At causenation, the corporate philanthropy programs we like best are the ones that get us up off the couch with a fist-pumping cheer for the people that cause initiatives help. So today we give a big “You Go Girl!” to Lucy Valena of Voltage Coffee who was featured yesterday on CNN’s American Morning.
I love hanging out with Lucy and drinking her lattes. Her story has inspired me, as I hope it will inspire you. Lucy is just one of the microentrepreneurs who have received a microloan and business coaching through the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program, in partnership with nonprofit microlender ACCION USA.
Lucy is an example of the amazing spirit of small business heroes who put it all on the line every day in dedication to their craft. She is representative of the many independent, small business owners who are the faces of Main Street America. Her business and her life are so inextricably intertwined – the success of one is synonymous with the stability of the other.
During a recent speech, Lucy described her business journey to other passionate entreprenuers. With her permission, I am happy to share it here with you…. “Voltage Coffee is an espresso catering service that strives to provide the hands-down best cup of coffee you can get in Boston. It is an entirely mobile, self-sufficient café that only requires one electrical socket and a few square feet of floor space to operate. The set-up consists of a table with an espresso machine and grinders, and the barista (that’s me) makes lattes, cappuccinos and other drinks to order. Catered towards art gallery openings, weddings, office meetings, small house parties, etc., it provides a fresh and unique addition to a wide variety of events.
While there are in fact three other espresso caterers in Boston right now, the quality of the product Voltage Coffee prepares will separate us from the rest. We have sourced the most delicious, freshly-roasted coffee beans in the Boston area, and instead of using artificially flavored syrups to sweeten lattes, we use a combination of homemade sauces, infusions of fresh citrus peels and spices, and various natural sweeteners to enhance the flavor of the espresso. The coffee and chocolate we use is all fair-trade certified or directly-traded, and we use organic sweeteners, mostly alternatives to cane sugar, in our specialty drinks.
I first became interested in coffee in high school. Java has a rich past as an agent of change in human history and I was fascinated with the parallels that can be drawn between coffee and its culinary cousins tea and chocolate. After graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in studio art, I went to Seattle and lived there for a little while. Seattle is a wonderful city filled with wonderful coffee, and I ended up working at a few different cafés and learning what is considered in the Pacific Northwest to be a legitimate art form; the craft of espresso extraction and pouring latte art.
When I decided to make this business a reality, I bought some books and quickly realized that I had never done anything like this ever before. Though it’s a little metaphysical, I would have to say that the biggest challenge I have been facing throughout this process has been learning how to not think like an artist. I have spent much of my life trying to work through visual problems such as the affect that color has on space. While creativity is crucial for many aspects of business development, it is just not welcome when it’s time to work out a good accounting system or plow through all the paperwork.
Lots of people go to business school and get thorough training in how to think like business people, but for those of us who get involved in entrepreneurship simply as a vehicle for making our dreams come true, the path can be a little more difficult. This is why programs like this one here tonight are so valuable.
This summer, the time I wasn’t working my day job or sleeping was mostly divided between writing my business plan and research and development. I crunched numbers, wrote and rewrote until my ideas made sense, and conducted experiments with espresso and an assortment of random ingredients in hopes of finding tasty combinations. When my business plan was finally finished, I went to the SBA and met with a representative from SCORE to discuss what I should do next. I needed a loan, but because of my age I am not exactly the first person an average bank would hand cash to, even back in August. The business councilor at the SBA literally read my entire business plan cover to cover (while I squirmed in my seat), and afterwards suggested ACCION as a good place to start.
I called ACCION and started the loan application right away. The staff people there were tremendously helpful in guiding me through the process. After I had been approved for the loan and went to pick up my check, one staff member even got on the phone with my mother to explain to her how to add her electronic signature to the co-borrower form.
I was very pleased when I learned that the money I had received had come from Samuel Adams, as I respect the company and the product. I am an enthusiastic resident of JP, and love the fact that a business local to my community has already helped me out. I will also be doing my business through Nuestra Culinary Ventures, which is a cooperative commercial kitchen facility right here in the Samuel Adams Brewery complex.
Although every businessperson is essentially alone on a path heading towards an unknown destination, I feel very grateful to ACCION and to Samuel Adams for helping me get on that path faster and for providing me with this exciting community of potential mentors and colleagues. Thank you for your support, and thank you for believing in me.”