January 10, 2024
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In their own words: Spirit of Small Business 2014 winners


The Pacific Coast Business Times’ 2014 class of Spirit of Small Business winners were honored at an awards luncheon on Aug. 14, 2014 following the publication of a special edition on July 25, 2014. The special section, produced in partership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, highlights entrepreneurship in the Tri-Counties, with profiles on successful small companies, a resource guide and how-to articles for small businesses. Here’s another look at this year’s honorees:


Agnew Multilingual

(East Ventura County winner)

“I constantly get asked, ‘When are you going to retire?’ And my answer is, ‘Why? I am having such a great time,” says Irene Agnew, founder of Agnew Multilingual. The company, which has 1,300 independent contractors around the world, was this year’s Spirit of Small Business winner in East Ventura County.


Alliance Wealth Strategies

(Minority-Owned Business winner)

“My experience early on, with business, was not in an office, but selling flowers on the corners and streets of L.A. with my dad,” says Sergio Villa, founder of Alliance Wealth Strategies.

Alliance Wealth’s comprehensive approach to wealth management and its community involvement have translated into success in the five years since it was founded.


Old Town Market

(North Santa Barbara County winner)

With the help of the Santa Maria Valley’s merchants, winemakers and growers, Old Town Market owner Mark Steller hopes to put Orcutt back on the map.


Wallace Group

(Central Coast winner)

Recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from the SLO branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Wallace Group founder John Wallace started his business as a one-person, home-based business in 1984. Now the company has more than 50 employees and is celebrating its 30-year anniversary.

The French Press

(South Santa Barbara County winner)

Julia and Todd Mayer started The French Press coffee shop in downtown Santa Barbara in 2009. Many people told them they would fail, but the Mayers believed in delivering a better coffee shop experience. Five years later, they have two locations and source and roast their own coffee beans from around the world.


AB Design Studio

(Green Business award winner)

“The reason we get up every morning and get up and do this is because we’re excited about what’s possible out there,” says Josh Blumer, one of the partners behind Santa Barbara-based architecture firm AB Design Studio. Blumer and business partner Clay Aurell have led the revitalization of the city’s Funk Zone and have now turned their attention to the once-blighted Hayley Street corridor where they recently purchased their own building.


Ohana Pet Hospital

(Woman-Owned Business award winner)

“We want to give them that feeling of ‘You matter to us. You’re like may auntie or my uncle or my cousin back home in Hawaii,” says Dr. Janis Shinkawa, one of the partners behind Ohana Pet Hospital in Ventura. Along with Dr. Jill Muraoka-Lim, Dr. Nicci Quinn and Dr. Kate Byrne, she owns the veterinary clinic in Ventura.


Staples Construction

(West Ventura County award winner)

Staples Construction Co. owner David Staples credits his team with the firm’s success and longevity, especially since many of the company’s employees have been with the business almost since inception. Ventura-based Staples Construction is on track to pull in $40 million in revenue this year and has ramped up hiring after a rough spot during the recession.


Zesto Audio

(Exporter of the Year)

“We bring joy to people. We create equipment that, when people listen to music, puts a smile on their face,” says George Counnas, who co-founded Thousand Oaks-based Zesto Audio with his wife Carolyn.

George focuses on creating high-end gear for serious audiophiles, while Carolyn uses her art background to make sure the equipment is as beautiful as the music that’s played on it. Zesto Audio products are shipped around the world to discerning music lovers.