Childcare businesses spring from Southwestern College program

Published in UT San Diego, January 22, 2013

The entrepreneur spectrum spans much more than high tech and biotech. For example, here is an entrepreneur who figured out child tech.

After years of struggling to make ends meet as a single mother, Julie Muñoz decided that she needed to change her life. And so she went back to school and learned a skill, one that is in high demand, cannot be outsourced to India and has a barrier to entry — her front door. In 2007, she graduated from Southwestern College’s Microenterprise Family Childcare Program (MEFC), where she learned the competencies necessary to open a licensed child care business in her home. Today she runs Little Treasures Family Child Care, a thriving business with a waiting list of families wanting to use her services.

“Six years ago, I didn’t think that I was worth anything. Now I know that I can do anything. I’ve been a good example for my 33-year old daughter and my grandson in middle school. At his school job fair, he saw my photo and he said, “My grandma has a successful business and some day I will be successful like her,’ ” said Muñoz, speaking in the child-friendly living room of her National City home. “I don’t have to lay awake at night worrying about how to pay my bills. I have a new car in my driveway, and I’m able to do things with my grandkids.”

Most importantly, Muñoz says she loves what she does. “This job is emotionally rewarding. You get hugs and kisses every day,” she said.

She credits MEFC with teaching her to think like a business owner — not a baby sitter. In addition to child development and first aid, she learned about finance, taxes, bookkeeping and marketing. “When I get a new client, it starts with the first phone call because first impressions matter,” she said.

This lady could go to the Valley and blow the doors down.

Her marketing efforts include handing out fliers at schools, preparing a 20-second elevator pitch for when people ask what she does, ads on Craig’s List, and wearing a colorful “Little Treasures” T-shirt that says, “Quality child care at affordable prices, very kid friendly home with lots of TLC.”

MEFC, which graduated its first class in 2006, counts 372 graduates of whom 76 percent have received a family child care license and 60 percent of whom are successfully operating a business one year after program completion. The 14-week program, which is offered twice a year, is free for the 30 participants and is funded by a grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. The earning potential is from $36,400 to $54,600 a year based on four to six children and an average fee of $175 per week.

Most participants are women, and men are welcome although only a few have attended. Enrique and Maria Velazquez, an Oceanside couple, attended the class together and now operate a center with a large center license that allows them to serve up to 14 children. “When our daughter was born seven years ago, we couldn’t find good quality child care, so when we heard about the Southwestern College, we decided to take the classes,” said Enrique. “It felt strange because I was the only man with 29 ladies but after three weeks, it felt like a big family, and I was proud to be there.”

The influence on the graduates can be enormous.

“I had no idea that it would have such a big impact emotionally, personally and practically on the participants. People tell us that now I have hope and a future. We are helping women to become economically self-sufficient, which results in an increase in their self-esteem and confidence,” said Cynthia K. Nagura, director of MEFC and Southwestern’s Family Resource Center.

There is no single rule for a moving story of success by bootstrap, of solving your own problem, and in so doing, solving the problems of many others. You cannot create an app that does child care. We love the triumph of Muñoz and the Velazquez family for exactly that reason.

Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry, serial entrepreneurs who invest in early-stage technology companies, take turns in writing this weekly column about entrepreneurship in San Diego. Please email ideas to Barbara at

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