For Hazel Naranjo, running her own construction and home accessories business means learning to navigate a man’s world.
However, through the U.S. Department of State’s (AWE) Women Entrepreneurs Academy in Costa Rica, Naranjo met many other women who are running their own businesses and learned skills that would help her weather the challenges ahead, including the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. COVID-19. .
“Construction is clearly a masculine environment, but with AWE I’ve met many businesswomen, and I’ve learned that I’m not alone as a businesswoman,” she said.
Naranjo is one of 200 Costa Rican business women who have been empowered by AWE since 2019. The US Government Exchange Program provides women with the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch and scale a business. More than 16,000 women participated in 80 countries.
Naranjo launched her business, Kay Concept, in 2014 after years of designing decorative fixtures, moldings, mosaic tiles, and other accessories for homebuilders. As a mother in her forties, she decided that working for someone else meant spending a lot of time away from her daughter.
Initially, Naranjo worked from home with a single computer, drawing on her industry knowledge and business connections for 20 years in the interior design field. Her first order was a batch of cement tiles and building materials that were exported to Panama.
Over the next five years, Naranjo’s business grew. She bought machines, rented space and employed 15 employees. However, Naranjo realized she had more to learn. “I have my degree in design,” she said. “But that doesn’t teach you anything about running a business.”
In 2019, she joined AWE. You have learned how to design a business plan and that sometimes less is more. Instead of producing hundreds of different types of mosaics, molds, and ceramic wares, it has narrowed its product line. “AWE has helped me focus on our main products – our tiles,” she said. “Learning how to better market our main products has helped me make more money in this field.”
She also learned not to view her business model as static. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, sales fell 30% in 2020. However, Naranjo adjusted its business model, stayed open and continued to pay its employees. “I had to pay the families of the artisans who worked for me,” she said. “If you were a family, how would you live without a salary?”
In May, Naranjo and 15 other businesswomen met with First Lady Jill Biden in Costa Rica to share experiences with AWE and other US government exchanges. Naranjo says the meeting was stimulating and a recognition of the woman’s accomplishments. “There is always fear, always uncertainty, and always those who say you can’t do it,” she says. “But you have to follow the dream in your heart, because the heart never lies.”
A copy of this article was previously published by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.