Cathie Anderson

In four years, 15 dreamers have turned ideas into real Sacramento businesses

Models wearing Amal Iqbal’s designs take their final turn on the catwalk at Sacramento Fashion Week, held this year at The Railyards.
Models wearing Amal Iqbal’s designs take their final turn on the catwalk at Sacramento Fashion Week, held this year at The Railyards. Oscar Vasquez

The Calling All Dreamers contest set out in 2013 with the idea of providing the coaching and capital injection to launch one new business annually in downtown Sacramento, but as finalists in this business competition received coaching, support and advice, a startling 15 of them have made the decision to hang shingles.

Count Amal Iqbal as one of those calculating the risk and then seizing the moment. She will officially open her atelier, Studio FIG, with an open house at 1009 1/2 Ninth St., Unit 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. She submitted her business plan into the Calling All Dreamers contest in 2013 and 2016.

Last year, 34 businesses entered the competition, and her concept ranked among the five finalists. Although she didn’t win either time, she told me that the top five finish and support from her mentor made her feel that her concept was validated.

“One of the great things about Calling All Dreamers is that you get paired with a SCORE mentor, and ours was Venki Venkataraman,” Iqbal said. “He was just so encouraging, and he believed in us and inspired us to go ahead and take the chance.”

SCORE’s counselors, who volunteer for the U.S. Small Business Administration, are experienced business executives who advise new and established business owners on many aspects of starting, operating or even selling a company. After conferring with Venkataraman, Iqbal decided to test out her design business last summer out of the apartment she shared with her husband, Srikanth Rao, in Natomas.

“I would get a 50 percent deposit from people who wanted custom clothing made,” Iqbal said. “I used that money to buy the material and we just kept funding it that way. Slowly, we just started building savings. We had family who also helped us.”

Iqbal also socked away money that she made as an landscape designer. She graduated from architecture school at UC Davis in 2012, but regional architecture firms were still struggling because of the real estate downturn and she couldn’t find a job right away. Her husband knew how much she loved fashion and urged her to return to school to study it. She got an associate’s degree in fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

At her atelier, the 30-year-old Iqbal will focus on fashion, interior and graphic design – the F-I-G in Studio FIG, pronounced like the fruit. She said she hopes to encourage other designers to pursue their dreams in Sacramento, rather than going to larger cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

In addition to helping 15 businesses open their doors – Iqbal’s being the latest one – organizers report that contestants have created 20 full-time and 57 part-time jobs and have leased more than 18,000 square feet of commercial space.

This year’s winner will receive a prize package valued at $100,000. It includes a cash infusion as well as in-kind services in areas such as marketing, interior design, accounting and legal services. Visit for more information.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

The Calling All Dreamers competition, established by the Downtown Sacramento Foundation, opened its fifth annual competition on Monday. Entries will be accepted until 5 p.m. April 10.

Here are past winners:

2013: Andy’s Candy Apothecary, 1012 9th St., Sacramento. Owner Andy Paul sells an array of fine candy.

2014: Ana Apple, The Old Sacramento storefront closed in January, but owner Ana Manzano continues to run her children’s clothing online at

2015: Allspicery, 1125 11th St., Sacramento. Owner Heather Wong sells a wide variety of spices and herbs, and each order is sized to meet the customer’s needs.

2016: Oblivion Comics & Coffee. Co-owners Laura Benson and Neil Estaris plan to open by mid-May at 1020 11th St. in Sacramento. They will sell gourmet coffee from Chocolate Fish and comic books from a variety of publishers.