JULIE CASTRO ABRAMS
CEO, WOMEN’S INITIATIVE FOR SELF-EMPLOYMENT
WHAT SHE DOES
Heads a nonprofit that helps low-income women in Northern California start successful businesses—more than 3,000 so far, from photo studios to car-repair shops.
HOW SHE GOT STARTED
Abrams, 43, trained as a social worker. “In grad school, I interned with the City of Chicago and negotiated a whopping $15 an hour. That gave me the confidence to call myself a consultant, and others hired me. When that business failed, I decided to spend my career helping women entrepreneurs succeed.”
WHY SHE LOVES HER JOB
“Nothing is better than knowing you’ve helped someone—not with a handout but by giving her power, strength and the knowledge that she’ll make it.”
ON HER WATCH
Since Abrams took over the 23-year-old organization in 2001, its client roster has increased tenfold.
SHE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT . . .
Her husband. “For the first five years, he stayed home with our son and daughter. I was looking for a man who’d support my career . . . and I found him.”
In a rigorous 11-week program, women (average age: 41) learn how to create a business plan and marketing strategy; they get ongoing mentoring and the chance to apply for a microloan.
One year after training, clients’ average monthly income jumps from $599 to $1,018.
Lots to choose from: Alison Barakat was selling her baked goods at a farmers’ market and earning $15,000 a year. Now she earns $15,000 a day from Bakesale Betty, her popular bakery; more than 80 people work at its two locations. Nelly Sanchez, a former cleaning lady, owns a thriving spa. Reign Free was homeless five years ago; today her catering business employs more than 20 people.
Last year 3,100 women were trained at 18 locations, on an annual budget of $4.5 million. Seventy percent of grads are still in business after five years, double the national average for new enterprises.
HER NEW DREAM
The Women’s Initiative is raising money to start programs in Chicago and New York City. “Our grads created more than 4,300 jobs in 2010. That’s a pace of change unmatched by any model currently being taught, and it’s sustainable. If we do this around the country, we could have an impact big enough to change the economics textbooks.”
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