Women entrepreneurs compete in SF's version of 'Shark Tank'

It was no reality television show, no sharks, and no tanks, but the stakes were high and the reality of winning one of the $5,000 grants was enough to prompt women entrepreneurs in San Francisco to go before a panel of judges Monday and pitch their business plans.

The city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development awards grant money every month to female business owners who can persuade the judging panel that they have a need for capital to make improvements to their business. 

One of the competitors was Lisa Marie Delgadillo, the owner of The Lucky Horseshoe bar and the Hop Oast brewery in the Bernal Heights neighborhood.

Stepping into the Lucky Horseshoe Bar on Cortland Avenue feels like taking a trip back in time. The historic mural from the bar's 1950's past remains over the door. An old-style cash register sits behind the cash-only sports bar.

"If you make a mistake on it you're kind of doomed. There's no going back," said Delgadillo. 

Delgadillo isn't looking back. She left law school and ended up buying the bar in 2011. She says she wants it to be a place that welcomes people from all walks of life. 

Local residents say she's saved the place.

"That business was surviving on a few customers and it was going to go away. And then to watch someone pour a lot of vision and artistry and a little bit of magic into it but still retain the local character was nice to see," said Chad Stephenson, a San Francisco resident in Bernal Heights.

For a small business owner, who's never had a credit card, though, Delgadillo faces challenges in bringing her business into the 21st century. 

She says one priority is replacing old equipment, such as an aging kegorator.

"It's duct taped together so half the taps don't work anymore," she said.

Delgadillo decided to take a chance and give a pitch for the city funding Monday. The city partnered with MEDA, the Mission Economic Development Agency to hold the judging session. 

"For women especially women who don't ask for money and think they can do it all on their own, it's really nice to get that helping hand. To get that funding for either operational costs or marketing related costs," said Beth Pride, President of BPE Global.

Funding and the support of other entrepreneurs is critical to survival, as one judge knows firsthand.

"Everything is getting so expensive in San Francisco, so everything is increasing, rent, health care, everything," said Zenaida Merlin, one of the judges and the business owner of d'Maize, "I want to give ideas. i want to tell them some of the things i did when I was starting my business."

Not everyone who pitches gets funding. The city hopes for those who do, the taxpayer dollars will benefit the larger community too.

"The money that we invest in them, they stay, they're able to stay in the city. They're able to buy from their suppliers that are local. They're able to hire locally," said Holly Lung, San Francisco Policy Director for the Assessor-Recorder Office.

In the end, the judges announced that Delgadillo had won. She'll get the top award of $5,000.

"It felt great. Super excited, Like, I can't wait to be able to buy some new equipment and have these improvements before the busy holiday season too is going to be fantastic, so it's super exciting," said Delgadillo. 

So far, San Francisco's Office Of Economic and Workforce Development has given out 41 grants.
Women entrepreneurs can apply for the monthly pitch sessions.

The city has budgeted for the fund through at least June of next year.