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Ali Kenis

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"Women Elevated!"

BRAVO Celebrates the Fearless Pursuit of Success

Celebrating its 20th year, BRAVO celebrates women in business and leadership who are breaking barriers, forging new ground and pursuing their goals with fearless fortitude.

This year’s event, “Women Elevated! Celebrating the Fearless Pursuit of Success,” showcases seven exemplary women with vision and perseverance who create a bright future for women business owners and leaders in our community. The women were honored at the National Association of Women Business Owners 20th Annual BRAVO Awards Luncheon last month. 

Catherine Von Burg, SimpliPhi Power, Oxnard

Woman Business Owner of the Year

Under Catherine’s leadership, SimpliPhi has deployed energy storage and management systems in more than 40 countries, providing access to power in some of the most remote, harsh environments and use-cases globally since 2010.

In 2017, representing SimpliPhi, Catherine participated in an exclusive entrepreneur program hosted by the U.S. Department of State and the Unreasonable Impact Group in which global business leaders were carefully selected as being the best positioned to solve each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations.

Catherine graduated from Columbia University in New York and holds a master’s degree from University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy.

Inspiration: I’m inspired by the tremendous range of people who are working on so many fronts to combat climate change on a global scale. From very young students to university-level activists, to innovators and scientists, to legislators—not to mention our own personnel who are designing and manufacturing environmentally responsible energy storage solutions. There are so many unsung heroes around the world who tirelessly, and without accolades, take up the charge to advance a more sustainable and equitable world for today and future generations. These people, through their own personal convictions and commitment, inspire me every day.

Advice: Listen to both your heart and your mind—it’s a powerful combination and often underestimated in decisions about education, careers and professional pursuits in general. Creating the opportunity to pursue subject matter that intrinsically interests you, be it scientific research or the performing arts, that you are also passionate about, provides fertile ground for continual growth, as well as an internal compass to guide you through good times and bad. Always keep in mind that any job is worthwhile, and who you are as a person infuses everything you do. Know your strengths and always be aware of areas you need to improve and where others can complement your efforts. I have taken a very diverse path to where I am now. There is no way I could have predicted I would have become the CEO of a clean energy company, but I have always been focused on wanting to make an impact on the world for the better. That has been my moral compass that has guided everything I have done, personally and professionally.

R&R: Exercise, being physically active and reading.  

Michelle Wilner, VIRTIS, Newbury Park

Innovator of the Year

Michelle is CEO and cofounder of VIRTIS, a full-service, woman-owned cybersecurity firm that is reshaping the dynamics of the cybersecurity landscape with globally unique solutions and services. Dually headquartered Newbury Park, and Auckland, New Zealand, VIRTIS taps into some of the world’s most advanced technology.

VIRTIS combines their game-changing shielding technology with their fully managed web application protection service which now has the ability find and fix vulnerabilities in hours, even minutes, much faster than the current average time to remediate of 4-6 months. Proprietary solutions combined with boutique, white glove customer service enable VIRTIS to provide strategic roadmaps, leading-edge technology and support services to some of the most technically advanced organizations in the world. In 2018, CIOReview recognized Michelle’s vision to modernize vulnerability management by naming VIRTIS among the Top 10 Most Promising Cybersecurity Solution Providers.

Dedicated to making a difference in an industry with only 11% women, Michelle has championed diversity and inclusion for women and minorities. Knowing that women are incredibly underrepresented in technology, generally, and cybersecurity, especially, is what inspires Michelle to promote STEM careers and cybersecurity certification paths for young girls.

Michelle was recently announced as a finalist for the Women in IT, 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Inspiration: Being recognized as an innovator inspires me. Knowing that our VIRTIS Vi, the only fully managed Web application and API Protection (WAAP) Service on the market today, is protecting organizations, and more importantly, keeping people’s private data safe, faster and less expensive than anyone in the industry inspires me. Making a difference in cybersecurity, an industry that only has 11% women inspires me.

Advice: Build or do something you are passionate about. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Be FEARLESS! I am reminded everyday of inspiring words from my 17-year-old amazing daughter, Catelynn James: “Stay fierce, Mom!”

R&R: Working out relaxes me and keeps me sane. I’m a thrill seeker, so roller coasters, escape rooms, parasailing and ziplining are some of the fun things I enjoy doing!

Breanne Cochran, The Vent Human Performance Center, Ventura

Rising Star of the Year 

Breanne started coaching in Ventura in 2010, when she was given the opportunity to bring a different kind of training to a typical “globo-gym.” She quickly saw that members and management embraced her functional training and noticed a massive shift in the culture. By February 2017, with the help and support of many, Breanne opened The Vent: Human Performance Center.

From elite and ex-athletes to 80-year-olds seniors, children and teens, The Vent helps all ages realize their potential. Driven by core values of Education, Connection and Innovation, The Vent guides and shapes lives and the community. The focus isn’t simply to help people reach a fitness goal, teach a movement or even a skill, but also to be sophisticated and innovative to help clients understand the “why” behind their journey. The Vent is dedicated to helping its clients truly understand their bodies and minds, so they can continue to use them at maximum potential for years.

“The entire team at The Vent: Human Performance Center will never cease to challenge and evolve our thinking; meet and raise the standards set by our predecessors and work enthusiastically and with integrity, to live up to and deliver on our core values for our clients and successors,” says Breanne.

Inspiration: I am constantly inspired by watching my members achieve things they never thought possible. The looks on their faces when they reach a goal or are successful at a lift or movement that they thought they couldn't do—that face—it's literally the best!

I am also constantly inspired by the amazing community that has formed at The Vent. These members really take care of each other—their actual love and care for one another is like a family. 

Advice: Learn to trust your intuition and always surround yourself with the best in your field. Don't be afraid to reach out to the best of the best, no matter where they live or how busy you imagine them to be.

R&R:I enjoy hanging out with my badass fellow lady entrepreneurs—they understand when and how much to talk about business but also when to just sit and enjoy each other’s company. I also have a passion for sand volleyball and hope to make a regular appearance on the sand courts soon!

Christina Shaffer, The Law Office of Christina Shaffer, Thousand Oaks

Community Advocate of the Year

Christina has been practicing Family Law since 2004, receiving numerous awards, including the 2018 Ventura County Star Reader’s Choice for the Best East County Law Firm and the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce 40 Under 40 Award. Christina volunteers at the local Self-Help Center and Free Legal Clinic and provides the local judiciary with assistance as a Settlement Officer.

With a Juris Doctorate from the University of La Verne College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Law and Society from the University of California Santa Barbara, Christina is skilled and experienced at representing cases, ranging from mediation to high-conflict litigation. She is a certified Collaborative Family Law Attorney and takes pride in her ability to provide free services for victims of domestic violence.

Inspiration: I am inspired by my family to be a good person; my children inspire me to be a positive role model, and I am inspired to be someone that my family will always be proud of.

I feel honored to be in a position that allows me to help people during difficult times by assisting with their legal needs. I am honored to be able to assist people with transitioning from difficult, and sometimes dangerous situations to living more peaceful lives. I am grateful that I am in a position to create positive changes for those in need. Lastly, I am inspired to be like my Mom, who was the strongest community and family advocate that I have ever known.

Advice: Research, education and perseverance are keys for any successful entrepreneur. Research your options and find a career where you can make a difference. If you find a career that you love and are passionate about, intern with someone in that field. Educate yourself so that you can become the master of your career. Most importantly, do not give up. Every time something or someone puts a roadblock in your path to happiness, it is important to get back up and try again until you accomplish your goal. 

R&R: Reading a nice book while at the spa or spending the day at the beach with my family. 

Lisa Barreto, Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation, Ventura

Education Advocate of the Year

A three-time breast cancer survivor, Lisa founded the Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation (RoL) in Ventura. Born in Boston and raised in Arlington, Massachusetts, Lisa is a breast cancer navigator-mediator, educator, speaker, published author, artist and Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT).

At 44, Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer while attending Ventura College as a re-entry student. This experience served as a springboard to her starting VC’s first Breast Cancer Education & Advocacy Support Group in September 2002. Under Lisa’s leadership, in 2007, the support group evolved into the Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation, an “all-volunteer” 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity whose mission is to provide breast cancer education, advocacy, emotional and social support to women, their families and organizations.

By 2014, Lisa and founding board members opened RoL’s Breast Cancer Resource Center. Today, the community group provides support to her. And this year, she established a Create 4 Life Studio, providing survivors an area to make masterpieces while learning fun, relaxing ways to be themselves.

Lisa has a BA degree in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing on English, Anthropology and Sociology, enhanced with a Certificate in Mediation and Negotiation from the University of California Santa Barbara, as well as a Certificate in Therapeutic Listening Care from the Adventures in Caring Foundation in Santa Barbara.

Inspiration: People (both living and who have passed) who have adopted special skills to overcome their adversities in a positive way. The intricacies and imperfect perfections of nature whispering for me to take a closer look. All the miracles that surround me. Music. Inspirational speeches.

Advice: Remind yourself that you are a masterpiece. Nobody is just like you. Come up with your own ideas that are not like anybody else's. Work toward turning your imagination and dreams into a reality. Observe those with leadership skills who know how to motivate themselves and others. Ask specific questions that will render detailed usable information. Create your “Top 5 List” of people you trust and that you can reach out to at a moment’s notice who will simply listen and then give honest feedback if asked.

R&R: I relax using the art method of Zentangle and other forms of art. I enjoy writing about experiences and lessons learned, walking and taking nature shots. Sunday drives with my husband, Bob, and our loving adopted cockapoo Rocky; beach combing; watching biographical and inspirational films and “Date Night” with Bob.

Alison Kenis, Sugar Lab Bake Shop, Ventura

Young Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 

Alison is the owner and lead decorator for Sugar Lab Bake Shop. She has been baking and decorating with her mom and business partner Kelly since she was 3 years old. Her love of cake decorating began during college, where she obtained her degree in Biology.

Shortly after graduation, at age 22, Alison opened Sugar Lab Bake Shop. Seven years later, Alison’s passion has flourished into a successful business, allowing her to participate in community events and organizations. She is currently the president of the Ventura Chapter of the National Association of Catering and Events. Recently married, Alison is a “fur” parent to two German Shepherds and two tabby cats.

Inspiration: My customers are a great source of inspiration. They come up with great party themes that translate well into cakes. When I get free reign of the design, like for a display cake, I love looking at other industries to see what is trendy. Home design and decor is a great place for inspiration. I typically prefer clean lines and simplistically elegant cakes over ones with more going on. 

As a business owner, my inspiration comes from my family. My husband and I are newly married and would like to have children. I want to create a legacy for my children, should they choose to take it. I want to be Ventura's go-to bakery for delicious and beautiful cakes and treats. 

Advice: I am so grateful for a great support system of my family and friends. I know that is not always available to everyone, so I would suggest seeking out that support system. NAWBO and WEV have been great sources of support and advice. I've also connected with other bakery owners and wedding professionals to seek guidance and a moral boost when needed. 

R&R: I love going to Disneyland! My husband and I have passes and we try to get down there as often as we can. I try to schedule monthly massages to relax. I also go to my nieces' sporting events as often as I can. 

Brenda Terzian, Doug Terzian Construction, Camarillo

NAWBO-VC Member of the Year

A Ventura County native, Brenda runs the office of her family’s construction business, which has built single-family custom homes for the past 35 years. In the past months, she and her husband, Doug, have worked night and day to help homeowners rebuild after devastating fires.

Brenda is an active member of the Thousand Oaks AAUW, the Ventura Toastmasters Club 24, the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, and sits on the Women’s Economic Ventures Advisory Council as well as being a member of WEV’s League of Extraordinary Women.

Brenda LOVES NAWBO. She is often found attending both State and National Conferences, noting that she loves connecting with like-minded business women and supporting women-owned businesses. Her motto: “Women business owners empower me!”

This June, the couple celebrates their 35th wedding anniversary. They live in Camarillo, where they raised their two daughters. They enjoy the outdoors, traveling, cooking and playing with their dog, Zeus.

Brenda received her Bachelor of Science degree in Business from California State University Channel Islands in 2006, going on to earn her Juris Doctor from Ventura College of Law in 2011.

Inspiration: The vast amount of knowledge and things that I have yet to discover inspire me to keep learning. The women in NAWBO inspire me; they are amazing and empowering women that give me energy and motivation, and I'm always learning something new from them.  

Advice: Keep learning and growing with your business; never assume you know it all. Perseverance and consistency help create longevity, unfortunately, it doesn't happen overnight. After being in business 35 years, I can honestly say, we never stopped being consistent with our work and we never stop trying to improve.

R&R: I love to travel and I love food from other cultures. I love to cook and entertain!

  • Ali Kenis
  • Ali Kenis
  • Ali Kenis
  • Ali Kenis
  • Christina Schaffer
  • Breane Cochrane
  • Lisa Barreto
  • Brenda Terzian
  • Catherine Von Burg
  • Michele Wilner