Austin’s Leading Minority Female Business Owners

In an exclusive Q&A, AW advises with four minority entrepreneurs who are contributing back to the city.

Rachel Phua, Photos courtesy of respective business owners.

In honor of Women’s History Month, Austin Woman magazine celebrates entrepreneurs who have made an impact on our city. We look particularly to the minority community to see how they have inspired many, and how they are giving back to those who look up to them. 

In a diverse city, where demographics are rapidly changing and we welcome new residents from throughout the world who have put Austin on the global map, we want to celebrate the multicultural business environment minority women have contributed to as business owners. 

AW spoke to several owners of unique businesses in town to hear how doing business and living in Austin has been, and how they have given back to this beautiful city. 

 

Mousumi Shaw

Mousumi Shaw is the owner of modern fusion jewelry boutique Sikara & Co. The company is headquartered in Austin, with locations in San Francisco and Boston. Shaw is a first-generation Indian-American, and got her first step in the jewelry business as a teenager, helping her mom start a jewelry store in Corpus Christi, Texas. After high school, she left Texas to study business at the University of Pennsylvania, and then worked in New York City and Boston before returning to school and enrolling in Harvard. She was looking for a job that could incorporate her desire to combine both business and philanthropy, and that eventually led her to found Sikara.  

 

Austin Woman: Why did you choose to headquarter Sikara & Co. in Austin?

Mousumi Shaw: It was right after grad school, and my brother, having moved here a year prior, convinced me there were no blizzards here, unlike Boston. Austin also has a community that really supports entrepreneurship and collaboration, open to new ideas and innovation. We have access to great talent at the University of Texas and other colleges in town. We get to participate fully with other businesses here, the other shops along Second Street, as well as hosting mixers and panels at our boutique. 

 

AW: How has your business helped the minority female community in Austin?

MS: We have made charitable contributions helping, directly and indirectly, March of Dimes, Casa, Austin Young Lawyers Association, SafePlace and Travis County Medical Alliance. We have a diverse staff in age, backgrounds and ethnicity. I’ve personally been involved in different organizations, from Leadership Austin to AU40 to Entrepreneur Organization because I want to help grow the next set of entrepreneurs in this fast-growing town. 

 

AW: What’s the reception you have gotten from Austinites so far? 

MS: They really like us and our innovative designs. Since our pieces are inspired from places such as India, Egypt, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Mexico, our designs have attracted a really diverse customer base. We have the 21-year-old student just graduating UT who wants a nice piece of jewelry, to the 70-year-old woman who wants to sport a fun cocktail ring. 

 

AW: Anything new and upcoming with Sikara?

MS: We have two new country collections celebrating the Indonesian and Israeli culture in 2015. We are also forming new partnerships with companies like Design Lab and Shoptiques.com.

 

Lauren Foster

Lauren Foster started Stretch Recipes, a company that promotes healthy eating by organizing healthy cooking demonstrations and events. Stretch’s bigger project is in progress: an app that will help individuals plan their budget, find healthy and affordable recipes and receive coupons. Foster founded this startup after reflecting on her family’s poor eating habits growing up. She hopes her company can be a resource of hope to help people who are already stretched for time, money and knowledge, to have meal planning in a fun and palatable format. And she has had a strong start, winning the Audience Choice for the Tech Crunch Pitch Off! in June last year, and was named one of the Top 15 People to Watch in Austin in 2015 by the Austin-American Statesman.  

 

Austin Woman: Why did you choose to set up Stretch Recipes in Austin?

Lauren Foster: I fell in love with Austin the first time I visited in March 2008. Four years later, after grad school, I got the opportunity to start a company with my co-founder at CatFoster Media. We wanted a better quality of life, lower cost of living and to be in a place where we could raise families.  

 

AW: How has your business supported the minority community in Austin?

LF: Within Austin, I work with organizations that have high minority outreach to create opportunities for them to give impact. When invited to speak or work with youth, I say yes every time. It’s important not only to have a positive role model in the world, but also one that isn’t afraid to tell their story and offer encouragement. Specifically, I have worked with Latinitas, and am seeking opportunities to foster more relationships with organizations that are hands-on with youth.  

    

AW: Any challenges so far as a minority female? Or does it help with growing the company? 

LF: I’ve had people say, “But you’re black,” and that was hurtful. I’ve also experienced that when you get upset or find something challenging, women tend to baby you and tell you to give up rather than ask, “OK, so how can I support you right now to get you to the next step?” Because I’ve chosen to build a company focused on helping people and I’m a minority, sometimes I get hit with, “Oh, well she’s helping black and Hispanic people,” or, “Oh, she’s only helping poor people.” I’m helping people who need help, regardless of race or income.    

 

AW: What’s the reception you have gotten from your users and Austinites so far?

LF: So far, so good. About 83 percent of interested users say they would be willing to pay for the app, and 30 percent would be willing to pay micro-payments for special diet recipe access. 

 

 

Christina Trevino

For families with communication baggage, Christina Trevino’s company could be a blessing. Her company, The Zoo in You, teaches emotion leadership, a process that uses colors and movements to teach children and adults how to access, use and release their emotions in order to communicate. 

Trevino says her upbringing helped her to acknowledge how important familial connection is, which is why she started her company. Her parents are an interracial couple, and her younger brother was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The impact made her family closer. 

The Zoo in You had its start through an eponymous book Trevino wrote to help parents open up about emotions with their children. Its popularity allowed Trevino to create workshops based on it, and even go on tour with Dr. Oz’s inaugural Emotional Health and Wellbeing Conference, at which she was invited to speak to military families preparing for deployment in Dallas, and helped families cope with the “potential emotional rollercoaster.”

 

Austin Woman: Why did you choose to set up The Zoo in You in Austin? 

Christina Trevino: I love Austin. The city has a collaborative community, and people who strive to live healthier. It was a place to advance our communication skills with emotion leadership.

 

AW: How has your business supported the community in Austin?  

CT: We teamed up with Austin Community College to help high school students cope with school life. It was originally available to at-risk students. Now, for our third year, we are partnering with ACC to organize a conference for more teens.

 

AW: Have you faced any challenges so far as a minority female? 

CT: As a minority in Austin, race hasn’t been as much of an issue for me. I honestly have run into more obstacles created by my gender and, in the beginning, my youth. I’m engaged in leadership training, a field dominated by men. However, as a female, my clients are able to open up to me more quickly. My gender is an asset as well. I hope that one day, gender won’t matter. 

 

AW: How has your company empowered females? 

CT: Through my practice, I’ve coached many female clients, and guided them in improving their confidence. I’ve been on the board of Austin Women in Technology, volunteering as their leadership coach. I was able to provide guidance for the potential instability and fear that appears during a time of change. I am currently on the board of Women Communicators of Austin as the vice president of professional development, where I run the Get Smart conference.

 

 

Becky Arreaga

Mercury Mambo sets itself apart as a company leading in its progressiveness. Set up by Becky Arreaga and her sister, Liz Arreaga, it is one of the only Hispanic marketing agencies in town, and 100 percent minority- and women-owned, according to its website. The company is also a big supporter of the LGBTQ community in town, and a member of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Becky Arreaga, herself, the president of the company, uses her Twitter account to highlight issues facing minority communities. 

 

Austin Woman: Why did you decide to start Mercury Mambo?

Becky Arreaga: My sister, Liz, and I had started a Hispanic marketing consultancy called The Backshop in 1998, which eventually became Mercury Mambo. She had spent the previous 15 years with the Coca-Cola Company and I had spent the past 10 years working for an advertising firm in San Antonio. We were both at a point in our careers where we thought, “Why not?”

 

AW: Why here in Austin?

BA: I had also decided at the time to get my master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin. Rather than commute back and forth from San Antonio, I decided to move here. 

 

AW: How has your business supported the LGBTQ community in Austin?

BA: Both Liz and I have been longtime supporters of the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, which largely provides services to the LGBTQ community. Through the years, we have increasingly become more involved with other great LGBT-focused nonprofits. These include HRC Austin, and the Waterloo Counseling Center. Last year, Mercury Mambo received its LGBT minority vendor certification through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

 

AW: Any challenges so far as a minority female? Or does it help with growing the company?

BA: We choose to look at it as an advantage, which is why we have three important minority supplier certifications. These include certifications through the NGLCC, the SMSDC (Southwest Minority Supplier Diversity Council) and the WBENC (Women-Owned Business Enterprise Network). I like to say we are the trifecta of diversity!

 

AW: How has your company empowered females?

BA: Currently, over 90 percent of our staff [is] female. We work hard to ensure our team enjoys a work-life balance, which includes ensuring their families are a priority. We try to instill these values into all of our relationships, from clients to interns to vendors. We are also huge fans of the work of the Texas Conference for Women and the 3 Percent Conference, which champions female leadership within the creative industry.


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