Just over a year ago, on August 25, 2019, West Business Development Center was the proud host of the first StartUp Mendocino Gala at which the winners of the Business Bootcamp and Pitch Competition were announced. Now, twelve months later, West Center was curious to know how our winners have fared in the year since the competition, particularly in light of the pandemic and the challenges that has presented to so many businesses. 

We recently caught up with Grand Prize winner Lama Nasser-Gammett of The Forest People to find out what the past year has been like for her business.

Q. What did you use your prize money for?

Having $10,000 enabled us to buy the equipment we needed to further our business. It gave us some breathing room to take the business from being an everyday struggle to something manageable. 

Q. Before March, when COVID and the shelter-in-place orders went into place, how were you addressing your operations?

We had a number of hurdles to cross to get into production. First, we needed a state permit to produce our mushroom jerky, which is a processed food. We finally obtained that but then ran into the issue of getting enough production going to sell fresh mushrooms AND have sufficient left over to make jerky. It’s definitely less labor to sell a fresh product but now we have an additional building underway that will enable us to grow more mushrooms to satisfy the fresh market and make the jerky. 

Q. Over the past year what lessons have you learned about yourself as a business owner ? 

We’ve made the evolution from working all hours of the day (and night!) to being able to organize our time and create structure in our days, which is essential when you’re working from home and home-schooling. We learned that the most effective way to be successful is to have structure.

Q. What is your fondest memory of the StartUp program? And what’s your biggest takeaway? 

My fondest memory is of being announced as the winner with my family and friends in the theater. The Startup program was a real mix of stress and anxiety coupled with great excitement. My biggest takeaway is that a strong vision can really carry you to the place you want to be!

Q: What impact, if any, has COVID made on your business?

The biggest impact was during the initial shutdown; we lost restaurant accounts and still haven’t got most of those back. The farmers’ markets have been great. We initially took a little time off of them while new guidelines were developed but we’re now at markets on a regular basis. Farmers have been quite successful as a lot of people realized access to local food was very important. At first, lack of demand meant we scaled back production but we’re now back up. We’re pursuing grocery store accounts and have just landed one in Mendocino. The other issue was that our building process was affected because building supplies were on back order but that is now back on track.

West Center is looking forward to the opportunity to hold a second Start Up Mendocino so we can continue to assist and support small business owners like Lama. If you have an idea for a small business opportunity, call us today to speak with one of our expert advisors. Our services are free! Call 707-964-7571 or click here to get started.