Featured Advisor

How A Girl Named Pinky Changed My Life

My name is Cody Fergusson and thanks to Centro, I became the business advisor to Tina Stevens - the Oakland pastry chef who started the bakery shop A Girl Named Pinky - while pursuing my MBA at the University of San Francisco School of Management. This opportunity exposed me to so much practical business experience, and provided me with so much personal growth, leaving me changed and inspired to do more good for small business entrepreneurs in our community. This blog entry is me starting to do just that!

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For me, Centro’s MBA Advisor Program made explicit and transparent the stark contrast between the Bay Area’s resourceful technology startups that go from zero to hero in a matter of a few years, and the numerous small businesses created right here every day with a lot less, but with so much heart, talent and wit. Centro offers these small business entrepreneurs a platform to access more resources, including business administration advisors like me.

I went into the program with an open mind, cognizant of the fact that I have some formal business training, but don’t have all the answers nor the personal contextual experience to fully support Tina. I also knew I was backed by the structure and methodology provided by the Centro team, and that with their guidance I could help her prepare for success. After all, I am a small business entrepreneur myself and my coffee business, Caffea, has already established many of the business processes Tina was working towards.

Over the course of 14 weeks and 75+ hours, together we prepared to grow Tina’s business. As a result, she now has a thriving bakery pop-up shop in Oakland. That was real and it felt great!
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Centro’s MBA Advisor Program is a true win-win program for entrepreneurs and MBA students. I not only learned and practiced business consulting techniques (ie. how to guide conversations by asking questions, how to be a resource to other people by applying different frameworks of thinking, how to work with someone who may have different personality traits, etc.) but I also learned that as a small business consultant, I am playing a part in growing someone’s dream.

Today, A Girl Named Pinky is a business with a solid foundation and a clear understanding of its financials and marketing next steps. And Tina is both inspired and prepared to continue on a pathway towards bigger, better and more empowering life choices.

On behalf of Centro, myself and the many other entrepreneurs we support, I wholeheartedly invite you to find your pathway to support our local and underserved small business community as well.

Carly Perera: Featured MBA Advisor

Carly Perera was one of Centro’s first MBA Advisors. She received a degree in Community and Regional Development from UC Davis and received her MBA from Mills College where she first learned about us.

Why did you decide to join Centro as an MBA Advisor?

Prior to Centro, I was a volunteer consultant for other startups in the East and South Bay. I knew that I wanted to continue to work with small businesses but I needed to hone my skills as a consultant. Centro provided me the coaching and the framework to be a more impactful consultant and volunteer.

I was really energized by Arturo Noriega’s vision, so I joined Centro’s first cohort in the summer of 2010.

What business did you advise?

I worked with Christine Doerr of Neo Cocoa, a Bay Area based chocolatier, who is known throughout the Bay Area/Nation and is wildly successful. When we began working together, Christine was just starting to sell her product in Whole Foods. This past year, her business surpassed the $100,000 annual revenue mark! Christine is an extremely driven, organized, and resourceful business owner and I was very lucky to work with her.

How has Centro impacted your career trajectory?

Working with Centro showed me many of the barriers small businesses face in preparing to obtain and qualify for capital in the Bay Area which led me to pursue a career in small business finance.

I am now a loan officer with Pacific Community Ventures. PCV drives community wealth and economic change through a unique ecosystem that provides advice and capital to small businesses, impact evaluation, and research and policy.

Damanbir Singh: Featured MBA Advisor

Can you please tell us about your academic and professional background?

My name is Damanbir Singh and I am currently finishing my MBA classes at University of San Francisco. Originally from India (Punjab), I came to the US in 2007 to pursue a Masters in International Management from Portland State University, after completing my Bachelors of Commerce in India. As per my work experience, I have worked in my family business (dairy farming) in India as well as in the US (franchisee for Arco-AMPM retail sites) as an entrepreneur. I also had an interesting opportunity to work with a tech startup in the Bay area. During my studies at USF, I also worked as a part-time TA and as Junior Budget Analyst at University of San Francisco’s Office of Planning and Budgeting. In a nutshell, I would say that I have had some really interesting work opportunities ranging from being an entrepreneur to being an analyst.

Why did you decide to join Centro as an MBA Advisor?

My journey with Centro Community Partners has been quite amazing. I had an opportunity to listen to Arturo Noriega when he had come to USF as a panelist. Afterwards, I met with Arturo and Naldo Peliks when they came to the USF to introduce Centro Community Partners. The work that they do got me really interested. I thought that it was a great opportunity for me to give something back to the community and serve low-income entrepreneurs. Also, I am a strong believer in karma and I do believe that if I do something good, it will come back to me.  I knew that it would be a great opportunity for me for my professional development as well. A lot of people don’t know about is how well connected Naldo and Arturo are. They are always available to introduce you to their network if looking for work/job. I am glad I made the decision to work with Centro Community Partners.

Which businesses / entrepreneurs did you advise?

During my association with Centro, I served three clients as part of two different projects run by Centro. I helped Eden Ayurveda (along with my team member Sephora) owned by Eden, an Ayurvedic practitioner based in Oakland. In another project run by Centro in Fruitvale, I served Cleo (owner of Los Hermanos Meat and Produce Market) and Socorro Martinez (owner of La Torta Loca). I would like to say that it was a great experience. Learning in class and learning by actually doing work like I did at Centro really brought out the best in me. I think the best part of serving these entrepreneurs was to experience how thankful they all were for my work with them. Today as I look back to see them run their business and implement the changes that we collaborated about, I feel I was able to change a few lives. The feeling — well, its hard to put words to describe it.

How has Centro impacted your career trajectory?

After working with Centro, I feel I am more confident as a person. I have started exploring career options that I wasn’t exploring before. I am more open to opportunities that come my way.  As per career trajectory, I am open to working for non-profits and social impact organizations. As of now, I am finishing my MBA classes and applying for jobs along the way.

Mariya Lyublina: Featured MBA Advisor

Can you please tell us about your academic and professional background?

I have an undergraduate degree in Economics with a minor in Urban Studies, as well as an MBA from San Francisco State University. I currently work as a Supervisor at a private financial counseling agency.

Why did you decide to join Centro as an MBA Advisor?

I joined Centro as an MBA Advisor to get hands-on experience working with small businesses in an advisory capacity. Centro provided me with an opportunity to develop strategy and see it implemented by a real business.

Which businesses/entrepreneurs did you advise?

As an MBA Advisor, I advised Anna Tvelova, owner of Anda Piroshki. I was invited to return as a Senior Advisor to work with Stacy from Flirt Nail Lounge and Adriana from Sal de Vida Gourmet.

What advice would you give to future MBA Advisors?

The time commitment was the biggest challenge for me. Time management was key to successfully completing the advising process with a full-time job and other responsibilities. Furthermore, entrepreneurs are extremely busy running their businesses so coordinating times to meet and get tasks done contribute to this challenge. You have to be prepared to make accommodations in your schedule to support the entrepreneur you are working with.

What did you learn during Centro’s program?

I learned to think about strategy from a real-world perspective. I also learned to think realistically about components of a business plan. Sometimes even the best intentions aren’t enough to motivate someone to complete goals they’ve set out for themselves. Ultimately, if you are working with someone, just make sure that you follow through on your promises.

How has Centro impacted your career trajectory?

Centro has provided me with a new perspective on what I really want to do with my MBA. Working with small businesses is challenging, yet extremely rewarding.

Jacob Gelfand: Featured MBA Advisor

Can you please tell us about your academic and professional background?

I earned a BS, summa cum laude, in Political Communication with a minor in History from Emerson College. In May 2012 I completed concurrent degrees from University of San Francisco – a JD, Business Law Certificate with Honors and an MBA in Entrepreneurship.

My professional experiences have traversed the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. After undergrad I worked as a staffer on a gubernatorial campaign and transitioned into roles in various nonprofits doing a mix of public relations, marketing, operations, research, and recruiting. In grad school I found myself drawn more to entrepreneurship and economic development, and increasingly disillusioned with the prospect of practicing law.

I co-founded and led the USF Microfinance Club, a student association dedicated to promoting social finance, helped develop Glamping Hub, a disruptive travel startup currently in the process of negotiating an angel round, and launched Inclusiva Strategies, a business coaching practice dedicated to empowering creative entrepreneurs and executives.

Why did you decide to join Centro as an MBA Advisor?

During my time in the MBA program at USF I participated in an extracurricular program called Working with Entrepreneurs (WwE). Typically, the WwE program would pair MBA students up with companies in emerging markets for a 12-week consulting engagement. In light of my interest in microfinance and the local community, I was serendipitously referred to Centro and soon interviewed for a spot as an MBA Advisor with Centro’s founder, Arturo Noriega, who would later become a trusted mentor and dear friend.

Which businesses/entrepreneurs did you advise?

I advised Shauna Harper, an experienced operations expert who had been working as an internal consultant for Oakland Unified Public School District. Shauna wanted to break off to form her own private consulting firm which could advise school administrators throughout the East Bay and beyond.

Can you tell us about a challenge that you faced?

Shauna and I worked well together and never really struggled to communicate. Our primary challenge was adapting Centro’s entrepreneurship tools and frameworks to her proposed consulting practice, which was dramatically different than the typical Centro small business in terms of its business model, market and sales strategy. Time management proved to be another central challenge due to the fact that Shauna had to balance her day job with her role as a parent of a young son and the demands of Centro’s classes. Ultimately, Shauna put together an excellent business plan and delivered one of the finest presentations of her cohort.

What did you learn during Centro’s program?

I’ve learned so much from my experiences with Centro that it’s difficult to narrow it down – everything from invaluable lessons about cultural and socioeconomic humility to the process of advising clients, overcoming obstacles and managing expectations. To an even greater extent, Centro taught me a lot about myself – where my core strengths lie, what really matters to me, and what I aim to accomplish as a professional.

How has Centro impacted your career trajectory?

My experiences as part of the Centro family and the relationships I have forged along the way have helped me to crystallize my professional identity and purpose. My time as an MBA Advisor at Centro and the professional development work that I underwent with Arturo enabled me to embrace my passion for entrepreneurship and organizational development and take the plunge to launch my own business coaching practice.

What are you up to now?

Updated April 2013: I work as a holistic business coach under the banner of Inclusiva Strategies. My specialty is working with creative professionals to cultivate the business and leadership skills necessary to launch and grow a successful venture. I also author the Little Big Business Blog, and serve as a partner and strategy advisor for Glamping Hub, the world’s premiere online portal for luxury camping and other unique, eco-friendly accommodations. I’m looking forward to volunteering as a senior advisor at Centro for the Fall 2013 cohort!

Séphora Pierre-Louis: Featured MBA Advisor

Can you please tell us about your academic and professional background?

I am currently getting my MBA at Mills College in Oakland with a concentration in nonprofit and marketing. I already have a bachelor degree in Management from Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti and a Master’s degree in Project Management from Quisqueya University of Haiti. My career has been involved in both the profit and nonprofit sectors and I’ve been working in the fields of Management, Sales, and Marketing for more than 14 years. I’m mostly concerned with innovation in business, entrepreneurship, communication, and leadership.

I’ve also been a board and active member of Partners of the Americas (Haiti – New Jersey Chapter) for more than 6 years, which is a grassroots network that seeks to connect volunteers, institutions, and communities to serve and change lives. I am a Distinguished Toastmaster as well, which has allowed me to start many Toastmaster Clubs in Haiti. I have been the Area Governor of Caribbean District 81, and my clubs and area were actually granted the Distinguished President award, the highest honors that Toastmasters offers based on their excellence in accomplishments of a set of goals through innovative strategies.

Why did you decide to join Centro as an MBA Advisor?

When I saw Centro’s presentation at Mills College I was impressed by the work they were doing in the community. Moreover, their approach closely relates to my business plan, which focuses on launching my own nonprofit organization in my home country to assist entrepreneurs with small to medium-sized businesses. I felt a connection and wanted to get the experience of working with an entrepreneur myself so I could understand what it really implies, and eventually transfer this experience to my own project.

Which businesses/entrepreneurs did you advise?

 At her first workshop, Eden poured oil in Séphora’s ears to demonstrate one of her treatments

At her first workshop, Eden poured oil in Séphora’s ears to demonstrate one of her treatments

My entrepreneur was Eden Tosch, a clinical practitioner of Classical Indian Healthcare (CIH or Classical Ayurveda). Her business, Eden Ayurveda, is a sole proprietorship that provides in-depth consultations that guide a wide range of Ayurvedic healing tools.

Can you tell us about a challenge that you faced?

The first challenge I faced was time pressure. Personally, I have the capacity of processing and recording information quickly and I had to adjust this behavior to my entrepreneur’s so we could work in symbiosis and achieve more. I also had to figure out the most efficient communication and leadership skills, such as asking my entrepreneur the right questions that would allow me to get the answers I needed to advise her in the most efficient way.

What did you learn during Centro’s program?

During the program I learned that being a coach is a very challenging duty that requires a good understanding of one’s self. I learned that a coach needs to be firm on goals but flexible on means to achieve those goals. Goals are the best way to stay focused and make sure that every step and action taken is done according to the goals that were set by the entrepreneur.

How has Centro impacted your career trajectory?

 Damanbir Singh (MBA Advisor), Eden Tosch (Entrepreneur), and Séphora Pierre-Louis

Damanbir Singh (MBA Advisor), Eden Tosch (Entrepreneur), and Séphora Pierre-Louis

Centro has given me the experience I need to implement an international program where I will be able to use these effective tools in my country to train small to medium size business entrepreneurs. I won’t need to re-invent the wheels but can adapt and reapply these tools somewhere else for a broader impact.

What are you up to now?

Updated April 2013: I am working on a research project with Women’s Initiative, which ties to a marketing research for my own business plan. The first step for me is to get qualitative and quantitative data on nonprofit organizations that are doing similar activities in the US, specifically in Oakland, California, so that I can learn about the best practices and failures, as well as how I can partner up with organizations for future programs in Haiti.

Emily Adams: Featured MBA Advisor

Can you please tell us about your academic and professional background?

I graduated with highest honors from University of California (UC), Santa Cruz where I received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a concentration in physical anthropology and a minor in earth science. I recently completed my MBA at the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business and I’m passionate about integrating social & environmental impact into for-profit business models. My professional experience includes 5 years working with small businesses and entrepreneurs across a variety of functions, including operations, finance, marketing, and consulting.

Why did you decide to join Centro as an MBA Advisor?

I recognized that Centro would be a unique learning opportunity. As an MBA Advisor not only would I be able to use the skills I was learning in my coursework to help an entrepreneur grow their business, I would also learn lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom; what it’s like working with clients, relationship building, balancing different work and communication styles, dealing with ambiguity, and overcoming the numerous obstacles to small business ownership, just to name a few.

 One of the perks of working with chefs and food entrepreneurs ... the samples!

One of the perks of working with chefs and food entrepreneurs ... the samples!

Which businesses/entrepreneurs did you advise?

Azalina’s Malaysian food cuisine

Can you tell us about a challenge that you faced?

Time. Entrepreneurs and MBA students are inherently busy creatures. Syncing schedules is always rough, and it can be quite a challenge for entrepreneurs to plan for long term growth and stability when there are myriad activities demanding their attention in the present. As the advisor, it is important to manage time well, setting clear deadlines that respect both the entrepreneur’s and your time, and to communicate clearly with the entrepreneur to keep the project moving forward. It can often be challenging but it’s a great opportunity to learn.

What are you up to now?

I just completed my MBA and recently joined One PacificCoast Bank & Foundation as a Financial Analyst and Program Manager.

Eugene Oh: Featured MBA and Senior Advisor

Can you please tell us about your academic and professional background?

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California (UC), Berkeley and worked at Genentech for five years. I then obtained my MBA from Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and joined a cleantech startup doing product marketing.

Why did you decide to join Centro as an MBA Advisor?

I’ve always wanted to give back to the community but struggled with how exactly to do so. Centro offered me the perfect way to use what I was learning in business school for those who needed it to start their businesses.

Which businesses/entrepreneurs did you advise?

Over the last two years, I’ve advised three entrepreneurs who wanted to start or grow the following businesses:

  • A children’s bookstore
  • An organic pet food brand
  • Malaysian food cuisine

Can you tell us about a challenge that you faced?

With every team you will have to learn how to work with people from completely different backgrounds to be successful. This can be a challenge but incredibly valuable in one’s professional and personal life. You learn a lot about patience, humility, perspective, yourself and others!

How has Centro impacted your career trajectory?

I think companies these days are looking for candidates that are well-rounded and are giving back to the community in some way. When interviewing for my current position with my manager, I learned that she worked with the city on women’s advocacy. When I shared about my volunteer work with Centro, we were able to relate to each other on a deeper level which helped me land the job.

What are you up to now?

I am currently a product marketing manager with a company named View. We just launched our product, an energy-efficient tintable glass, and hope to make a big splash in the architectural green building industry.