Client Spotlight: Carmelita Perera

WomenVenture loan client, Carmelita Perera, is owner of Radiant Montessori in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Carmelita Perera has high expectations of what a quality Montessori school should offer. Having worked at a Montessori school with high student-to-teacher ratios and frequent staff turnover, Carmelita knew she could do better.

In August of 2008, Carmelita opened Radiant Montessori in the basement of a small church in Maple Grove. Her vision? Create a small, family-like atmosphere where children could receive safe care and educational-based programming, and where employees were satisfied. However, becoming a successful entrepreneur hasn’t been easy.  “Running your own business is challenging,” says Carmelita. “Its 24/7. You can never go on vacation because you’re still worried and wondering about how things are going.” 

Two years ago, Carmelita was faced with one of her biggest challenges—the church where her school was housed was sold and Radiant was forced to find a new home. As a Montessori school, finding a new space is no easy task because there are an abundance of licensure requirements and non-compete clauses that make locating and renting a space nearly impossible. So Carmelita decided to build a space for Radiant from the ground up. But how would she fund the project? “We weren’t budgeting for having to buy a new space. We were focused on paying our employees good wages and providing them with health insurance.” Carmelita turned to a local bank for funding to get started. 

Although the bank did provide Carmelita with a loan, she found that it wasn’t enough to create the kind of facility that would meet her vision for the school. She wasn’t looking to solely meet licensing requirements; she wanted to create a state-of-the-art facility with the same family-like atmosphere she had previously had. A quick online search brought Carmelita to WomenVenture, where our loan team helped her secure a $50,000 loan to make her vision become a reality.

With funding in hand, construction started on Radiant Montessori’s new location in Maple Grove. By August of 2015, the new building was complete and Carmelita, her staff, and students moved in. Walking through the new space you’ll find plenty of features that were carefully thought out by Carmelita. Features such as built-in storage for car seats, an additional recreation room for playtime and extracurricular activities, and a quiet and comfortable break room for staff; all of which were the result of the loan she acquired. 

The capital Carmelita received from WomenVenture also helped her to grow her business exponentially. Since moving into their new space, the number of both staff and students at Radiant has nearly doubled, creating an additional 11 jobs and licensing for 50 additional students. And staff turnover has decreased dramatically. “Even though we are a small school, we pay top dollar to our employees, […] I want the people working here to be happy.” Staff members at Radiant receive competitive wages, are afforded low teacher-to-child ratios, and are provided with a personal tablet, which allows them to communicate with parents throughout the day. 

Unlike your average lender, WomenVenture staff checks in with clients and provides ongoing consultations in a variety of business areas, a fact that Carmelita appreciates as she continues to grow as an entrepreneur. Her current goal is to learn more about bookkeeping. “I’ve been a teacher, not an accountant, and it’s been trial and error using the software to keep records. I look forward to working one-on-on with WomenVenture this year to get help with and learn more about keeping account records.”