Fifteen years ago, Iris Y. de Leon learned to speak English by taking ESL classes at Canal Alliance. This year she started her own flower business.
“I’m good at this and I love it, flowers have always been my calling” Iris notes. “The only thing was, I had to update my knowledge and skillset in order to successfully plan for my business. That’s why I took the Construyendo mi Negocio classes.”
Construyendo mi Negocio (Building my Business) is a 10-week class sponsored by Marin Small Business Development Center in partnership with Canal Alliance. Taught in Spanish, participants are empowered to start small businesses, often in their native language and in their community, that contribute to the vibrancy of the local economy.
“I like how they teach you everything: business taxes, supervising employees, managing finances – basically all the ins and outs of running a business.”
Originally from the state of Chiapas in Mexico, Iris immigrated to the US as a teenager about 25 years ago, she says, “my mom was very sick and needed expensive medicine every month. Since I am the oldest of my siblings, I came here to work and help my mom.”
When she arrived to San Rafael, Iris lived on Larkspur Street, in the Canal neighborhood. Neighbors let her know that know that she could find support and resources at Canal Alliance; she joined our ESL and computer classes, and a women’s initiative called ‘Alas’ (Wings). “This was around 15 years ago because I remember that CEO Omar Carrera was my computer teacher.”
Pandemic challenges prompt small business launch
Iris had plans to start a business prior to the pandemic. The plans were fast-tracked when her husband lost work during shelter-in place. With their children nearing college age, and expenses mounting, the decision was made.
“My husband told me it was time to take the next step and make my dream a reality. That really motivated me. I started my business to get ahead in life and do something that I am passionate about it. In addition, university is expensive and my kids all play soccer, which isn’t cheap here in Marin.”
Finding a storefront was the biggest challenge. “I wanted to have a storefront where people could stop and smell the roses – to actually see the flowers in person before buying. I worked with someone from the Marin Small Business Development Center. We saw many locations, but they were extremely expensive, it was impossible for me to afford.”
After a year of searching, Iris chose another route: an online business from home. After obtaining the required permits, she launched irisflowershop.net in Spring 2022, crafting and delivering unique bouquets throughout Marin.
“Right now, I am investing a lot of money into my business. I am focusing on growth. But I like the fact that I can be with my kids a lot more. I like working from home. I am busy. I am motivated. Little by little, I will grow my business. I am learning from my mistakes.”
Iris stopped by Canal Alliance shortly after her business was launched. She shared a beautiful bouquet and a message of gratitude: “Thank you, Canal Alliance, for helping me and the community. One way or another you have sustained so many, but particularly me. Now I have my own flower business online.”
“This is just the start for me. I want to give people the option to stop by and look and touch and smell the flowers. I want to hire people from the community, I want to give back.”