The Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) is proud to present the winners of this year’s Women-Owned Business Accelerator (WOBA) grants: Orsa Modica, owner of Modica’s Deli; Maggie Stoll, sole proprietor of the clothing and gift shop Burke Mercantile; and the co-owners of the fashion shop 3 Women, Crystal Early and Natalie Mumford. The winning businesses will split a cash grant of $10,000 and receive free coaching starting early next year.

The WOBA program was created four years ago by DLBA in partnership with the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and is funded by Farmers & Merchants Bank. “The overall objective of the program is to provide financing and technical support to women entrepreneurs in Downtown Long Beach that will lead to long term growth and stability,” said Dr. Wade Martin, Director of the Institute. “The programming support is tailored to the specific needs of the winning businesses. It is important that each business get the support it needs, both financially and with respect to the coaching and education. The Institute is proud to support the businesses and their owners.”

Crystal Early and Natalie Mumford of 3 Women

All Downtown businesses owned or majority-owned by women, including those in the start-up phase, were invited to apply for the WOBA grant program through advertising and outreach spearheaded by Austin Metoyer, DLBA’s Economic Development and Policy Manager. Applicants were required to: be located within the DLBA’s Downtown Business & Parking Improvement Area (DPBIA) and have an active business license within DPBIA boundaries; be a for-profit business; have fewer than 24 employees; and have or be able to raise matching funds to receive their award.

Applications were reviewed in October by Dr. Wade Martin, Metoyer, and Dr. Ingrid M. Martin, Director of MBA Programs and Professor of Marketing at CSULB’s College of Business Administration. After three finalists were selected, they presented their business model and funding request in an eight-minute pitch to DLBA’s Economic Development Committee, which decided to award and split the grant between all three of them.

Orsa Modica of Modica’s Deli

The WOBA winners will participate in a four-part Innovation and Entrepreneurship Workshop Series at CSULB, and will then receive six months of individualized coaching from Kena Fuller, Executive Director of Downtown-based Fuller Management Corporation, who specializes in small business development.

“Prior to last March, when the first COVID-related stay-at-home order was given, I was open six days a week and 60 percent of my business was from people walking into my East Village store,” said Stoll. “Now, my business is [nearly]100 percent online. It was a huge challenge learning how to make this pivot. It’s a totally different ball game to run an online shop.

“I will be using the grant money to build out a stockroom and increase my inventory to support online sales,” Stoll continued. “Also, I will be investing in digital marketing and optimizing those online channels that now drive my business. The coaching and workshops will help me learn to approach these new things more strategically.”

Maggie Stoll of Burke Mercantile

Early and Mumford, who are Stoll’s nextdoor neighbors in the East Village, specialize in creating sustainable fashion from vintage textiles and are known for their distinctive creations made from vintage flour and feed sacks. “We will be using the grant to pursue another direction for our company: printing our own designs inspired by vintage textiles, on vintage fabric yardage,” said Mumford.

Modica has owned and operated Modica’s Deli at the corner of Linden Avenue and Ocean Boulevard for 24 years. An East Village mainstay, the deli serves City workers, first responders, and neighbors in the Downtown community. Along with other restaurant owners in Los Angeles County, Modica is facing a unique set of challenges due to new restrictions on dining and drinking establishments. Her intent with the grant money was to make improvements to the deli’s parklet for outdoor dining, but that is on hold due to current health protocols banning in-person dining for at least three weeks. Even so, she is pleased with the support and guidance she will be receiving.”I am so grateful for DLBA,” she said. “They have done everything in their power to help me. I feel so much love from this city.”

All three WOBA winners advise other Downtown small businesses to seek out assistance they may not yet know is available. “We encourage our neighbors in the community to take advantage of the many resources we have here in Downtown Long Beach, particularly DLBA,” said Early. “There are wonderful people there who really want to help.”