Mendocino County West Business Development Center Launches New Season of Business Acceleration Program – The Ukiah Daily Journal


In 2017, when Mary Anne Petrillo took office as CEO of the West Business Development Center, one of her first directives was to find out how to boost entrepreneurship in the rural environment of Mendocino County.

“We wanted to get business owners to pitch their ideas. With that, in 2019 we developed StartUp Mendocino – a business competition program that would bring us individuals. They were trained not only in the basics of business practices, but also in how to focus on presenting their ideas and concepts, from finance to target markets, ”says Petrillo. “It’s not a unique concept, but it was the first time it was offered in Mendocino County.”

Applications for the 2022 program will be accepted until October 25. The program will start on January 10, 2022 and end in June 2022.

One of the most important aspects of the program is the engagement of the community as a whole. “With resources so scarce, it was crucial for us to ensure the local investment of people, products and services – to involve the community and to meet the global needs of our community so that participants received local support. for their ideas, ”she continues.

StartUp Mendocino is supported by a combination of businesses large and small including the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, John and Sandra Mayfield Economic Development Fund, Adventist Health, Tri-Counties Bank, LP Financial LLC (aka Charlie Kelly) Les Madrones, Café Beaujolais and Lia Patterson at Luxe Places International Realty. The free program is also supported by Small Business Administration and Go-Biz state funding.

“Our sponsors not only provide funding for the program, but also bring their knowledge and expertise. The Community Foundation got us started, and we’re backed by business owners who know how hard it is to get started and would love to have had the knowledge we offer, ”says Petrillo.

“StartUp Mendocino offers a way for those with a good idea to present a solid business plan that could lead to financial support to get it started. Maybe one of these companies will one day become a major employer in Mendocino County, ”notes Jim Mayfield, sponsor and owner of Rainbow, America’s Country Store.

“One of the things we’ve built into the program is third-party sponsor analysis and community feedback. We improved the development of the whole project with their knowledge, ”says Laura Brooks, Director of Strategic Programs and Director of Programs at StartUp Mendocino.

“We have taken that feedback and incorporated it into the new program, which is longer and has more support. Due to Covid, we have decided to make most of the program virtual. We’ll have a safe direction at the start and a celebration at the end where people can show off their businesses, ”says Brooks. This program, according to Brooks, will provide more in-depth training to participants.

“Our first round in 2019 received 82 applications, which we narrowed down to 12 cohorts that went through the formal program,” says Petrillo. Five finalists presented a “pitch” competition, the winners of which received $ 20,000 in prizes.

“More than 200 people came for the awards ceremony. Our keynote speaker, Isabel Guzman, was the director of GoBiz and is now the head of the SBA, ”says Petrillo. “We were honored to have it.”

Lama Nasser-Gammett won the 2019 StartUp competition. His company, The Forest People, grows and sells oyster mushrooms at county farmer’s markets, culinary outlets and grocery stores. Nasser-Gammett’s corporate presentation for mushroom jerky resulted in a StartUp award of $ 10,000. Since then, she has continued to perfect her business model and regularly sells her oyster mushroom offerings at the farmers markets in Ukiah and Boonville.

“I have always had an interest in gardening and family ownership. About 10 years ago, I started to learn about the role of fungi in our ecosystem and I decided to become friends with them, ”she smiles. “When I met my husband, who is a farmer, we built our first mushroom farm in Boise, Idaho. We moved to Mendocino County seven years ago and started our mushroom business.

Lama Nasser-Gammett, left, owner of Forest People Mushroom Farm, was the 2019 winner of the StartUp Mendocino Entrepreneurship program offered by the West Business Development Center. She uses her online skills to complete Venmo trades at the Ukiah Farmers Market. This year, StartUp Mendocino will provide intensive training to 12 entrepreneurs to use e-commerce as well as all aspects of business development.

At the Farmer’s Market, a constant stream of regular customers and “newbies” stop by to buy Nassar-Gammett mushrooms and microgreens, as well as shitake and the exotic Lion’s Mane mushrooms grown by its neighbor. She credits StartUp Mendocino with her ability to grow and maintain her business in a manageable and profitable manner.

“StartUp Mendocino has helped me refine my company’s branding and improve the way I represent myself and my product,” she explains. “I knew I had an interesting idea and the program helped me build my self-confidence and strengthen the viability of my long-term business model.” She hopes that in the future state law will allow her to prepare her mushroom jerky without the prohibitive expense of renting or building a commercial kitchen.

The 12 selected entrepreneurs will be divided into three groups and will receive 36 hours of instructor-led training in five modules, with support and access to city and county services and assets, as well as free publicity and community outreach. for their business.

“We are creating a cohort of companies that will participate in this year’s program together,” says Brooks. Program managers will attend the program with participants, and simplified 2-hour weekly classes will help fit into the schedule of those working full-time. “Covid has taught us that if you don’t have the fundamentals and support from your community, it’s hard to survive. This is what we want to bring to the start of this year.

“The differences in the way people do business in today’s world have been built into the program. The focus will be on online dissemination. Locally, our small businesses have fallen behind and we all understand that there are many new ways that online marketing can do business, ”Brooks continues.

“We are in a new technological era in the age of Covid. You can have a storefront and involve your community in your product, and you can also do global marketing. It’s the combination of the local and the global that can make your business thrive, ”says Petrillo.

To become a StartUp Mendocino participant, applicants must be located in Mendocino County and must have one to three years of work in their company. “Applicants must have a license or have an employee and be able to demonstrate that they know the basics,” says Petrillo. “This program is not for people who have a good idea or who are developing a concept. It is open to all industries at an early stage but not pre-enterprise, and unfortunately due to federal funding we are unable to serve the cannabis industry at this time.

“We’ve had a diversity of cohorts: distilleries, retailers, cybersecurity companies, shoemakers and mushroom growers like Lama. We look for age and experience in our cohorts, and we want to foster that diversity, ”says Brooks.

Petrillo is excited about the growing opportunities for entrepreneurship resulting from the challenges of the pandemic.

“We are seeing people reassessing their lives after Covid,” says Petrillo. “People say, ‘I know enough now to go in another direction’ and have to learn a whole new way of doing business. We see a lot of people over 50 who decide to work for themselves, and people who have opportunities because of the ability to operate businesses without a storefront. The importance of entrepreneurship for our local economy cannot be underestimated, ”she concludes.

To apply for the program, visit the Center Ouest application page at If you have any questions, email Brooks at or phone (707) 964-7571.

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