Tag Archives: Boston

Urban Improv Celebrates Another Year at Banned in Boston

Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton (C) performed in the April 26 “Banned in Boston” skit “Downtown Crossing Abbey”...

(Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton (C) performed in the April 26 “Banned in Boston” skit “Downtown Crossing Abbey” at the House of Blues with Urban Improv players Carol Fulp, Barbara Lee and Anita Walker. Joshua Lavine, courtesy of Urban Improv.)

Some of Boston’s biggest celebrities helped Urban Improv celebrate its 20th birthday last week at the House of Blues. Governor Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Mayor Thomas Menino and Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton, among a slew of others, joined the group’s cast for its annual “Banned in Boston” fundraising performance.

Urban Improv is an educational program that helps youths and teaches them, through theater, to tackle difficult issues like violence, bullying and peer pressure in positive ways. At “Banned in Boston” its members and volunteers — including local politicians, entrepreneurs and media personalities ­— use their theatrical talent to enact parodic skits on stage.

The humorous and often musical performances revolve around politics, pop culture, social events and recent news headlines. This year’s themes included Republican candidates and their foibles, cell phone technology, reality television, the Occupy Boston movement and the arrest of South Boston’s notorious mobster Whitey Bulger.

The preliminary cocktail party took place next door at The Lansdowne Pub, where several Boston and Cambridge restaurants provided signature dishes from tasting stations.

Chef Lydia Shire, representing Towne and Scampo, served curry noodles; Paul O’Connell, chef owner of Chez Henri, ladled out bowls of chowder to the crowd; and for a sweet bite, Upstairs on the Square’s co-owner Mary Catherine displayed mini cupcakes and chocolate turtles.

At 7:30 p.m., revelers ambled to the House of Blues, where the celebration continued. Cone-shaped birthday hats, jelly beans, Goldfish crackers and programs topped each table, and waitstaff with trays of wine and cupcakes from Sweet made the rounds. Boston-born David Walton, who now lives in Los Angeles and stars in the NBC series “Bent,” emceed the performance.

The night on stage opened with an energetic greeting from the Urban Improv co-founder Lisa Alvord, followed by a personal account from Shana Auguste, a former student of Urban Improv’s Youth Unscripted program and current member of the program’s artistic staff.

Born and raised in Dorchester, Auguste is now an Emerson College student studying communication. “I was really able to be myself in Urban Improv,” she said. Auguste cited three roles that the program played in her life: a family who provides love and understanding; a teacher with the lessons it offers; and a friend who gives advice and support.

The first skit was “Downtown Crossing Abbey,” a parody of Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey,” a British period piece presented by Masterpiece Theater. The local spoof had the Boston crowd chuckling with characters named Lady Allston-Brighton, Lord Somerville and Chelsea Revere.

After that, Gov. Patrick showed off his vocal chords and Frank Sinatra impression with a ditty called “Drive Me ‘Round the State,” a light-hearted political song sung to the tune of “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Artistic Director Toby Dewey thanked the actors, reminding them and the audience that the performances are making a difference in the Boston community. He noted how far the program has progressed in 20 years. Dewey explained that Urban Improv is an educational program that uses improvisational theater to promote “three-dimensional learning … using the mind, body and emotions.”

(This article originally appeared in an April 2012 issue of the Bay State Banner.)

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Valentine’s Day Massage


Aloha and happy February!
Winter is halfway over, the days are getting longer, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
Aloha Boston Massage wants to help you make this a memorable holiday for yourself and that special someone.

What better way to heat up the season and honor Cupid than with a relaxing massage?
It’s a gift that your sweetheart will never forget.


Here are seven great reasons to say “I love you” with a massage this Valentine’s Day:

1) It’s low-carb and easier on your blood sugar (and hips) than a Russell Stover chocolate sampler.

2) Shoveling snow is hard work after a Nor’easter. Thank your loved one for all of that hard work with the promise of having those knots kneaded out.

3) It is cheaper and easier to book than dinner for two (or even one) at O-Ya.

4) Natural and healthy, it is non-GMO and appeals to every taste: no dairy, gluten, peanuts, pesticides, additives, preservatives, artificial colors or sweeteners added!

5) A massage is a much grander gesture than a last-minute Hallmark card or stuffed puppy holding a heart.

6) Of course she loves you, but this is a way to guarantee that she leaves fully satisfied. (Uh, relaxed, that is…haha!)

7) For all of the single folks, show your appreciation to the greatest loved one of all: yourself!

So, what are you waiting for? Buy a gift certificate or book your Valentine’s Day massage today!


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FoMu: An Alternative Ice Cream Experience


(Astrid Lium photos)

Vegan ice cream sounds like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp. But this ostensible contradiction bears a striking resemblance to the original milky treat. With the help of FoMu (as in “faux moo”), the non-dairy alternative is quickly scooping out a niche in Boston’s ice cream market.

FoMu is a specialty shop offering vegan-friendly alternatives to the usual ice cream options. According to co-owner Deena Jalal, “it is like ice cream for foodies.” At the two store locations, customers of all dietary backgrounds can choose from unconventional flavors like avocado, Thai chili peanut, and rice honey lavender alongside the more traditional vanilla bean or chocolate.


Jalal and her husband, Hin Tang, opened the first FoMu alternative ice cream shop and café in Allston on May 30, 2012, but the idea was a decade in the making. Jalal believes that the business move was a fateful one.

“The universe just aligned us right,” she says. “And it flowed.”

Jalal and Tang initially embarked on more conventional career paths––in marketing and finance, respectively. But the entrepreneurial couple had dreams that transcended life in corporate America.

“For years we said, ‘we’ll open an ice cream place someday,’ ” Jalal recalls. “We always had the dream in the back of our heads.”


The duo created their local, vegan, non-dairy, gluten-free product with widespread dietary restrictions in mind. They have a growing number of friends and family members with allergies and lactose intolerance, whom they wanted to accommodate while also creating a healthy treat with broader appeal.

Jalal and Tang started with coconut milk because of the health benefits, flavor, and low rate of coconut allergies. Containing omega fatty acids, vitamins B and C, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc, coconut provided a natural, healthy alternative to cow’s milk.

“It’s a cure for everything,” Jalal says.

They added almond and cashew-based blends for some frozen creams, and a soy base for the soft serve options. Agave and unrefined organic cane sugar provide the sweetness. Gluten-free cones and toppings are available for the wheat-free customers. FoMu’s kitchen is located in Watertown, where small batches of ice cream are made daily and delivered. Local partners include Taza chocolate, George Howell coffee, MEM Tea, and Bonnieville cookies.


The couple started by selling their product to local cafés, including Veggie Planet and Life Alive. The demand grew quickly, prompting Jalal and Tang to open their own shop. They found a space in a predominantly vegetarian corner of Allston, near other vegan-friendly restaurants like Grasshopper and Deep Ellum.

The name, which is self-explanatory, also has a sense of humor. “More effort went into that name than our own son’s name!” Jalal says with a laugh. “We wanted to embody what we were putting out with something abstract and obvious.”

They applied the same thoughtfulness and fun to the dynamic menu, which expands and changes slightly with the seasons. The inspirations generally come from foods and beverages that Jalal, Tang, and their loved ones enjoy. Paying homage to a friend who frequently ordered dark n’ stormy cocktails, they transformed the rum-based drink into an ice cream flavor. Thai peanut stemmed from Jalal’s love of Thai food. Salted caramel, the shop’s biggest seller, seemed like an obvious choice.

But not all of the experiments translated so well. “Unfortunately, sriracha didn’t work out,” Jalal says. “It was too garlicky, and that’s gross.”


FoMu immediately attracted a loyal following of vegans, lactose intolerant customers, alternative foodies with a sweet tooth, and health-conscious parents treating their kids. Regulars began to encourage a second location in the funky, vegetarian-friendly neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. Taking their advice, the co-owners found a vacant space on Centre Street. They opened the second shop in the former shoe store, Got Sole, on April 16, 2013.

Jalal attributes FoMu’s popularity to the alternative options it provides, as well as the overall quality of their product. She notes that many of the patrons are animal-free for varying reasons, both personal and political. Many first-time patrons don’t realize that the ice cream is non-dairy.

“Across the board, people come in, they try it, and they like it,” Jalal says. “We use good ingredients. There’s not a lot of crap in it.”


The friendly atmosphere and unconventional flavors attract employees along with customers. FoMu’s staff currently includes about 30 workers. Some of them, like Vanessa Saravia, started as patrons.

She discovered the shop while doing laundry in the neighborhood and started working there in June. Saravia moved from her home in California to attend Boston College, and began to miss the robust food culture that she believes Boston lacks. FoMu helped assuage the homesickness with its tight-knit community and unique flavors.

“It’s like ice cream with personality,” she says. “I’m not even vegan, but I still come in here on my days off.”

Her favorite parts of her job include the mandatory ice cream tasting and the connections she makes with customers, particularly the weekend regulars. When she started, Saravia recalls the patience and reassurance of the patrons, who recognized her as the new girl in the shop. They offered encouragement rather than frustration when she was learning the ropes.

Her weeklong training included an education of the shop’s health-conscious philosophy; a crash course in the ingredients and health benefits; a hands-on apprenticeship of the specialty coffees; and, of course, taste testing the goods.


(FoMu co-workers Vanessa Saravia [left] and Megan Ramette take a break at the Allston shop.)

Saravia’s co-worker, Megan Ramette, offers samples to an eclectic crowd of customers on a Sunday afternoon. A six-person, three-generation family stands in line, trying bites of cardamom pistachio and cherry amaretto before placing their final orders. Tattooed men in black tee shirts with skulls and eagles sample the smaller variety of nut blends. Bespectacled hipsters in skinny jeans test out the chunky chocolate flavors.

Ramette offers each one with a smile and asks every patron if they would like to try another.

“I get tons of questions and requests for lots of samples,” she says. “You can try as many as you’d like. You want to know what you’re gonna get, right?”

Roxbury resident Jacquinn Williams frequents Jamaica Plain’s restaurant-strewn Centre Street, where she first discovered FoMu. Both lactose and soy-intolerant, Williams embraces the vegan ice cream option, and returns to the shop regularly. Her favorite flavors include saffron rosewater, honey lavender, maple walnut, and mango habanero.

“Life for me is all about reading [food] labels and avoiding most fast food and semi-slow food eateries,” she says. “If I could eat [at FoMu] every day and not be fat, I would.”


(A small cup serving of bourbon maple walnut ice cream)

Jalal acknowledges that FoMu doesn’t appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t shake her confidence in the product. She doesn’t deem J.P. Licks, located just blocks away in Jamaica Plain, a competitor. There is enough room in the neighborhood for the traditional and alternative non-dairy counterparts.

“We really are such a specialty product,” says Jalal. “We’re supplementing, not competing, with a healthier, more conscious product.”

With two retail shops established and a growing fan base, Jalal and Tang remain open to expanding their retail and wholesale sales. The goals include more Boston locations as well as business at high-end grocers like Whole Foods.

The couple take the same laid-back and open-minded approach to the future in the same way they have every other step of the process. Again, Jalal emphasizes the importance of not forcing circumstances and simply letting them flow. In the meantime, she spends every day between the two shops, doing what she loves.

“I have an awesome job,” Jalal says. “It’s ice cream!”

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Divas Uncorked on Wine, Women, and Friendship

(The ladies of Divas Uncorked: Carole Alkins, Stephanie Browne, Gert Cowan, Barbara Cruz, Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard, Katherine Kennedy, Karen Holmes Ward, Paula Wright. ~ Photo courtesy of Divas Uncorked.)

Like many women, Carolyn Hebsgaard and Karen Holmes Ward enjoyed drinking wine socially, although they admit that they knew little about it. When ordering at a restaurant, their wine specifications rarely extended beyond “red” and “white.”

That changed in 1999, when Hebsgaard, Ward and 10 of their girlfriends decided to educate themselves, and other women, about the history of wine and the art of drinking it. What started as casual gatherings over snacks and Chardonnay expanded into the tour de force known as Divas Uncorked.

For nearly 13 years, the Divas have transformed the fun pastime of sipping wine with friends into a successful side business, international phenomenon and lifelong adventure. “It’s like a hobby run amok,” Hebsgaard chuckles.

Today, eight of the original 12 core members of Divas Uncorked remain committed to the organization and to each other. More than social wine drinkers and business associates, the ladies have become entrepreneurs, experts and the best of friends. “When I have a get together, the first people on my list are the Divas,” says Hebsgaard, a consultant and executive director for the Boston Lawyers Group. “We will always have the Divas in some form, regardless of the business.”

The idea for Divas Uncorked stemmed from dinner outings at Marché, a former restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay area. While working together with The National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW), a nonprofit organization, Hebsgaard and Ward joined four other members after meetings for food, wine and conversation. After visiting the restaurant’s wine cellar, the women realized how little they knew about what they were drinking.

Stephanie Browne, an Information Technology expert and another co-founder of Divas Uncorked, insisted that the group learn more about wine on their own. She offered to host the first dinner party, which she modeled on her mother’s bridge club parties. The six women each invited a friend — totaling 12 professional, self-proclaimed A-type divas, now in their 50s and 60s — forming the core group of the organization. Kicking off the festivities at 2 p.m., the ladies ate, drank and merrily studied the history of wine until midnight.

“The beginning of Divas Uncorked happened innocently,” says Ward, a television host and producer at WCBV-TV. “We just wanted to learn about wine in a fun and relaxed way. Like a ‘spoonful of sugar,’ studying wine is easier with friends.”

The relatively simple fêtes morphed into themed, five-course dinners replete with gift exchanges, guest lecturers and hours of laughter. Friends of the Divas heard about their wine parties and envied the regular celebrations.

Shortly thereafter, they started planning public wine dinners with local experts, including Alicia Towns, wine director at Grill 23, and Jody Adams, chef/owner of Rialto, who appeared on the reality television program “Top Chef.” The dinners grew into larger conferences, attracting a turnout of more than 100 women per gathering.

The get-togethers underscored the importance of friendship while bonding over wine education. The Divas aim to teach women about wine in a fun, relaxed fashion while boosting self-confidence when making wine choices. Having learned the nuances of their own wine preferences while strengthening friendships, the founders of Divas Uncorked want to encourage and teach other women to do the same.

Ward can now describe to sommeliers what she wants to order or pair with appropriate dishes. “I can’t necessarily say that I want a bottle of 1978 such-and-such,” she says. “But I can now attach adjectives to my description and articulate specific preferences.” From her education with Divas Uncorked, Ward has learned that the oaky, vanilla flavors which appeal to her fit the profile of a Chardonnay. Conversely, the grassy, citrus flavors that she avoids are characteristic of a Sauvignon Blanc.

According to the Divas, women are largely neglected by the male-dominated industry and receive less attention from salespeople at wine shops and liquor stores. Ward explains that men and women shop differently for wine. While men tend to spend more money, often to impress a woman, women generally seek value or follow a recommendation. “The wine industry certainly wasn’t responsive to women or people of color,” Hebsgaard says. “So, like divas, we took it on ourselves!”

Since their inception, Divas Uncorked have caught the media’s attention, appearing in O Magazine, Edible Boston and Reuters, as well as a stint on NBC’s “Today Show.” Also, in their free time, the ladies, all of whom have full-time professions outside of Divas Uncorked, represent at food and wine festivals, including South Beach and Martha’s Vineyard; manage their own website (www.divasuncorked.com); sell their own wine, Divas Uncorked Chardonnay, which is produced by the Mendocino Wine Company; and organize wine tasting cruises called Divas at Sea.

Their progress has been conspicuous, although not always easy. Hebsgaard explains that gaining financial support and securing sponsorship for their cause has been challenging. “I still consider us a startup,” she says. “It’s really hard out there for women, especially women of color, to run a successful business.”


The obstacles have not deterred the Divas, who plan to continue growing, both personally and professionally. “The more we learn about wine, the more we want to share,” says Hebsgaard. “The best way to do that is to create audiences with groups of women. Just when we thought ‘this is good enough,’ something else would come up.”

The next thing up for the Divas is their second annual cruise in September, when they will sail around the Mediterranean Sea for 11 days. As advertised on their site, the “wine savvy, not wine snobby” ladies invite interested parties to join them and a sommelier on board to learn about wine and visit Italy, Turkey and the Greek Islands.

Although the Divas pride themselves on “first-class, five-star service” for their events, they also stress the importance of humility in their organization. Ward claims that their goal is to demystify the process of ordering and learning about wine, as well as removing the “Frasier Crane, snooty approach.”

The future of Divas Uncorked has not been determined, but the cohesion of the core group of friends is stronger than ever. “The thing I know for certain is that we’ll be together for the rest of our lives,” Hebsgaard says. “We will always have the thing we started with: wine, food, friendship.”

(This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Exhale magazine.)

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Poppin’ Tags in Boston: Think Globally, Thrift Locally

Poppin’ tags: v., Popping off tags of higher-priced merchandise and switching for clearance or lower-priced tags; shopping for goods (especially clothing) in abundance.

Thrifting: v., The act of shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, consignment shop or other charitable organization.

Poppin’ Tags in Boston: Think Globally, Thrift Locally from Astrid Lium on Vimeo.

Even if footy pajamas or broken keyboards don’t make their shopping lists, consumers can unearth stylish goods with only 20 dollars in their pocket. In a slumping economy, frugality has made a comeback. With influences like Macklemore––whose single “Thrift Shop” has gone viral and topped Billboard charts––shoppers, particularly youth, boast a cachet of cool while “poppin’ tags” on a shoestring budget.

For decades secondhand goods have generated a cult following, an alternative market for lower incomes, and a source of unique finds for fringe fashion, costumes and theme parties. More recently, the list has expanded to include diverse appeal, reflected in an increase in resale donations, consignment shops and a growing online presence.

Compounded by a pop culture endorsement and an accompanying lexicon of slang terms, “thrifting” has hit the mainstream. As the economy limps toward recovery, discussions about carbon footprints abound, and “green” trends gain momentum, the used goods industry expands its niche.


According to NARTS, The Association of Retail Professionals, the resale industry in the United States currently generates approximately $13 billion per year. A member of the association, Goodwill Industries, accounted for about $3.53 billion of retail sale revenue in 2012. Established in 1902, Goodwill Industries now operates more than 2700 stores and continues to grow.

Buffalo Exchange, a secondhand chain known for funky clothing and accessories, started with a 450 sq. ft. shop in 1974. Since then, the company has expanded to 43 locations in 15 states, including two stores in Boston and Cambridge. Buffalo Exchange claims that its clothing is “by the community, for the community” with the majority of goods sold locally.

Using statistics from the consumer research firm, America’s Research Group, NARTS reports that 16-18 percent of Americans shop at thrift stores annually, and 12-15 percent patronize consignment shops. In comparison, about 11 percent prefer factory outlet malls, 19 percent opt for apparel stores, and 21 percent shop at major department stores.


“It’s a sign of the times,” says Dasan Harrington, a regular thrift store shopper and donator.

He and his wife, Zoraida, both 38, frequent secondhand shops around Boston for bargains. The couple live in Dorchester with their two children, and venture to Boomerangs thrift store in West Roxbury a few times per month. While he peruses the store’s eclectic CD collection, she searches for rain gear.

“I look at everything,” Mr. Harrington says. “You can find good stuff that’s unique.”

Sometimes they leave empty-handed, he admits, but on this particular visit the duo found nearly matching trench coats. Other patrons thumb through paperbacks, test the buoyancy of sofa cushions, and cinch belts around gently worn slacks and dresses.


Owned and operated by the non-profit organization AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts (AAC), Boomerangs thrift stores invest their proceeds to the committee’s work. Founded in 1983, the AAC aims to educate, help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and provide support for those affected by the virus.

Boomerangs’s Director of Community Outreach Liz Donovan asks a cash-paying customer, “Do you mind if I give you a lot of random change?”

Her question reflects the Boomerangs shopping experience: a montage of different donations, styles, volunteers, and customers. The store attracts disparate groups of people and products to form a diverse community.

“People are bumping into each other here who wouldn’t elsewhere,” she says. “They speak different languages and run in different circles, but talk to each other when they’re shopping. Rich people antiquating mix with poorer people on a budget who need the discounted items.”


Donovan, whose own wardrobe is comprised of Boomerangs items, has seen the company expand to four locations: West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, The South End, and Central Square in Cambridge. She attributes the steady growth to a variety of affordable goods, well-organized merchandise, a welcoming atmosphere, and a loyal base of donators, patrons and volunteers. Also, in the last few months, social media and the the song “Thrift Shop” have boosted interest in the store.

“People play the song on their phones while they’re shopping here,” Donovan says. “Students come in at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning and Tweet things like ‘Poppin’ tags @ Boomerangs’. It’s fun and has been a boon to business, prompting conversation.”

She views thrifting and  recycling clothing, accessories, furniture and home goods as a step in the right direction. As shoppers embellish items––by altering, painting or sewing them––they make them more their own and, according to Donovan, participate more in their own lives.


The charitable, local and musical elements of thrifting have boosted sales for The Thrift Shop in Roslindale, as well, according to store manager Chris Roth.

Relying on local donations, the store’s sales benefit The Home For Little Wanderers (or The Home), a Boston-based non-profit organization. Established in 1926, the organization provides services––including counseling, foster care, life skills training and mentoring––for Boston youth and families. Originally based in Jamaica Plain, the shop moved to Roslindale, a more affordable neighborhood, 12 years ago.

“Roslindale Square has changed,” Roth says. “To get well established in an area takes time, and we have grown with the community.”


With two full-time employees, three part-time workers, and ten dedicated volunteers, the store has maintained a loyal following while generating more money for its cause. Since the 2008 downturn in the economy, Roth noticed more furniture donations. Despite financial struggles, his year the sales reached a record high of $125,000 for The Home.

Roth believes that people are more open to shopping at thrift stores. While some view it as a hobby, other for others approach thrifting as a way to pay it forward. “Some people buy in bulk, but I feel like they’re often doing it for others,” he says. “Some guy bought a dozen dresses, probably for a women’s shelter.”

As for Macklemore’s hit song, Roth noticed that teenagers have stopped by the store with greater frequency in the last year. “Kids have started ironically coming in with more curiosity and interest.” he says.


Kristina Nederosleva, co-owner of Deja Vu in Newton, has transformed her consignment hobby into a full-time business. She moved to Boston for graduate school in 2009 and wanted to generate income while studying.

“I figured there had to be a way to make money, short of selling myself on the street,” she says with a shrug and a giggle.

What started as a quick way to make cash for a weekend getaway––with a bag of clothing, a trip to Buffalo Exchange, and $70 in her pocket––quickly grew into Simple Exchanges, a consignment business operated from her one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge. Nederosleva wanted to provide a service and simplify the process between buyer and seller by removing unnecessary steps and splitting the profit with her donators.

While running Simple Exchanges, Nederosleva researched the details of the industry, and worked part-time at the consignment shop Second Time Around. She moved to Deja Vu in September 2012, where she worked part time until buying into the store in February, which she now co-owns with Oksana Pan. Carrying a array of brands from Ann Taylor and Oilily to Kate Spade and Gucci, Deja Vu attracts an diverse demographic of shoppers.

“Everybody likes to shop and customers get upset if they can’t find something,” she says. “We see such a wide range of age, income and personality. Someone might carry a Chanel wallet, but she’ll come in and buy a $10 one here.”


Nederosleva attributes the initial growth to a slipping economy, and longstanding success to perennial elements like personal service, local charm and unique finds. She believes that fads or popular songs have less long-term influence on the popularity of her shop or the industry in general.

She has noticed rapid growth for both Deja Vu and the local consignment business in general, noting that 10 to 12 secondhand store have opened around Boston within the last couple of years. “They’re all still here,” Nederosleva says. “This [business] isn’t going to die out.”

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Pipeline Fellowship Promotes Women Investors

(A. Lauren Abele, COO of Pipeline Fellowship, and on the right is Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline.)

Although women constitute a slight majority of the population, they are vastly underrepresented in the business world. The Pipeline Fellowship intends to change all of that.

With Natalia Oberti Noguera at the helm, the Pipeline Fellowship is expanding the business model and changing its dynamic. The hands-on organization focuses on for-profit business ventures with social impact led by women who pitch their startup ideas to a panel of female investors trained by mentors and business experts.

As clearly stated on its homepage, the organization’s mission is to train “women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring and practice. Fellows commit to invest in a woman-led, for-profit social venture in exchange for equity and a board seat at the end of the training. The Pipeline Fellowship aims to diversify the investor pool and connect women social entrepreneurs with investors who get them.”

Based in New York City, the Pipeline Fellowship has recently expanded into Boston, announcing its 10 fellows in November 2011. The group consists of professional women with varying backgrounds, ranging from education and journalism to law and real estate development. Likely to donate to nonprofit organizations, the fellows have the opportunity through the organization to maintain a focus on social change while investing in for-profit companies, primarily led by women.

“Women-led doesn’t mean women only,” Natalia, founder and CEO of the Pipeline Fellowship, says with a smile. “But I am a big fan of women only.” The 10 fellows each invest $5,000, which is combined and invested in one woman-based for-profit business with a social conscience. The winner is chosen among several applicants and is awarded $50,000 to use for developing her startup. During the six-month process, the fellows are guided by mentors — comprised of successful entrepreneurs and angel investors, both men and women — and taught the basics of choosing and investing in women-based businesses with potential.

At the Boston Pipeline Fellowship Pitch Summit on February 24, nine female entrepreneurs shared their business plans — ranging from home health care to beauty products — with the 10 fellows.

Siiri Morley, founding partner of Prosperity Candle, which creates at-home candle-making business opportunities for women in war torn and post-disaster countries, says that her company is “creating tchotchkes with a cause.” Morley opened her pitch with a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Investing in women isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.”

But providing a platform for women entrepreneurs fulfills only one part of the Pipeline Fellowship’s objective. Natalia primarily focuses on the investing side of business with her organization. Noting that there is no dearth of hybrid entrepreneurs, she underscores the need for more hybrid investors. Claiming that only 12 percent of venture capitalists are women, and a mere 5 percent are racial minorities, Natalia says, “we need to increase diversity in the angel investor sector,” which is what the Pipeline Fellowship is attempting to achieve with its program.

Her intent is to combine the business models — merging of the public and private sectors — and make women-based hybrids a more common alternative. Having heard how difficult the for-profit model is, she notes the binary nature of the traditional business world. “The options are either nonprofit or for-profit,” Natalia says. “But it can be both!”

Without seeking donations or grants, the Pipeline Fellowship aims to create and expand upon a self-sustaining system with a social mission. “We’re combining the business savvy of the corporate world with the heart of the nonprofit world,” says Natalia. “The world really needs more hybrids.”

Deeming herself a hybrid, as well, Natalia explains that she “is very comfortable with ambiguities.” Half-Italian and half-Colombian, the Yale graduate grew up speaking English, Spanish and Italian and later studied French and Russian in school. Her father worked for the United Nations, and the family moved around frequently, which helped Natalia develop her adaptability. With an international, multi-lingual upbringing, she transcends categorization with ease.

Natalia’s parting word of advice: learn a second language, if you haven’t done so already. “It really expands one’s mindset,” she says. “Knowing that there is more than one word for ‘glass’ is very powerful.”

(This article originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Exhale magazine.)

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