Category Archives for Kiva U.S. Loans

Meet Carleen – How We’re Fostering Entrepreneurship in Southwest Florida

meet carleen - how we're fostering entrepreneurship in southwest florida

Investing in programs that boost entrepreneurship in Southwest Florida is one of our key priorities. Our B3 for Women and Kiva U.S loans programs work to eliminate the barriers to economic and social equality by helping local women entrepreneurs access interest-free capital and entrepreneurial resources. To celebrate Women’s History Month we’re highlighting some of our past program participants and celebrating the work they’re doing to shape Southwest Florida’s business landscape.

Meet Carleen

Carleen is one of our Kiva U.S Loans program participants. She started her business, Imagine Wellness Spa with a $5,000 Kiva loan, which she repaid, and used to establish herself in Southwest Florida. Carleen repaid her initial loan and returned for a second round of funding. Raising a $10,000 interest-free loan to expand her business.

We sat down with Carleen for a brief interview to hear her entrepreneurship story and her advice for emerging entrepreneurs.

Tell us about your business?
Imagine By Carleen is about helping people find and enhance their “best beautiful self”. The Imagine Wellness Spa is my main outlet for this vision right now. As a Wellness Spa, I combine my skills as an Esthetician and wellness advocate along with skills of like-minded professionals, including massage therapy, esthetics, wellness coaching, to provide a single spa-like experience for people to get on the path to their “best beautiful self”. My business model includes a mentorship program to build up the professionals that share my space as independent business owners, helping them also find and enhance their own “best beautiful self” through realizing their full potential as a practitioner and business owner.

How did you start your business?
I started in CT as a makeup artist while seeking new employment in my corporate career during the economic downturn. What started as a small little side gig grew legs and ultimately became what it is now.

What role did the Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation play at the beginning of your business?
When I moved to Florida with the idea of rolling my part-time business out to a full-time career I began in a small rental location. I was introduced to the Women’s Foundation as a resource to support me to grow my business through the Kiva loan process. I knew some funding would be helpful but really didn’t think I would qualify through traditional methods since my business was so small and new. The interest-free loan I received was just what I needed to get started!

Tell us about the process of growing your business (Big lessons, challenges, etc.)
The Kiva loan allowed me to move my business to a larger location with better access for clients. I was then challenged with finding practitioners to share the space and managing the growth and cash flow. I drew upon my former corporate background to build operating procedures, business plans and goals. I learned that I needed to think like a CEO, not an Esthetician and focus on all of the parts of my business, hiring help where needed in accounting, marketing, front desk staff, etc. Each step felt monumental and sometimes scary! But, as I looked down Cape Coral Pkwy, I knew if all of those other businesses could do it, surely I could…and I prayed!

“I think the single most lesson I learned is that this was my
calling and when I let God lead me it worked. When I tried to do things without Devine
guidance, they didn’t work out so well.”

What do you think it’s the biggest reason for your success?
First I give all the glory to God. Secondly, I treat the clients individually as each one is the most important part of my day and work hard to be very present with each one and serve them the best way I can. Thirdly, I work with the practitioners that share my space as a mentor and share everything I learn with them.

Do you consider yourself a leader? How do you define leadership?

Yes, I am a leader. Leadership is empowering others to be strong in their purpose and humble in their execution of it.

What has been an obstacle you’ve faced, that has made you stronger?

When faced with outgrowing my second location the best business decision was to purchase the next location. I had no means for a down payment but I pursued the opportunity anyway and through my faith I was able to secure an SBA loan with owner financing for the down payment. Owning this property has enabled me to grow stronger as a business owner and also as a woman responsible for my own destiny. As a result, my business continues to flourish.

What are your goals for this year?

My goals for this year include a new license in permanent makeup, which I just accomplished. To grow the team of practitioners so I can step away from my business more often and achieve some balance in my personal life. To increase the revenue in my business by a minimum of 20% and increase profitability by a minimum of 36%.

What advice would you give to women who are just starting their business?

Don’t underestimate your goals, your dreams, or your ability to accomplish them. This is a huge challenge for women to overcome so seek help in putting these things together, a mentor or accountability coach. You can start a business with little capital, but in order to sustain it, you need to grow and in order to grow it, you will ultimately need some funding.
This is where seeking the right kind of support comes in handy.

As women we are used to doing everything ourselves, try not to get yourself caught in that kind of thinking.

The day only has 24 hours, what tips and tools do you use to stay productive?
First things first. Determine and plan the most important things to do each day, always including self-care in that list (quiet time, working out, etc).

What projects are you working on right now?
Long term project for the year: Documenting all of my protocols, procedures, contracts, business reviews and things I have put in place to run my Space Sharing business model successfully for the spa. I plan to offer a program for others in the industry to license my model.

Short term I am moving to a larger room to a accommodate my new services I am offering personally, and redecorating some areas of the spa for more productivity and an enhanced environment.

How do you balance your business and your private life?
The last five years have been not as balanced as I would like since so much energy goes into growing and building a business. I do keep Sundays sacred for my family and we have date nights and small vacations where possible. This year I am seeing more opportunities for more balance and I am excited about that!

Tell us about one person who has defined your professional life?
I had a Senior Manager way back when I worked for Comcast who was an amazing mentor. He believed in me and my passion for leading people and empowered me to grow. I try to do this for all who work in my space or come to me for professional advice. The road to success is not easy, there will always be many challenges along the way. It’s how you respond to those challenges that ultimately matter.

Your favorite book –
For a long time it was The Prophet by Khalil Gibran but now I spend the most time with my Bible.

Your favorite song –
Edge of Seventeen -Stevie Nicks

What gives you the most joy in life?
My adult daughters and my animals (fur babies) and my husband

How can people learn more about your business? or just give me a call at 239-471-7029

Are you an emerging female entrepreneur in need of clarity when it comes to marketing and growing your business? Join our free online course for entrepreneurs and get the tools you need to grow your business. You can get started today!


Why NOW is the Time For You to Start Your Business in Southwest Florida -or Anywhere!

Why NOW is the Time For You to Start Your Business in Southwest Florida -or Anywhere!

Have you ever wondered if this is the time to start your own business?

Why Now? There are three great reasons why now is the best time to start a business.

  1.  Our Community Needs You! There are many women-owned businesses in Florida, but they don’t make-up enough of our economy.  What if you are somebody that can help influence the business landscape and what is going on in SWFL? You could help create jobs, solve problems, and give your family and friends more support and resources.

2. Access to Learning, Connections, Support and Even Funds is Better Than Ever.  We’re building resources to help you launch and grow your business and providing live coaching you can access for free during our weekly live sessions. Business can be a challenge, but you don’t have to do it alone! We’re here to walk beside you every step of the way.

3. The World Needs YOU!-  You have a gift; something that you do, bring, serve or make that is uniquely yours. Your skills, knowledge, and uniqueness can help solve problems in your area. Don’t be discouraged by your competition or think there’s no space for you to thrive. The fact there is competition means there is a market for your services. Everything that you have is an asset, and the idea of building a business is to create a company that magnifies your assets.So as you’re thinking about whether you’re ready to start a business, think about these three things. We need you to have a voice, to find customers, create jobs and to make a difference in our economy. You have the tools available at your disposal to make your vision a reality. Remember the world needs you and what you have to offer!

Need funds to start your business? Learn more about interest-free Kiva U.S. Loans here. 


Success Stories: How These Two SWFL Women Turned Their Passion into a Business

Success Stories: How These Two SWFL Women Turned Their Passion into a Business

We’re thrilled to announce that with the support of the Women’s Foundation and the team of Southwest Florida lenders we have helped fund two recent Kiva U.S. loans for two local women.

Read on to see how they are both turning their passion into a business and how you can do the same!

What did you do before starting a business? Tell us a bit about your motivation…

Carleen, Imagine Wellness Spa

Carleen, Imagine Wellness Spa –I was a sales and marketing manager in Media and later in skin care with a manufacturer but I wanted to make a difference for others and use my business skills to make money for my own business rather than someone else’s. I am very passionate about combining science and beauty and I think this has been key to my success.

Monica, Tamu Cupcakery- I’ve been a Classification Supervisor at a Florida Correctional Facility since 2010, which is an extremely demanding position since I serve as Duty Warden monthly and work long hours. Currently, I juggle being the sole operator of Tamu Cupcakery and a career at the prison until I can successfully obtain a storefront and focus 100% on Tamu Cupcakery. For me, It all started with the Easy Bake oven as a child. Then I became the lead baker for fundraisers at my kids’ school. I learned that I loved to cook and that America loves to eat! Once I relocated from NY to FL, I decided to start putting my dream of owning a restaurant into motion. I love to create & experiment with meals, desserts and to reinvent recipes. In 2012, I attended many events such as Riddum Runway & participated in Deal Chicken. In 2016, Tamu Cupcakery was legalized and now I am saving for a bakery restaurant.

How did the funding from your loan help you?

Monica, Tamu’s Cupcakery

Imagine Wellness' New and Improved Location

Carleen, Imagine Wellness Spa – Our original business was located on a second floor with no elevator. The loan we received allowed us to move to a larger, new location on the ground floor and enabled us to serve more clients who previously had difficulties with the stairs. I also brought in a new treatment and retail line which helped my business grow. I was in the top five accounts with this company at the end of the first year!

I have officially made the transition from employee to employer. I now employ a client coordinator and several therapists who are independent contractors.

Monica, Tamu Cupcakery- Our Kiva loan is providing Tamu Cupcakery with the working capital we need as we strive to switch from an online cupcakery to a storefront cupcakery. The Kiva funds we received allowed us to purchase food packaging supplies and ingredients. Thanks to the support of the Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida, Kiva and our Kiva lenders we could pay for more hours at the commercial kitchen in which we operate. We also purchased the necessary supplies & equipment to continue providing baking classes to local children. I hope to grow enough to provide jobs in our community!

Anything you want us to include that will tell people a bit about your experience as a Kiva success?

A Tamu Cupcakery Event

Carleen, Imagine Wellness Spa – This loan helped me ramp up my business and filled a void in financing available to me as an entrepreneur with a small business.

Monica, Tamu Cupcakery- The Women’s Foundation Kiva program is a blessing because it’s interest-free and forces you to be proactive, network, and sell your business to others. Applying for the Kiva loan has helped my business in more ways than one.

I received 100% funding, but I also gained new prospects for future dessert orders, met new businesses that provide a plethora of info to help Tamu Cupcakery succeed, and upon repaying the loan I am eligible to apply again.

If I could give advice to other women entrepreneurs is never to let anyone or anything talk you out of your dreams! You must believe in yourself, and sometimes that means being your own cheerleader. Have faith, even when you cannot see the step ahead. Develop a feasibility plan, learn to budget, educate yourself on your business, be cost effective, remain focused & positive and never give up!” , Monica, Tamu Cupcakery.

You can help boost the economic power of other Southwest Florida women by making loans to entrepreneurs who need funding to grow their businesses, join our team of SWFL Lenders and start changing our community $25 at a time. Join HERE

Are you a SWFL woman in need of funding to grow your business? Follow this link to see if you qualify for a Kiva loan:

Learn More about Carleen and Monica’s Businesses

Children can learn how to bake at Tamu Cupcakery

Tamu Cupcakery, LLC. Our goal is to create happiness in every bite! We offer over 72 flavor options and a variety of desserts from cupcakes, cakes, cake pops to cheesecakes, cookies, brownies, cupcake bouquets & more! We hold kids baking classes, small business networking events and we are at the Club Square Farmers Market every Saturday in Cape Coral. Visit us on social media and at

Imagine Wellness Spa
Find and enhance your best beautiful self!! The Imagine Wellness Spa is focused on supporting you in your quest for internal and external wellness. You may have been to the Doctor and have a diagnosis, marching orders and don’t where to begin or how to stay accountable. Using our therapeutic approach along with progressive, non-aggressive, treatments and modalities, safe products and education-based, science-based, recommendations founded on holistic principles aimed at aligning mind, body, and spirit, we help you identify the root cause of your concerns. We strive to be known as the place that gets results! Visit us on social media and at

Imagine Wellness Spa