How Visionary Jane Wurwand’s FOUND/LA Is Ensuring Small Business Owners Are Found And Seen

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How Visionary Jane Wurwand’s FOUND/LA Is Ensuring Small Business Owners Are Found And Seen

35 years ago, Jane Wurwand and her husband Raymond founded Dermalogica with only $14,000 of their personal savings. They went on to build their business into a global beauty empire and the top skincare line for professional salons. Jane’s career passion, however, reaches far beyond perfecting people’s skin. She saw how essential creating community was in the salon industry. “Together, we shared our best practices of what did and didn’t work. That, I think, was every bit as important as providing the product of Dermalogica or offering other forms of education and technique. It was this community, of belonging to a bigger connection, that was so important.”

In 2015, Jane sold Dermalogica to Unilever. She remains involved in the company but after passing the baton, she shifted her focus on new ways to foster fellowship and support local philanthropic causes like she and Raymond have for St. Joseph’s Center in Venice, CA and other organizations for many years. “Without Los Angeles, we wouldn’t have had our start or our success.”

In creating a new venture, Jane knew how rewarding helping other business owners and startups was, but wasn’t sure where to begin. When she presented information at a meeting on being of service to their community, a peer’s comment ignited an idea: “Whatever built Dermalogica is going to hold the secret to what inspires you and what you love to do.” Building off that foundation, they had the blueprint for starting and scaling a small business to help other Los Angeles founders in all industries. Seeing a need to provide local entrepreneurs with funding and resources to help their startups thrive, FOUND/LA, an initiative of the Wurwand Foundation, launched in 2018.

While fleshing out the idea for FOUND/LA, the grittiness of entrepreneurs inspired Jane most, especially how overlooked local founders were in most funding opportunities. “We call these entrepreneurs ‘the missing middle’ because they’re not seen. Of course, we see them every day in our neighborhood, but we don’t think of them as entrepreneurs that really need us. That’s where our name came from. We wanted to make sure that the local stories of businesses are found and seen.” 

Jane wanted to offer more than just funding resources. She and Raymond tapped into their years of experience and knowledge to build an education model that connected local entrepreneurs with each other. “It is a circular economy. Successful businesses need to help provide new companies with loans and resources. It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up.” She believes this community-based approach is what women, minorities and immigrants bring to business. “We’re not going to make it alone, we’re going to do it together.”

A hand up is exactly what FOUND/LA provides founders and startups in the Los Angeles area. To date, they have helped nearly 10,000 local entrepreneurs access capital, education and community through their partnerships and events. Some of their lending and educational partners include Opportunity Fund, Inclusive Action, and USC Bridges to Business. The nonprofit hosts events in partnership with Small Business Majority, bringing entrepreneurs together to learn from each other. During COVID-19, their event programming shifted to helping small businesses survive the shutdowns. They recently wrapped a grant program for companies that were negatively impacted by the pandemic. After receiving over 4,500 applications, the need for emergency aid was clear. FOUND/LA rose to the occasion by awarding $1M in grants between $5,000 and $25,000 to 66 eligible businesses. 

While all of the individuals she’s supported have inspired Jane, one story represents exactly why she began FOUND/LA. Dani Solorio, owner of Compton Health Bar, was a DACA and a solopreneur. She worked for years under the radar and felt insecure about her company. Jane met with the seventh-generation Latin healer from Mexico to discuss her business. She told Jane how many people in her community couldn’t seek medical care because they weren’t legal. Those who were documented didn’t have the money to afford proper healthcare. Many of them sought out Dani’s herbal remedies. “I love the whole story because it reminded me of skincare and Dermalogica wanting to test and try different ingredients,” Jane said. Moved by Dani’s journey and willingness to grow, Jane helped her attend California State University, Northridge’s business program. Dani’s company grew from making recipes in her kitchen to having her own storefront and receiving media coverage.

“She’s a star,” Jane says. “Her story stands out to me because I watched it grow from a conversation with a new business owner who just raised her head up above the radar to a company that is employing local people and is a source of health and wellness to an underserved community.”

Beyond Los Angeles, Jane keeps a close watch on issues affecting small businesses (especially post-lockdown) in the United Kingdom, where she is originally from. She is working with a media partner and a financing partner on a new project aimed to shine a light on local businesses and female entrepreneurs which were decimated during the pandemic. “High Street is really suffering. But with our media partner, these stories will get out and get told,” she says.

With a new book slated for release this fall, Jane can add “writer” to her long list of credits. And her dedication to startups has had a domino effect as other cities implement FOUND/LA’s blueprint. Knowing how vital it is for local business owners to work together, the nonprofit is happy to be a free resource for other communities to grow and prosper.

“I have a strong conviction that there are many people like myself who have become successful and want to give back to their communities. If you fund local entrepreneurs, you will see the impact of your work in the city that gave you your success. One of our missions at FOUND/LA is to show that small amounts of money really helps founders succeed, from loans with a low interest rate to providing grants. We must continue to shine a light on our missing middle, our invisible entrepreneurs.”

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