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Meet Women Entrepreneurs of Corpus Christi

Nikki Riojas (left), president and founder of the Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi, stands with Swat Kasham, owner of Swat Kasham PhotoImagery, at the Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi’s Spring Market on April 28. Photo by Dayna Worchel

The Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi has a simple mission statement on its website that explains its focus: We are always better together.

These women literally gathered together on a recent Saturday for a downtown Corpus Christi marketplace, where women who own businesses set up 24 booths to introduce themselves to the community and raise money.

Together, with about 350 visitors who stopped by, the vendors raised $1,000 to benefit The Purple Door, a nonprofit organization and shelter in Corpus Christi for victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

The Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi came into being after its president and founder, Nebraska native Nikki Riojas, and her husband, Andrew, moved to Corpus Christi from Louisiana three years ago. As the owner of Thirteen & Market, a home décor and lifestyle-brand company, Riojas joined a similar women’s entrepreneur group.

Joining the group helped her overcome the feelings of isolation she experienced when she first arrived in Louisiana. Through the group, she quickly made friends, many of whom she still keeps in touch with today.

When her family moved again — this time to Corpus Christi — Riojas began making friends and reaching out to female business owners to form a group here. The Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi, which became an official nonprofit organization in February, held its first meeting in July 2017.

The Women’s Entrepreneur Society is an available resource for women, whether they already have a business or want to start one, Riojas said.

“If you don’t know where to start, maybe you aren’t doing it correctly quite yet,” Riojas continued. “Let us help you get the resources to get you set up correctly. If you’re not taking sales tax yet, let us show you how you can do that. It’s easy. We’ll provide you resources, and then you can be an active member in our group.”

To be considered for membership, the business must be owned by a woman and legally established to do business in the state of Texas. The memberships are tiered. The Founders Membership, which meets monthly, is for those who have been in business for a certain amount of time. The General Membership, with meetings four times a year, is set up for educational purposes.

For young women or college students who are thinking about starting a business of their own, an Associate Membership is available. As of May this year, the group had 82 members. While business owners may submit an application at any time, new members are accepted quarterly.

Another goal of this organization is to keep business talent in Corpus Christi, Riojas said.

“I think people hear the 'shop small’ philosophy, and they don’t really understand that when you buy from a small shop, your money stays in this town,” she said. “Your money goes to fix those roads and goes to the education system. Your money stays here. So, we’re grateful. We obviously love every dollar that comes in a small shop, but we also know that the benefits of that are longer-lasting and they impact the entire community.”

With that in mind, the group always picks a local venue for its socials. About 50 people attend each social, which lasts about two hours.

La Donna Calhoun, owner of Archer Soapworks & Apothecary, is one of the founding members of the Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi. Calhoun, who just opened her first brick-and-mortar store after two years as an online-only business, said she sees the value in such organizations.

“It’s helped me to find other people who are starting out, and it’s been a good networking opportunity,” said Calhoun, who also works as a surgical assistant. “I’m introverted, so it’s a hard thing for me to do.”

Lillian Jean Reitz is a new member with a new portrait photography business called Lillian Jean Photography.

“I’m so thankful to have found the Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi,” said Reitz, who hopes to be in business full time by the end of this year. “They’ve helped me with networking and have helped give me confidence.”

Another new member, Liz Perez, executive director of the newly formed nonprofit Corpus Christi Maternal Mental Health Coalition, said she has received help with networking through the society. Her organization is a peer-to-peer support group with meetings for mothers experiencing postpartum depression.

“They’ve helped me network and spread the word,” Perez said. “And they’ve been pivotal in helping me put together my new board of directors.”

Helping female business owners is just the beginning, Riojas said. Future plans include starting a mentorship program and a peer-to-peer network. The mentorship program would pair experienced business-owner members and college students needing real-world experience. The peer-to-peer network would allow business owners to share skills and strengths with each other.

Riojas said the organization has begun partnering with Del Mar College’s Small Business Development Center and hopes to team up with others to help bring more knowledge to members.

The next market event is scheduled for early December at a time and place to be determined. For more on the Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi, visit the website at

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