*Photo credit to @catelyn.anne

In the past six months I’ve been pursuing what is truly my life dream — to own and operate my own event venue & retreat center with a focus on uplifting creatives of color. Over the past 10 years as an Event Producer in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve grown tired of being a guest in other people’s spaces and have longed for my own space to curate and craft. I’ve grown tired of being at the mercy of other people’s rules, of constantly seeing our community and our favorite events displaced from their long-time venues, and having zero control over that reality.

I got tired of begging for access to space in a community where the amazing artists, creatives, and performers are one of the main reasons that the community was so vibrant and active in the first place.

While there are so many event spaces that already exist in the Bay Area, there are very few owned by people of color (POC), and few where POCs feel safe, welcomed, and able to be their authentic selves. As a woman who has publicly stated that “my businesses are like my babies”, this space and new company is something I’ve been dreaming about, nurturing, creating, and trying to birth its existence into the world for the past 5 years. In 2019 I actually almost leased a 5000 sq ft space at 6th and Mission, but it ended up not working out, which was actually a blessing in disguise given the current scenario around Covid. Over the past year, the idea of this space has been calling to me more deeply – in my dreams at night, during the day, and pretty much all the time, so I was called to listen.

I knew that starting a 3rd company was going to be a huge undertaking, so I had to prepare myself in many ways to accept the challenge and make it real. In therapy during the entire quarantine, I was processing so much grief, loss, and sadness over the closing of the event industry and my in person events, while simultaneously dreaming this community space into existence. I was processing the changes that my main company, Make it Mariko (my first business baby), would have to go through in order to get our team ready for me to step away for a bit to focus on building a new company, so my Make it Mariko team started to take more lead in managing the day to day event planning.

To be clear, all of this change with Make it Mariko was already a lot for me! As someone who started the company thinking that I was going to just plan a bunch of events myself, it was a lot for me to process letting go and taking on the new role of CEO & Creative Director, instead of Event Planner. But we were making big moves, thankfully growing as a company (even during the pandemic via virtual events), and successfully starting to develop our team, management, and client processes.

Making it Happen

IN JANUARY, I started looking more seriously at properties – checking Loopnet daily and Google searching venues and land for sale. I started working on a business plan, and started putting my dream onto paper to make it real. For anyone who knows me, knows that my planning love language is in Google Slide decks. It’s not real until there’s a Google Slide deck. So I finally made the first one 😉 And with that initial deck, the baby was beginning to be born.

BY FEBRUARY, I had found an amazing 25 acre property! It was seemingly perfect, turnkey, and ready to be operated as an event space, with a big house, cottages, and multiple event structures already on the land, in addition to 20 acres of land for farming. I reached out to the seller’s realtor to start to gather information, and got my own realtor into the loop to start to negotiate and manage communications. I brought in my lawyer (who is also one of my best friends) who helped me brainstorm various corporate business structures that could work for my use case as well as assistance with the Business Plan details. As I started learning about how typical corporations were structured, I worked hard to decolonize those structures and decide for myself what I wanted my business to look like that was atypical of the cut and paste, capitalist, business model.

Photo of me and my parents after the first site visit. Our first “investor meeting” over margaritas 🙂

BY MARCH, I was deep into the work and research. I was on the phone and on email with the Sacramento Planning Department every week having critical discussions about zoning, land transfers, and permitting. I was studying long city documents about planning timelines, agricultural land rules, the Williamson Act, and doing all my due diligence to make sure I could actually achieve my vision on this land. I had conversations with many of my mentors, and started working with my business coach from Renaissance Center again to get consulting advice (ask for Gwen, she’s the best!).

I reached out to multiple SBA loan financing companies to figure out the process for loan pre-approval to choose the right one to work with. I ended up going with the company that closed the most SBA loans on the West Coast, who were equally excited about my business proposal and project! I pitched the overall idea to my parents, who I was approaching to be my biggest investors and partners. They were really supportive of the idea (albeit they thought I was kinda crazy for dreaming so big for my first property), and agreed to come on as investors and we quickly got pre-approved for a loan! It was all becoming real — it was actually possible to buy this land. I just needed to raise more money.

Getting Investors

BY APRIL, that initial Google Slides deck was nurtured and developed into maturity, and was finally ready to be presented to investors. One of my biggest goals of the project was to put together an investor group composed of all women of color (WOC). As a WOC entrepreneur myself, who also founded a nonprofit called Pinayista focused on creating community with Filipina WOC, and who is committed to bringing more WOC into the events industry, it was important to me to bring this value into this new project. I knew that I could never afford to buy a huge piece of land on my own, but if we came together and pooled our money, we could achieve something we could never do on our own.

So I started my first investor pitches in April — the first pitch was to some of my closest Pinay mentors and friends and I was SO nervous, not sure what they would say/think. These were some of the most important Pinays in my life that I respected so much, so if they weren’t feeling it then I knew I’d have to rethink everything. But thankfully they were excited, supportive, and most importantly DOWN, and I secured some of my first investors after that meeting. After that the pitching got easier, lots of NDAs were signed, I got into my groove, really good questions were asked, and the deck improved every time. I pitched to more WOC in my circle that I loved, respected, and would feel honored to build this dream with. I got a few “No’s” from some people in the beginning which was hard at first, but their feedback helped me improve my pitch, and I was honestly so surprised at how many women said YES on the spot. My investors understood and shared my vision – in fact, many had the same dream – and had ultimate trust in me to carry it out (no pressure!). It increased my confidence and excitement, and with every pitch I convinced myself that this was real and that it could really really really actually happen.

And so this business baby got its first godparents (my investors), who I started to co-dream with together. How we’d all pitch in money, time, energy, values, and create something important for generations to come. Not just a money making venture, but on some legacy type of shit. I would dream about this future community space and imagine it’s future, my future with my family, our community’s future together. The business already had a name, we had a website and social media handles ready to be built. I knew what the space would look like (I had builders ready to go), what it would sound like (I had the first concerts and performances in mind), and what it felt like (imagined opening day and our first energy circle). I could feel and see all the energy of it as if it were already real.

F*ck Imposter Syndrome

I know people say not to get too attached when buying property so as not to get let down, but it’s almost impossible to do that when you’re creating something so big. You HAVE to believe it’s gonna happen in order to convince other people to believe it too. And so I was attached, in a good way. But I also felt immense fear and the pressure of managing and protecting the investment of these women of color, my parents, as well as my own.

And of course, imposter syndrome was constantly in the back of my mind. As a WOC in this space, I never honestly dreamed I could do something like this. I questioned myself constantly wondering if I was thinking too big.


Just the normal imposter syndrome type of thoughts that are typical for a woman of color in a space where representation doesn’t look like you. But with the support of my investors, my husband, family, friends, and my therapist, I was able to quell those fears and keep pushing forward. I put in my first offer by late April and we crossed our fingers. I almost threw up as I clicked on the DocuSign because I was so nervous :/

BY MAY, I had a fully fleshed out business plan that had already gone through 5+ different iterations, and I had raised nearly $700,000, all from women of color investors. What’s crazy is my investors hadn’t even seen the property yet! They trusted me fully and the vision – it was truly amazing! By then we had done one venue walk through with my parents and realtor only, had gone through multiple counter offers with the seller, I was looking at inspectors to hire for the inspection process, and the negotiations were getting really nitty gritty listing out specific equipment and furniture we wanted as part of the deal. I was talking to a Public Relations specialist about the PR launch campaign, and I was planning a big crowdfunding marketing campaign for the Fall. I was even talking with videographers about creating a documentary about the entire process to share our story!

BY JUNE, it had already been 4 months that I’d been working on this dream. This business baby was in its second trimester, and in my head this shit was real and it was happening. With my husband, who is an SF native born and raised, we had always known that we would live in SF for the rest of our lives. But with this new property becoming real in the Sacramento Delta area, I was seriously contemplating moving to the East Bay to be one bridge closer to the land. He was willing to consider it. So not only was I planning in regards to my Make it Mariko team and our leadership structure, I was doing big family planning as well. We were ready to change our lives for this space, this dream, in order to make it successful.

Walking Away

In the end it came down to ONE clause in the deal — the request for a large non-refundable deposit after 45 days that the seller would not budge on. Knowing that the SBA was taking over 60+ days to close loans due to Covid, it was a line item I did not feel comfortable budging on. Losing that money would’ve been almost the amount of up to one investor — was I really ready to lose that money if the deal didn’t go through? Knowing the responsibility of the women of color investors who were trusting me with their hard earned money, I could not sacrifice losing money on a deal that didn’t feel right in my gut.

After consulting with multiple trusted mentors and many many tears, I made the difficult decision to walk away from the deal.

When processing this with my therapist, she called it out as being somewhat of a “business abortion” (I’m using the term very loosely) in that I was birthing this business baby into the world, but it was my choice to walk away. Regardless of it being my choice though, it didn’t make the loss any less palpable. I had all this amazing energy flowing through my body and life for the past six months, and all of a sudden it was gone. I was dreaming for myself, but also holding the dreams of my investors, and of the many people we wanted to tap in to be a part of the space. I underestimated the amount of grieving that I had to do after this loss. 

This loss on top of the fact that we’re still in a global pandemic, and things are NOT normal still, I’ve been really struggling and grieving silently. At times this grief has come out as negative energy towards those in my life that I love the most. Sometimes it looked like a lack of motivation where I would stare at my growing email inbox and to-do list and feel zero inclination to do anything. Other times it was impatience, micromanaging, or just tears. I’ve had to grapple with this and come to terms with my actions and energy, and thankfully I have beautiful people in my life who were able to call me in and address it. For that, I’m endlessly grateful and humbled. Even writing this blog has felt really cathartic and healing, so thank you for reading this far.

All this to say, dreaming big is hard y’all. And for those of you who nurture your business babies with as much energy, intention, and love as I do — I FEEL YOU. Someone once said to me that they “only know me through my events” so don’t really know me that well. But if you really knew me you’d know that I put all of myself and my heart into my events. So if you know my events, YOU KNOW ME, TOO.

I know I’m definitely nowhere close to being done. In fact, I trust in the universe that this is only the beginning, and my dream space will reveal itself to me when the time and place is ready. To my village, thank you for supporting me and allowing me the honor of collectively visioning with you. Let’s continue to dream together.

-Gina Mariko
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