From Pharmaceutical Rep to Jewelry-Maker: the Journey of a Business Woman Assisted by SBA’s WBC Program

Vanessa Olivera

Vanessa Olivera always dreamed of owning a business -- a drugstore to be more precise.

Upon graduating college with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor degree in Marketing, Vanessa found a job as a pharmaceutical rep covering Puerto Rico’s southeast region.

“I learned a lot and grew a lot,” Vanessa says. “I worked with the company for 10 years, as a pharmaceutical rep for about five and a half, and the remaining time as a supervisor.”

Vanessa realized she had the talent and potential to operate a business of her own and in 2013 took the leap into entrepreneurship, opening her shop called Valorios. But first, Vanessa visited the Women’s Business Institute (WBI) and enrolled in the course ‘From the Idea to the Key’, which covers all of the steps required to start a small business on the island.

Established in 1997 under a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of the Sacred Heart, the WBI provides women entrepreneurs with business training and counseling, technical assistance, mentoring, and access to SBA programs and services.

Several years ago, the WBI opened a satellite office with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office, choosing the Municipality of Cayey as its location.  Situated in Puerto Rico’s Central Mountain range, Cayey has one of the weakest economies on the island and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns, the municipality has only 484 business establishments for 48,000 residents. 

Having little economic activity makes it more difficult for businesses to thrive in Cayey. Nevertheless, Vanessa was determined to make it as a business owner. With the assistance of business analyst Luis Rodríguez at the WBI’s satellite office, Vanessa worked on her business plan and obtained a small personal loan to get started.

“If it hadn’t been for Mr. Rodríguez’ support I would not have made it this far,” Vanessa says.  “My greatest obstacle was obtaining financing.”

Valorios is a retail and service-oriented business dedicated to selling beads, findings and jeweler’s tools and supplies, in addition to providing workshops on how to make jewelry. What led Vanessa to open this type of business when she has a background in biology?

“People need something to help them keep busy --a hobby-- but also a way to earn additional income,” says Vanessa. “For example, there are a lot of single mothers that are looking for ways to make more money.  Also, it is therapeutic to create something with your hands.”

Vanessa may not have had previous experience in jewelry-making or design, but she did have the imagination and creativity. She also has a friend in Arecibo, on the island’s north coast, with the know-how and a similar type of business.

“She taught me the basics and put me in contact with the suppliers,” Vanessa says.

Since opening Valorios Vanessa has had the satisfaction of seeing the community’s acceptance and her sales increase between 30 and 35 percent from year to year. Also, Vanessa enjoys helping women who are looking for a place where they can create something and spend time with others.

“It is truly rewarding to help other people,” Vanessa says. “These are difficult times, and there is so much negativity around. I found a way to make a living, while offering a respite for those who need it.”

It has been so gratifying, in fact, that Vanessa is already providing arts and crafts workshops in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico.  Also, her plans for the near future are to work with psychologists and psychiatrists who incorporate arts and crafts as part of their treatments for mental health patients.

“I thoroughly enjoy my business. I have time for everything, for me and for my family; and at the same time I help others feel good about themselves – to feel useful.”

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Company Name: 
Valorios Beads
Cayey, Puerto Rico