Small business advocate Isabella Casillas Guzman named California Steward Leader of the Year

800 450 Nadine Ono

Small businesses have always been a part of Isabella Casillas Guzman’s life, starting with the chain of veterinarian hospitals owned by her family. So, it was only natural that her career led her to be California’s top small businesses advocate and the California Steward Leader of the Year at the 2020 California Economic Summit.

“My whole life has been small business and it’s an honor to now be engaged in the policy of small businesses — having lived it and experienced it. I’ve been able to bridge those voices and give them life within the policy landscape,” said Guzman. She was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom as the director of the Office of Small Business Advocate in the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz).

“Isabella is beloved up and down the state for her focus on both small businesses and her commitment to the empowerment of minority communities, rural communities, struggling businesses owners and she does it all with good humor and a smile,” said CA FWD CEO Micah Weinberg. “It’s rare to find someone who is both so hard working and substantively knowledgeable, but also has such amazing people skills and such an easy-going personality.”

Before joining the Newsom administration, Guzman worked in the Obama administration as the deputy chief of staff and senior advisor at the U.S. Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C. as well as running her own small businesses.

“This was such a unique opportunity to be able to join the Newsom administration and really focus on his commitment to a California for ALL and use my federal policy experience to deliver impact,” she explained, “with a true commitment to supporting underserved small business owners – people of color, women, veterans, and low-wealth, rural and inland communities – to overcome barriers and connect to opportunities.”

Weinberg added, “We have been proud to work so closely with Isabella on the Regions Rise Together project and congratulate her on all of her success and so many other initiatives both in the state and national level.”

2020 has been a challenging year, especially for small businesses. Guzman’s office responded quickly to ensure that California’s small businesses could access the tools and resources they needed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had to transform our office into direct assistance,” said Guzman. “What small businesses lack is that connection to resources, knowledge and awareness. So, we try really hard to make sure that we’re amplifying programs and reaching small businesses, especially for groups that have traditionally had barriers to entry.” Those resources include access to capital and access to new markets, including e-commerce.

As the pandemic continues, Guzman and her team are helping small businesses adapt to the “new normal” and connecting them to resources and local advisors. In response to COVID, the Shop Safe Shop Local initiative has provided information on reopening safely, including guidance on how to protect employees, clients and their businesses as well as tools to expand their online presence.

Get Digital CA evolved out of the Shop Safe Shop Local initiative so we could bring a comprehensive suite of services to help businesses get online and take advantage of technology to grow and operate successfully,” added Guzman.

“Isabella is one of the most dedicated individuals I’ve ever met when it comes to fighting for small businesses and really — just the level of professionalism, there’s no comparison,” said Kaitlin Lewis, GO-Biz assistant deputy director for communications. “She works tirelessly to ensure that small businesses have a voice and that their challenges are a priority as we all work to safely recover from the COVID-19 induced recession.”

This daughter of a small business owner has used her life and professional experiences to ensure that small businesses across California not only survive but succeed.

Congratulations to our California Steward Leader of the Year – Isabella Casillas Guzman!


Nadine Ono

All stories by: Nadine Ono