Women Entrepreneurs Group offers professional, social support

The new leaders of the Women Entrepreneur’s Group of Malibu talk to the businesswomen gathered at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue last Wednesday. The group seeks to empower and support women running their own businesses. Michael Aushenker / TMT

The group gathers monthly at a social venue in Malibu where “Mommypreneurs” socialize, gain business insight and network.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

“I felt lonely, I felt isolatedŠ”

That was the chorus of successful businesswomen gathering in Malibu last week. Hence, the organization, Women Entrepreneur Group (WEGS), which meets every other month at the sanctuary of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue.

For two years, the social/network club has convened to empower and support females running their own businesses. Former Los Angeles Times writer Ann Brenoff and Cathy Morrison headed WEGS until last Wednesday’s meeting, when two new ladies stepped in to keep it going, Dawn Mena and Star Ladin.

Ladin comes from a branding/marketing background while Mena, a friend of Brenoff’s and a former colleague as an erstwhile L.A. Times editor, “loves to write,” she said. Both women are “Mommypreneurs,” a term bandied about often at July’s WEGS meeting.

While the group utilizes the sanctuary space at MJC, WEG is neither affiliated with the religious institution nor an exclusively Jewish group. All professional women are welcome.

WEGS’ mission is to keep the meetings going while expanding the group, and “together bring in a very natural network of resources,” said Mena, a local who juggles family life with her business, Captivating Copy. Brand strategist Ladin, founder of Star-Preneuer, has two children and lives on an avocado farm in Camarillo. “We sent out a survey [to our members],” Ladin said. “They want to learn about branding, how to better operate a business, using social media.”

Last Wednesday, about 25 attendees, hailing from throughout the Westside and the Valley, gathered over coffee and cake. Some were there to bond, others also wanted to hear guest speaker Kathy Kaehler, a health and fitness balance guru who has appeared regularly on “The Today Show.”

WEGS, which does not demand dues, charges $25 admission per meeting.

Prior to Kaehler’s talk, members mingled and met each other for the first time. This was the second WEGS meeting for Malibu resident Diane Prince Johnston, who runs the Los Angeles-based national staffing business, Workway. “I wanted to reach out and get local. I tend to have a national focus [in business],” she said. “And I like doing things in Malibu.”

Mishele Vieira, who lives in Marina del Rey, operates AwayWithChaos.com, a professional organizing service. She said she loves the group’s “holistic approach” because whereas her mixed-gender networking groups tend to focus on advancing in business, WEGS also includes balancing business with friends and family life. “When it’s just women, they share more,” she observed. “We support each other and generate new ideas. It’s the group itself that I came for,” although she looked forward to the guest speaker, whom she saw on TV.

Amy Michelson, a Ventura-based wedding gown designer, attended her first WEGS meeting as a way to advertise her endeavor and to bond as well, especially as the nation continues to navigate the recession. She admitted that her high-end industry, like so many others, “has really been affected. This is a way to help augment my business.”

Michelson sees the silver lining in this dark economic cloud.

“The upside of the down economy is that people are joining forces to collaborate more,” she said.

Topanga Canyon-based homeopath nutritionist and master life coach Gina Sando attended her “first foray” on the strong buzz of her friend Liza Utter-Pernice, who herself has been to four meetings thus far. Utter-Pernice founded the West Los Angeles restaurant La Cachette and the Beach House restaurant in Santa Monica Canyon, which was closed in 2003. She long ago sold La Cachette and now runs LizaAmericasHost.com, a site focused on entertaining at private parties and functions.

“I grew up here,” Utter-Pernice, a Malibu native who appreciates WEGS local location, said. “I wanted to raise my kids here.”

Utter-Pernice said she loves being among “this influx of rich, talented women” who “have risen to the highest that they could [professionally] and took a break to have kids and are now Š Mommypreneurs. Malibu attracts a lot of these types.

“This is an opportunity to learn,” she continued. “As an entrepreneur [and Malibuite], you’re a little bit working in a vacuum.”

The women’s group enthusiastically welcomed Kaehler, who talked about her rise from assisting Jane Fonda at her Santa Barbara fitness business Laurel Springs Retreat, to becoming a fitness advisor for celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian and Michelle Pfieffer.

Kaehler, whose eighth book, “Mom Energy,” comes out this August, stressed the importance of balancing career with health and fitness. She said that today in America, at least 35 percent of the population of each and every state in the union is obese. “It’s staggering,” she said. “The numbers are not going down, even though we have corporate fitness [etc.]”

Kaehler also commended female entrepreneurs as business people with unique skill sets such as extreme patience and multitasking that are honed from raising children.

“Business is patience,” she said to her audience, members of whom afterward greeted Kaehler as she signed books.

In general, attendees enjoyed what WEGs has to offer, including dynamic speakers such as Kaehler, and they look forward to coming back. “There’s new leadership here,” Vieira said. “I’m happy to see they’re meeting again.”