CEO of Ka Wahine Ho’oma’ema’e
One of fifteen women within the Inaugural Certification Training Cohort with MBDA EWOC Business Center. She now has a certified business, a contract with YWCA Kokokahi, and recently and is growing her business with new client development initiatives.
Leilani Perez, CEO of Ka Wahine Ho’oma’ema’e, was one of fifteen selected women for the inaugural certification training cohort held by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center. Leilani is a multi-ethnic woman who identifies as Hawaiian and Chinese. Leilani has been dedicated and committed to beautifying Hawai’i and its excellent cleaning service in the commercial sector for over 12 years.
Before her current business, she was CEO of Makaila Cleaning Services. This business was both a commercial and residential cleaning service. Leilani gained valuable experience in the restaurant industry when her company had a contract with the Hard Rock Café. With them, she handled the cleanliness of the restaurant, as well as did their pre-and post-construction cleaning when the restaurant underwent construction. Leilani would also often help with house flip renovations.
Experiencing a business downturn because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and having the opportunities to participate in the Ku Kahana Cohort 2020 with the Council For Native Hawaiian Advancement, and completing the inaugural certification cohort, Leilani made the bold decision to completely shut down and rebrand her company in December 2020. During the pandemic, she was offered other opportunities but felt they wouldn’t help her reach her goals and fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams. “I was offered to be a caretaker. It was a great opportunity for me to take, especially with living amongst the pandemic. Free-rent was always going to be a great thing, but I didn’t need to look into it more to know that this wasn’t something I would be able to see myself doing in 5 years and declined it... it wouldn’t allow me to run my business. Since then, I started my journey that I’m in now …” Leilani adds.
Leilani’s time during the inaugural certification training cohort allowed her to make her dreams and goals a reality. “YWCA pushed me to not procrastinate or take it easy, and just keep on going…. I’ve been blessed to keep up the pace and I’m so proud of myself”. She didn’t know anything about getting certified to compete for set aside contracts but was thrilled to be given the opportunity to join a training cohort through the MBDA EWOC Business Center. Leilani knew that this was an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up because it was an additional tool she could add to her business toolbox.
“The certification training cohort has catapulted me to the level and direction that I wanted to go in. It spurred everything… Right after the class, I completely shut down my old business since it was a sole proprietor and reopened it under an LLC as a single member. Since then, I’ve been structuring it under the guidelines that I’ve learned in the certification training cohort with MBDA EWOC in a way that [my business] can receive the state and federal contacts I wanted. It put everything into perspective as to the process and understanding and all the little parts that come with the business certification and then going into the process of actually obtaining the contracts. This is complex and very new to me, but [the trainers] also explained the process to me. It’s been an eye-opening journey for me…” – Leilani Perez, CEO, Ka Wahine Ho’oma’ema’e
After completing the certification training, Ka Wahine Ho’oma’ema’e, a commercial janitorial service, was born! Her primary goal is to provide local businesses with her COVID-19 sanitization services to help decrease the spread of the coronavirus and provide the highest quality cleaning standards for her clients. Leilani is a very passionate, detail-oriented, and hardworking woman who takes pride in her work. Because of this, she takes pride in providing a service that helps to protect public health. Although living amongst a pandemic can be a scary time, Leilani goes into every job with safe practices that have positive health results.
“I wasn’t hesitant when going about doing my job [with the pandemic]. It was a passion of mines that fueled the fire because seeing all these people not getting the correct education to protect themselves, I wanted to throw myself into that. I invested in a $2,000 electric static sprayer and went out… A lot of people weren’t educated on how to thoroughly sanitize and clean their homes to decrease the chance of getting infected, spreading it to loved ones, and that reinfection can reoccur. Also, I want to make them feel good about themselves in a healthier and cleaner environment. It changes your mentality. It makes you feel more comfortable, relaxed, and secure; this can play a lot with a person’s personality, mindset, and actions that follow it, therefore…. This was the beginning of my new journey”. – Leilani Perez, CEO, Ka Wahine Ho’oma’ema’e
Recently Ka Wahine Ho’oma’ema’e has completed its certification process and is officially a certified company! Leilani was also able to receive a contract with YWCA Kokokahi to provide cleaning services to do. “We are so grateful MBDA referred Leilani to our work site. She is prompt, professional, and proactive. Our facilities are super clean and COVID-safe, thanks to her attention to detail and personal pride in her work” Tess Baraquio, the Wellness and Membership Manager at YWCA Kokokahi says. Leilani is also in the process of hiring five more employees to fulfill her team of Ka Wahine Ho’oma’ema’e. She is looking forward to hiring at home and provide jobs to help local families. “Hiring local can ensure Hawai’i money would stay here and help the economy, as well as help others who are looking for jobs and advocate for better pay…”. Leilani says this wouldn’t be possible without the networking she received while with the inaugural certification training cohort.
Leilani expressed her gratitude towards this opportunity and referral because she is no stranger to the struggles to market her business and find new clients. “To make moves, you need to know [about the new businesses here in Hawai’i] before they break ground because that’s when they are looking. By the time you learn about [the new business] in the newspapers or on the news, they already have their building built and their business structure. You’re too late. You have to be on it!” Leilani mentions. The certification training also unlocked a new level of networking opportunities.
“When I was approached to be a part of this program, I couldn’t have been more excited. I didn’t know how to go about the certification process, as well as knowing where to find people to network with such as Marí and José Villa of their company, Villa Business Consulting, Inc.; their company is to help other businesses get certified! I didn’t know where to get certified because Hawai’i businesses don’t know or hear about these things. We don’t know how to access this type of information… I know how this process works; it’s just getting inside information from all of these companies who are looking. That’s where this certification training cohort helped me. It’ll allow me to get a heads up [and network with others] to hear about new contract possibilities…” – Leilani Perez
Leilani also continues to make it a life mission of hers to empower and uplift women, and help level the playing field. “We women have to stand up because it’s so hard. It’s hard because women may feel obligated to fit into the preconceptions and stereotypes that are made about women. As a woman leader, I feel that I can still be a woman and still have your respect, attention, and strongly direct my staff, but still in a feminine and nurturing way…” Leilani adds.
Leilani’s advice to women aspiring to start and grow their small business:
“One piece of advice that has worked for me is along every single step of your journey, if you feel hesitant or feel like putting it aside, you need to sit down and ask yourself about what contracts you want or what you want in your life in general, ask yourself ‘Do I see myself in this? If I accept this opportunity for 5 years will I this alight with my goal I envision?’ and if your answer is yes, then don’t hesitate and don’t stop. Work hard every day and commit yourself to it, and things will flow into the direction you want!” – Leilani Perez