Ask Andy Paul or Ana Manzano about launching their businesses and they’ll answer with smiles. The two previous winners of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s Calling All Dreamers contest have gone on to successfully launch their dream companies, including brick-and-mortar storefronts that will serve as milestones in the revitalization of downtown’s shopping corridors.
Calling All Dreamers is the retail business plan competition produced by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, wherein local entrepreneurs compete for a prize package designed to help get a business off the ground. This year’s package is worth nearly $100,000 and includes 6 months’ rent, business tutorials and free services from local firms, including branding, printing, legal consultation and communication services. For the latest on this year’s semifinalists, visit DSP’s website.
Andy’s Candy Apothecary, winner of the 2013 contest, opened in December of that year, both online and on 9th Street between J and K streets. Owner Andy Paul recalls the application process as being a real wake-up call.
“You’re at this point where you’ve got to prove you know something, enough to put it together, so you do your research and reach out to your network,” he says. Paul’s hobby turned pro when he tested his passion by committing to the contest and then won the startup package.
At the time, Paul remembers a downtown location seeming like a bit of a gamble, even with the exclusive prize package tied to the area. “The arena was not a certainty. People weren’t sure if the Kings were going to stay here, but it’s worked out really well.” He says the location, near Temple Coffee, sees plenty of foot traffic and exudes a gentle charm that appeals to all ages and levels of candy aficionados.
Paul credits the contest with helping him build relationships between businesses, as companies who had provided free services became trusted hires. “Once you’ve sat down with them, and they know your concept and have helped you through a few things, it’s just the best way to go,” he says.
Like Andy Paul, Ana Manzano’s win parlayed her fledgling brand into a fully realized success in Old Sacramento. Her brand of handmade children’s clothes, Ana Apple, was already popular with the trade show and farmers’ market crowd (including local Project Runway star Richard Hallmarq), but winning Calling All Dreamers in 2014 facilitated a component her fans had been asking for: a storefront.
She had been awarded a rent-free year on L Street by owner AKT Investments, but after some rethinking on the interior layout of the space, Manzano opted to move into a spot in Old Sacramento, which did not come with free rent. AKT decided to support the young entrepreneur regardless, forking over $10,000 to be used as Manzano needs.
“The sponsors have opened so many doors and have all this energy to help — it’s something to emulate,” Manzano says.
Valerie Mamone-Werder, senior business development manager with DSP and point person for the Calling All Dreamers contest, echoes the feeling of collaboration.
“We’re not just cultivating great entrepreneurs but also great spokespeople for downtown Sacramento,” she says. “People here really do want to help new businesses, and they see the value of shaping their downtown into a real destination.”
Ana Apple now occupies 114 K St., in one of the high-ceilinged, narrow spaces Old Sacramento is known for. Manzano opened in time for St. Patrick’s Day, allowing her to capitalize on the parade crowds that fill the streets each year. Though a portion of the shop is yet to come. Behind the front room filled with colorful hand-stitched onesies and tiny t-shirts, Manzano envisions what she calls the greenhouse, a collaborative creative space for classes, events and networking.
“It’s cathartic,” Manzano says of the entrepreneurial experience. “It’s not all wine and roses and bon bons. Sometimes you’ll have to be the janitor or sit waiting at city hall for hours, but it’s all beautiful chaos.”
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