AWE alumna constructs her dream business in Costa Rica

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The American Academy of Women Entrepreneurs helped Costa Rican Hazel Naranjo grow her business with a focus on ceramic tiles. (Photo courtesy of Hazel Naranjo)

By ShareAmerica

For Hazel Naranjo, running her own construction and home accessories business means learning to navigate the human world.

However, through the US State Department’s Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) in Costa Rica, Naranjo met many other women running their own businesses and learned skills to help her overcome the challenges ahead, including the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. .

“Construction is a distinctly male environment, but at AWE I met so many female entrepreneurs, and I learned that I’m not alone as a business woman,” she said.

Naranjo said the Women Entrepreneurs Academy taught her how to run her business effectively. (Photo courtesy of Hazel Naranjo)

Naranjo is one of 200. Female entrepreneurs Authorized by AWE since 2019 in Costa Rica. A US government exchange program gives women the knowledge, networks and access they need to start and scale businesses. More than 16,000 women in 80 countries participated.

After years of designing decorative items, molds, mosaic tiles and other accessories for home builders, Naranjo launched her business, Kay Concepts, in 2014. As a mother in her 40s, she decided to work for someone else and was often away from her daughter.

Initially, Naranjo worked from home with a computer, relying on her industry knowledge and business connections from 20 years in interior design. Her first order was a batch of cement tiles and building materials sent to Panama.

Naranjo’s desire to spend more time raising her daughter prompted her to open her own home construction business.

Over the next five years, Naranjo’s business grew. She bought a machine, rented a place and hired 15 workers. However, Naranjo realized that she had a lot to learn. “I have a design degree,” she said. But that doesn’t teach you anything about business management.

In 2019, she registered with AWE. She learned how to design a business plan and sometimes less. Instead of producing hundreds of different types of mosaics, molds and ceramic pots, she narrowed down her product line. “AWE helped me focus on our core products – which are tiles,” she said. “Learning how to better market our core products has helped me make more money in the business.”

She also learned not to view her business model as static. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, sales were down 30 percent in 2020. However, Naranjo adjusted its business model, remained open and continued to pay its employees. “I still had to pay the families of the artisans who worked for me,” she said. “If you are a family, how can you live without a salary?”

AWE taught Naranjo how to grow her business by focusing on her product line.

In May, Naranjo and 15 other female entrepreneurs met with First Lady Jill Biden in Costa Rica to share their experiences with AWE and other US government exchanges. Naranjo says the meeting was inspiring and recognized the achievements of women. “There’s always fear, there’s always uncertainty, there’s always people saying you can’t do it,” she says. “But you have to follow the dream in your heart, because the heart never lies.”





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