RSSAll Entries in the "Minority Owned" Category

Minority Small Business Owner of the Year

Patience, Determination and Community; Alba Rios’ Recipe for Success Born in Colombia, Alba Lucia Rios immigrated to the United States in 2001, settling in Rhode Island where she met her husband Manuel Grajales. Together, their goal was to own a business, to prosper and be successful. In 2007, they began taking steps toward that goal by purchasing Tienda Alinary, a retail establishment providing specialty Colombian products to the community.

Under Alba’s ownership the store continued to prosper until, in 2008, the building she rented was foreclosed upon. The economic downturn proved harsh as Alba fought to continue her businesses existence. Understanding the significance of her location, and what the 24 year history of Tienda Alinary meant to her community, Alba began searching for guidance. She contacted the Small Business Development Center and The Center for Women  Enterprise, inquiring about how to access the capital she needed to purchase the building. Working with Sandra McNamara she began educating herself on how to acquire what she needed. Over the course of that year Alba began approaching lenders but got used to the common answer of, “No”; frustrated but unwavering she approached Pawtucket Credit Union and finally heard the “Yes” she had been waiting for. With the funds in hand Alba purchased the building from the bank. Over the next three years Alba and Manuel began renovating the property. Facing hefty improvement bills they began expanding Tienda Alinary’s offering, first was the addition of the bakery. Every morning Manuel would bake the bread before going upstairs to work on repairs. Next was the addition of the restaurant and a full breakfast offering, before long the demand grew for a lunch menu as well. To address another community need they also began offering shipping services, allowing those looking to ship something back to their native country the opportunity to do so in a streamlined, culturally friendly process.


A community HUB, many people come to Tienda Alinary looking for legal advice or a place to refer a doctor. Rios’ understands the role her business plays and does what she can to refer those looking for help in the right direction. Often her support is more subtle, a bowl of soup to someone in need, a credit line to those who may be a little short that day – always with an understanding that community is about support, and a business can do so much more towards that end than simply being a place to shop. Proud of her success, Alba still stays grounded, choosing to focus on those who have helped her succeed. She continues to thank Alinary Salavarrieta – who had owned Tienda Alinary for 24 years before selling to Alba – for creating the community landmark the store has become. Alba also feels a deep connection with Sandra Cano, whose friendship and emotional support means so much to her. Mostly, she wants to share her message of success with those in her community, “If you want to succeed in your business you can, but first of all do things right. Get informed, there is plenty of help in the state, but you have to reach out and if you reach out and do the right things you are going to succeed with patience and determination.” Her message of success continues to be strengthened by her service to her community, a community that supports Alba right back.


For her demonstrated success, community support and potential for continued growth, the U.S. Small Business Administration pleased to honor Alba Lucia Rios, owner of Tienda Alinary, as the 2018 Rhode Island Minority Small Business Owner of the Year.

2016 Rhode Island Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year

shippingpostalGreat Shipping and Postal

Owners Henry Osorio and Maria Teresa Ochoa

17 years ago Henry Osorio, Maria Teresa Ochoa and their two sons Mauricio and Julian emigrated from Columbia to America. Upon arrival Henry began working for Citizen’s Bank and continued to do so until he and his wife noticed a need within their community. The need was affordable international shipping and Henry and Maria Teresa were happy to answer that need.

Henry and Maria began researching the process and became aware of business classes offered by the Center for Women in Enterprise (CWE). With the help of the CWE, the guidance of Councilwoman Sandra Cano, and uncountable hours of hard work, Henry and Maria were able to open Great Shipping and Postal LLC in 2012.

The doors opening was just the beginning for this couple as owning their business brought more challenges including licenses, permits, regulation, taxations, and many months of process. One by one they achieved these steps, learning the codes and process of this new system, fulfilling the requirements put before them.

Great Shipping and Postal isn’t strictly a business for Henry and Maria Teresa it is a place for the community. Finally there was a way to ship goods back to loved ones that was made easy for the consumer. The challenges of meeting all of the federal demands on shipping were streamlined by Henry and Maria Teresa, making the process simple for their customers. Finally the distance between America and Latin America wasn’t thousands of miles but simply up the block. Tucked in right on the corner of 817 Dexter Street is a place that is dedicated to getting what you want, where you want it to be, and making it as easy on you as possible.

Their community is thankful but Henry is as well, “I’m grateful to God who gives me strength every day.” Maria Teresa is also grateful and weighed in on how she believes they had come to be successful, “Great service is not a cliché, it’s a need, we provide great service and we take pride in spoiling our clients.” That sentiment couldn’t be any truer as everyone who enters the business is welcome to a free cup of coffee, sharing a Columbian brew that fills up everyone’s cup with a sweet taste of Henry and Maria’s home.

Little things like the coffee help display the passion that both Henry and Maria Teresa bring to their business. This passion feeds the business but it is their pride that ensures that Great Shipping and Postal is a success. They are adamant that if they tell you your package will be somewhere by a certain day than by their word it most assuredly will. This dedication has almost single handedly grown the business, which started strictly in shipping to include money transfer, mailbox service, truck rental, storage and more. When asked about the growth of the business Maria Teresa elaborated, “Yes we started in shipping but we’ve become a multi-source destination to meet what the community needs.” Has it been easy? No, but Henry and Maria Teresa work as hard today as they did the day the doors opened so that their customers don’t have to.

For their demonstrated success and potential for continued growth, the U.S. Small Business Administration pleased to honor Henry Osorio and Maria Teresa Ochoa, owners of Great Shipping and Postal as the 2016 Rhode Island Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year.

Catching Up with the Winners of the Second Annual Entrepreneurial Women to Watch Awards

Last year, RISBJ launched the Entrepreneurial Women to Watch Awards, an honor that aims to recognize the exceptional women industry leaders of Rhode Island. Last year’s awards had fifteen winners: Elizabeth Cunha, Center for Dynamic Learning; Kathleen Moren, Healthy Babies, Happy Moms Inc.; Jen Hetzel Silbert, Learning 401; Kappy Bois, Royal Health and Wellness; Yemi Sekoni, Donahue Models and Talent; Maria Denizard, La Femme Salon; Anne Aldridge, Ocean State House Keeping; Ava Anderson, Ava Anderson Non Toxic; Michelle Collie, Performance Physical Therapy; Kristin Niessink, Kristin Niessink MS, RD, LN; Lesli-Ann Powell, Little Birdie Papercraft and Design Studio; Dr. Kate Siner, Dr. Kate Inc.; Stephanie Additon, JAVA Skin Care; Jan Faust Dane, Stock Culinary Goods; and Maria Tocco, The Providence Flea.

Since winning last year, these women have not stopped pursuing their dreams. We circled back to a few of the winners finding that they continue to inspire entrepreneurs throughout Rhode Island.

Anne Aldridge,

Ocean State House Cleaning

Through difficult times, Anne Aldridge created her home and office cleaning business in 1998. At the time, Anne was a single mother of four young children. She said, “House cleaning was my only marketable skill at the time and so I ran with it!” More than decade later, her business, Ocean State House Cleaning (OSHC) has become the largest independently-owned residential cleaning service in Rhode Island. OSHC’s mission is to provide high-quality cleaning services at affordable rates while providing a good working environment and good wages to staff.

Since winning the Women to Watch award, her business has seen a 20 percent increase in revenue allowing OSHC the ability to hire three additional full-time quality control managers to supervise and a full-time outside sales person.

In 2010, Anne launched a non-profit called Cleaning for Heroes, which provides no-cost cleaning services to military veterans through a network of volunteer work. OSHC recently launched a subsidiary service in Massachusetts called Bay State Maids. The company plans to expand into the Connecticut market as well.

Dr. Kate Siner,

Dr. Kate Inc.

Dr. Kate Siner began Dr. Kate Enterprises in 2008. As her business expanded, her knowledge evolved and her focus honed in on enhancing people’s personal and professional lives. Dr. Kate offers exceptional development mentoring, training, coaching certification, and value-driven business development for individuals and organizations. Her mission is to help people create successful, meaningful, and fulfilling lives.

Today, Dr. Kate is an industry leader in Rhode Island. She devotes her time to coaching her clients, speaking at events, writing for a variety of publications, and volunteering for organizations including HATCH Entrepreneurial Center. Her humanitarian work has brought her from Guatemala to Zimbabwe, where she leads projects aimed at decreasing gender-based violence.

Since winning the Women to Watch award, Dr. Kate created a collaboration with employee engagement spet, Jorge Rico, to bring her work to corporations that want to create innovative and highly successful companies at which high-preforming employees are excited to work. Dr. Kate also formed Lock and Clue – an innovative ‘escape room’ at which she leads team-building and leadership workshops.

Elizabeth Cunha,

Center for Dynamic Learning

More than ten years ago, Elizabeth had $100, a small home office in her bedroom, and a vision. A vision to improve the lives of school-aged children across the state of Rhode Island. While attending Rhode Island College as an undergrad she began working with underprivileged youth from Providence and Cranston. The more time she spent in the schools the more she began to understand the potential after-school activities had on grade school students.

From that understanding, Elizabeth created the Center for Dynamic Learning (CDL). Their mission is to inspire youth to cultivate career readiness and workforce skills through science, art, and theatre programs while making sure students are adequately prepared for the future. CDL now has a full-sized home with state-of-the-art classrooms, a staff of 16 teachers/administrators; grown from 8 last year and thousands of alumni, that of which Elizabeth remains extremely humble about.

In the past year, CDL has not only expanded but they now offer 32 STEAMM programs. Annually, the program offers services to over 2,500 youth across the state, providing before and after school programs as well as in-school residencies.

Stay tuned for their STEAMMRole fundraiser on April 23rd which will bring students and industry professionals together to compete in engineering or theatre challenges for an evening of hands-on fun set to benefit the STEAMM programs CDL brings into the Rhode Island Community.

Jen Hetzel Silbert,


Jen Hetzel Silbert founded Learning401 to shift how Rhode Islanders think, talk about, and design education in their area code. Learning401 gives students, educators, and members of the community a digital storytelling platform for rich, safe, and nonpartisan discussion about what powerful learning is  and requires. Its mission is to give voice to the public that is thepublic school system in ways that strengthen both education and the employability ecosystem.

Jen said, “We’re embarking in a paradigm shift in Rhode Island education that starts, very simply, with how we talk about education as a community.”

Over the past year, Jen’s network of education and community partners has grown exponentially. This past January, she joined the non-profit, Opportunity@Work, co-facilitating the rollout of TechHire RI ( which empowers  Rhode Islanders to learn, work, and earn to their full potential by building an inclusive tech talent pipeline to fill jobs in demand. Strengthening, accelerating, and scaling the connections from education to employment takes a village and Learning401 is a proud TechHire partner.

Kapedjanie “Kappy” Bois,

Royal Health and Wellness Chiropractic Clinic

Since opening Royal Health and Wellness Chiropractic Clinic, Dr. Kappy Bois’ office has helped patients using holistic methods to provide fast, consistent results. Inspired by her personal experience with chiropractic care, Kappy decided to help others see its value. Kappy earned her doctorate in Chiropractic Medicine and a master’s degree in Human Clinical Nutrition from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.

Impressively, Kappy opened her practice in 2010 using her own capital and money earned from an online business. Kappy mentioned, “I work at my clinic, practicing what I love, giving my patients one-on-one attention and optimal chiropractic care. I am proud to say I am helping people live a healthier life.” In 2014, she was named one of ‘Rhode Island’s Top Chiropractors.’

After receiving the Women to Watch award, Kappy’s business boomed. Royal Health and Wellness Chiropractic Clinic moved to a larger location to keep up with an influx of new patients. Kappy was nominated as the ‘Enterprising Women’ in 2015 by Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. Additionally, Kappy currently works alongside other leaders in the Haitian community to open a Haitian-American center in Rhode Island.

Kathleen Moren,

Healthy Babies, Happy Moms Inc.

In 2000, Kathleen Moren decided to start her own business to support breastfeeding mothers after noticing there were no services of this kind in Rhode Island. Her previous experience led to the incorporation of Healthy Babies, Happy Moms, Inc. (HBHM) a licensed and nationally accredited home health nursing agency and durable medical equipment provider.

Since their inception, the HBHM staff of 11 employees has helped over 5,000 families. Their passion is the health of babies and the mental health of their mothers. They strive to provide women with the information, support and products they need to be confident in their ability to breastfeed and care for their children. HBHM receives referrals daily from Rhode Island’s five birthing hospitals, pediatricians, midwives, obstetricians and insurance companies.

Over the past year, the company’s revenue has grown by 35 percent and they have secured four new insurance contracts, with several contracts pending. HBHM is transitioning to an electronic medical record this spring and will undergo rebranding effort this fall which will include a new website.

Lesli-Ann Powell,

Little Birdie Papercraft and Design Studio

Lesli-Ann Powell began Little Birdie Papercraft and Design Studio in 2009 as a creative outlet and a way to promote her custom line of greeting cards. “I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I have always loved the art of papercraft.” Lesli found that people were drawn to creating customized stationary and from there she opened a brick and mortar which eventually turned into an exclusive custom design studio.

Little Birdie Papercraft specializes in unique, hand-crafted, boutique style invitations, social stationery and corporate announcements. With a simple philosophy: Inspire, Design, Create.

After winning the Women to Watch award, Little Birdie Papercraft was published in RI Monthly’s Engaged Magazine, Southern New England Weddings, and won WeddingWire’s ‘Couples’ Choice’ each year since 2011, and again in 2016. Lesli also launched their new website in February of 2015 and blog in 2016.

When asked about new products for 2016 Lesli said, “I do have a line of “ready to order” wedding invitations, my Studio Collection, that are available on our website. I also have the ability to print in white. This is something that is very popular right now, but not many places have the equipment to offer it.”

Maria Tocco,

The Providence Flea

The Providence Flea is not your average flea; it’s more than just a market with vintage vendors, local artists, artisans and makers, community non-profits, live local music, food purveyors, food trucks and carts. Inspired by the urban markets of Brooklyn, New York, Providence Flea Founder Maria Tocco wanted to create a similar gathering spot in Rhode Island’s capital city.

After securing a spot for the Flea on the Providence River Greenway, she ran her first market in June 2013. At its inception, there were only 30 vendors and 3 food trucks. As word began to spread and the community embraced the event as a favorite go-to spot on summer Sundays, the market grew quickly, hosting over 220 vendors by the end of the 2014 season. Maria said, “The Flea is a place where community and commerce intersect with a culture of recycling, upcycling, reusing, and repurposing. ”

Since winning the Entrepreneurial Women to Watch award, Maria has grown the Flea year over year, more than doubling its size. Maria hosted pop-up events at Johnson and Wales family weekend and In downcity’s (Providence) “Shop Downcity Day.” She hopes to expand the season and hire staff to help manage the market this year. The Flea has become somewhat of an incubator for an ever-changing lineup of small vendors with big dreams, and it’s never exactly the same from one Sunday to the next!

Michelle Collie,

Performance Physical Therapy

Michelle Collie, CEO of Performance Physical Therapy (PPT), at a young age was inspired to have her own physical therapy clinic after experiencing physical therapy first-hand. Purchasing PPT in 2003, her goal is and has always been to provide the best possible care for the community and an exceptional working environment for her clinicians to excel in their careers. Their mission is to provide excellent physical therapy care with a focus on results.

Since the 2015 awards PPT continues to grow, recently opening a 9,000 square-foot clinic in Pawtucket with the state’s only Hydroworx pool. In April, new clinics are opening in Warren and Newport bringing Performance to a total of 10 locations. Additionally, PPT is increasing their presence in high schools providing athletic training services to prevent and manage students’ injuries. They currently service over ten schools in Rhode Island.

Their dedication to Rhode Island has given them a number of awards, including the nationally recognized Jane L. Snyder‘Private Practice of the Year’ Award from the American Physical Therapy Association and being named one Rhode Island’s ‘Best Places to Work’ in 2014 and 2015 by Providence Business News.

Stephanie Additon,

JAVA Skin Care, LLC

After recognizing an abundance of high-end skin care products that used synthetic caffeine infusions, Stephanie Additon, founded JAVA Coffee Infused Skin Care, a luxury line of all natural, plant-based products made from organic green coffee. Additon said, “The amazing thing about all natural caffeine, is that if you get it in the form of green coffee, it comes with other incredible benefits. After finding out about the huge amount of antioxidants and damage repairing benefits of green coffee, I just had to make these products so I could use them myself!”

Additon made it her mission to source all natural ingredients that are made from the highest grade and quality available. The line is distinguished as the only skin care line of its kind on the market. Their mission is to elevate green coffee as a luxury beauty ingredient, and to spread the message of the benefit of non-toxic skin care.

In the past year, JAVA Skin Care was featured in both Cosmopolitan and Health magazines while also receiving press from publications across the state. Their products are used in treatments at multiple Forbes Five Star Spas. Their recent accolades include the grand opening of their first retail location in Historic Wickford Village and release of new product lines that will hit the shelves every month for the next year, including the latest, Luxury Collection.

Yemi Sekoni,

Donahue Models and Talent, LLC

Donahue Models and Talent, LLC is the oldest and longest- running modeling agency in Rhode Island. The company selects, trains, and develops models so that when they get hired by a client, they are ready, knowledgeable and are able to fulfill the needs clients hire them for. Donahue Models and Talent agency’s mission is “to provide a first class modeling and talent agency for local and regional businesses, to be a respected educational force for the local industry, and to make a positive impact on philanthropic causes by using our creative talent.”

Yemi Sekoni was a model for the agency and purchased the company in August 2010, she shared, “I was inspired to do so because acting/performing has always been the most consistent part of my life. When I was presented with an opportunity to turn my passion into a career, I knew I had to go for it. I strongly believe that this is what I was born to do.” Yemi was able to take the company into the 21st century by moving all their files to computer databases and developing a strong web presence.

Since winning the Women to Watch award, Yemi said, “It helped validate the impact I had made in the Rhode Island market. Also, it gave increased name recognition and visibility among the business community at large.” The agency is currently ranked as the top agency in Rhode Island, and the fifth best agency in New England. Yemi hopes to expand her company nationally and internationally by seeking potential partnerships with larger agencies and talent scouts.

Kristin Niessink,

Kristin Niessink MS, RD, LDN

Kristin Niessink’s motto is simple, Eat Healthy Live Happy, which embodies her goal to educate and empower people to establish healthy lifestyles for long term wellness. Kristin began her career in 2004 with one-on-one counseling in a gym setting, but with obesity at epidemic proportions, she recognized the need for disease prevention and nutrition education in our society.

Her commitment to making a difference in is evident in her partnerships with organizations from community the local community centers to grocery stores that promote positive change for Rhode Islanders. Through her nutritional newsletters and cookbook, individual counseling, and community programs, which include seminars and cooking classes, Kristin continues to spread her message of health.

Her LivFit Newport program, which combines nutrition and cooking education and fitness at the MLK Community Center is one recent success. As a registered and licensed dietitian, Kristin offers unbiased nutrition education to provide people with the ingredients for wellness.

For more information regarding these Women to Watch award winners, as well as a full list of winners from 2014 and 2015, please visit

Krystal Toro, SOFIT Cycle and Fitness Studio

Krystal ToroKrystal Toro is a fitness instructor and now business owner, who is highly passionate about being healthy, and driving others to greater health. “When a client walks into my class, I want them to feel transported, challenged, and inspired,” said Krystal. While working for a ‘large box gym,’ Krystal noticed a disconnection between focusing on the needs of clients versus how many clients attend her classes, and was adamant about making a change.

In 2014, Krystal took the leap and opened the doors of her own studio, SOFIT Cycle and Fitness Studio, an indoor cycling studio that knows how to shift the boundaries through cycling, TRX, and signature MIX classes. Besides exceptional customer service, Krystal’s ability to marry her passion for fitness, employ instructors who share the same desire, and her unique ability to meet the needs of her customers, makes her gym different from other fitness options in her industry.

Her primary objective was to “create a brand that’s authentic, memorable, and exceeds the customer experience both in and outside the studio. We’re creating a voice to an audience of consumers seeking personalized, empowering, and fun workouts.” Krystal is implementing marketing strategies by way of social media marketing, and trying more unconventional methods of engagement. “Our marketing strategy needs to mirror our business strategy: find a way to make each and every interaction feel personalized and premium,” said Krystal, and that she is doing, receiving over 650 5-star reviews to date.

Not only is Krystal focused on her studio, she has a huge space in her heart that wants to give back. SOFIT Cycle provides free classes to support and raise awareness for local charities through collections for the local animal shelter, fundraising for Free to Breathe, and raising funds for an East Providence family who lost their son.

previous arrow
next arrow