feel some people are surprised that she has accomplished so much, but she feels she can fit into any crowd and work with anyone.
“Every day I’m seeing all these different things I can do,” Senegal said. “I like to paint, I like to draw, I like to model. I can surf into any of these entrepreneurial surfaces down the line.”