Julia Akman said that her parents, small business owners, instilled in her a good work ethic and she used her job as a corporate buyer to learn every facet of the business, from accounting to quality control. One day, while ironing, she was distracted by her cat and burned straight through her husband’s pants. She was so frustrated, that she purchased a steamer and fell in love with it. But she knew she could do better. She created SALAV, which now produces a number of different steam appliances.

“I said, I’m going to bring something to market—if it’s going to be in my home, it’s going to work fantastically and it’s got to be cute, it’s got to be gorgeous,” said Akman. “I had this great idea, burnt pants, and I worked for it.”

Akman, the COO SALAV, was one of four entrepreneurs that shared their success stories in starting businesses in the Los Angeles area earlier this month during a panel discussion aimed at helping women succeed in going out on their own.

The panel also included Potted co-owner Annette Guitierrez, fashion stylist Kimberly King and preserve maker Laura Ann Masura of Laura Ann’s Jams.

The panel discussion held in Harbeson Hall, “Finding Your North Star,” was organized by Women at Work—an organization founded in 1979 by two female Cal Tech graduates looking to provide a supportive environment for women to find success in their careers.

Stephanie Moore attended the event with her daughter, Olivia, a 27-year-old business student at Cal State Los Angeles. Moore, 60, has been struggling to find work in the travel industry since she was laid off in May.

“It’s a little difficult to suddenly be unemployed,” said Moore. “I’ve never been unemployed in my life before, so this is all a new experience—not a very nice experience. Plus, being of that age I get very few requests on my resume, so there must be some secret that I’m missing so I’m hoping that these women will open that door for me.”

Salvatrice Cummo, director of PCC’s Pasadena Small Business Development Center, moderated the discussion that included how these entrepreneurs started their own businesses, what roadblocks they had to overcome and the advice they had for other women starting out.

Many of the panel expressed the importance of hiring a good CPA to handle paperwork, because it’ll save a lot of time and heartache in the future. Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted, a design-oriented garden and outdoor furniture store in Atwater Village, said that there is already a lot of new business owners are dealing with when starting out, so it is important to set yourself up for success.

“They set you up from the beginning,” said Guitierrez. “Because it’s so much harder to go back and unravel—it’s like that drawer of necklaces, that you’re just, like, forget it, they’re too tangled—just hang them up on one little hook at a time and you won’t have that problem.”

Members of the panel all shared some of the issues they ran into early on while starting their endeavors—from figuring out how to stick labels on jam jars in a cost-effective manner to dealing with the legal red tape that comes with owning a small business.

Laura Ann Masura, owner and jam maker of Laura Ann’s Jams, said that she started a support group with four of her friends who also owned their own businesses called, “The Sassy Solo-preneurs Start-up Club.” The club included herself, a tarot card reader, a chicken sitter, a ukulele teacher and a graphic designer. She found that though they all had very different businesses, they all ran into the same issues.

“We had all the same problems,” said Masura. “So that was really helpful having a group of women that all ended up becoming really successful at each individual thing and growing so much that we had to take the words ‘start-up’ out of our club.”

Fashion stylist Kimberly King said that so many people are willing to help and give advice, you just have to ask for it.

“I would call the most brilliant women in the world that I had in my Rolodex,” said King. “I would say I need your advice and they were so happy to give advice and I was so blessed.”

The night wrapped up with a raffling off of services and goods donated by the panelists. Masura handed out jars of jam to each attendee as they left, with help from her mother who drove up from her home in Arizona to see her daughter speak at the event.

Women at Work is holding their annual benefit gala, Reaching for the Stars, on Oct. 24 in Pasadena.

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