A committee of women entrepreneurs, headed by Upuia Ahkiong, is launching a networking group this week to energize and celebrate their sister business owners.
Ahkiong did not start out as an entrepreneur. She worked as a school counselor and teacher, planning to become a principal.
Then, inspired by the healing traditions of her paternal grandmother in Samoa, she switched career paths to delve into the art of massage. In 2004, Ahkiong became one of the first massage therapists at Google Inc., where she spent 10 years building a massage component for its wellness programming.
But Ahkiong eventually struck out on her own and opened Kua Body in Los Altos in 2014. To market her massage therapy treatments, she reached out to other women entrepreneurs.
"She went with the idea of having a one-off celebration of women-organized businesses," explained Pleasanton resident Rosanne Hoffman, a Realtor with Venture Sotheby's International Realty.
The event was a huge success, drawing 100 women business owners who reveled in the evening of meeting their peers and sharing ideas and enthusiasm.
"After it was over, these women were at her door saying, when would be the next event," Hoffman said. "WELA (Women Entrepreneurs Los Altos) was born. It now has evolved into WE lunches, WE mixers, and they have a monthly event where they get a big turnout."
In August 2014, Ahkiong opened Kua Body in Pleasanton, where she lives, and now has formed the committee to launch WE Pleasanton-Sunol, with volunteers Hoffman, Patricia Maruko of Patricia Maruko Designs, Teresa Basalyga and Sarah Traube.
The inaugural event will be from 6-8:30 p.m. next Tuesday (March 12) at Sabio on Main, 501 Main St., and will also celebrate Women's History Month.
"We are thrilled to have secured as our keynote speaker Etsy's No. 1 highest earning seller in the world and entrepreneur Alicia Shaffer," Hoffman said. "She grew her business, Three Bird Nest, to $6 million in annual sales. She has sold the majority interest and mostly now is a business coach."
Before her Etsy success, Shaffer opened Prim on Main Street, still a successful clothing boutique. Her achievements have been covered by "Good Morning America" and People Magazine.
The WE Pleasanton-Sunol organizers sent out invitations to downtown women business owners and are hoping to reach as many entrepreneurs as possible to celebrate their journey and plan ways to give back to their community.
"There is so much interest in doing this in Pleasanton," Hoffman said. "It will really be a great source of networking for all of us."
When WELA took on a life of its own, it began to charge fees, she noted, which are now $100 per year, much less than national networking groups. There is no charge for the launch, although there is a chance to donate when signing up and attendees must RSVP.
The response has been good, Ahkiong noted, and a waitlist has been created. Go to www.eventbrite.com or email WEPleasanton@gmail.com. Donations can also be made at www.WELosAltos.com.
The event will include food, drinks and music by DJTuese.
"I hope it is a big success whether we have one event or 20 events," Hoffman said.