Entrepreneurial Women: Launching New Businesses and New Lives in Mexico
“San Miguel is a place with really strong women, and anyone interested in doing what we’re doing should feel comfortable asking us questions. Being an entrepreneur, starting something new, is so exciting, but certainly, there are challenges. We welcome women who want to do something to make the world better. Whatever you want to do, there’s probably another woman here who’s done it and would be happy to share her experience.
We’re all about raising each other up.”
—Nancy Howze, CDR San Miguel | Forbes Global Properties and SanMiguelLife.com
The incredible creative energy of San Miguel de Allende was on full display one recent afternoon when ten impressive female entrepreneurs gathered at beautiful Viñedos Patria at the invitation of Ann, Nancy, and Amber. The group of strong, talented women included members from the United States, England, Hungary, and India, as well as Mexico. San Miguel attracts resourceful, innovative people, and the community provides both inspiration and a supportive environment for creative endeavors.
By launching their passion projects in San Miguel, these women have transformed their lives and the lives of their families, as well as positively impacting others. Over lunch at the vineyard’s excellent restaurant, Fuego y Agua, they shared their motivations for taking a discerning leap in the middle of their lives.
Lisa Coleman’s business, Recreo San Miguel, has an intriguing origin story. While on vacation twenty years ago, Lisa and her husband bought a house in San Miguel. Then during Mexico’s Bicentenario celebration in 2010, they felt they ought to better understand the country’s history, so Lisa bought Mamie Spiegel’s book, San Miguel and the War of Independence. She learned that a textile industry has existed in San Miguel for almost 500 years, with artisans making fine cloth for church vestments and altar coverings. In addition, the sarape, the iconic Mexican poncho, was first produced commercially in San Miguel in 1780. When Lisa’s husband suggested combining the two ideas—producing sarapes with the finest fabrics—Lisa laughed. “Two gringos like us are going to sell sarapes to the locals?”
As a marketing executive and headhunter, Lisa had no prior textile experience. She became enamored with the idea, however, and six months later, Recreo San Miguel was born. The business, currently with 27 employees, indeed sells exquisitely crafted sarapes to locals and visitors alike. This luxury fashion label is now sold in stores all over the world.
Tamanna Bembenek and her husband came to San Miguel on a sabbatical and, like so many others, fell in love with Mexico and decided to stay. With a Ph.D. in biochemistry, Tamanna, who grew up in India, has had a successful career in biotechnology in the United States, and she still sits on industry boards. “It’s a part of me, so I’ll always keep a foot in that world, but there are so many other things I also wanted to do in life.” Not only is she returning to an early passion for creating art, but Tamanna and her husband also recently purchased Mexico’s leading English-language newspaper, Mexico News Daily. “We’re expanding coverage. The idea is to provide a more balanced view of Mexico. In the American media, you tend to hear only the negatives.”
Jessica Patterson of CDR San Miguel | Forbes Global Properties and Jessica Patterson Jewelry was born and raised in San Miguel de Allende. She has lived abroad and operated a business in the United States, giving her considerable insight into business culture in the two countries and an appreciation for the appeal of San Miguel. “San Miguel offers a wonderfully cosmopolitan environment and a diverse mix of people. This city tends to attract creative individuals who enjoy finding inspiration in our rich Mexican culture and the more relaxed Mexican vibe. Because I was raised here and have also lived in the U.S. and Europe, I can quickly ascertain what my real estate clients need and help them find the property that will fulfill their dreams.”
Jessica also appreciates that the San Miguel lifestyle offers people the flexibility to do multiple things. Her thriving jewelry business used to be her full-time job, but now that she is a quite successful member of the CDR San Miguel | Forbes Global Properties real estate team, along with Nancy, Ann, and Amber, Jessica still finds time to design jewelry on the side as well as pursue a budding career as an artistic photographer. She recently held her first gallery exhibition and sold out every photograph. “I am able to bring some of the energy from my creative endeavors into my real estate business, pursuing both passions at once in a healthy balance. That is something I particularly love about San Miguel life.”
The themes of finding your passion and making a difference in the community definitely resonated among the gathered women. April Pederson, owner of El Pavo Real, a sustainable vineyard, tasting room, event space, and boutique hotel, sold her software company in Washington, DC, to move to San Miguel. “I wanted something radically different for my children, who were three and five at the time,” April explained. “It was an easy decision for me once I gave myself the freedom to think about what I truly wanted to do with the rest of my life and to undertake what I call my midlife transformation—not a crisis. And here we are.”
Katherine Leutzinger created her signature jewelry line, Casa Katalina, over 20 years ago. In deep collaboration with talented Mexican artisans, Kathy designs evocative pieces that honor San Miguel’s distinct beauty and centuries-old creative traditions. When asked what advice she would offer to other expatriates considering starting a business in Mexico, Kathy was clear: “Do your homework. Every country, every culture, has its own way of doing things. It is essential to take the time to understand and respect those differences.”
“People can immediately fall in love with the beauty and magic in San Miguel. Often, they see business opportunities and how they can use their creativity to follow their ideas. A suggestion to anyone considering a project or business here is to embrace the culture and community. By doing this, you will enhance your experience considerably."
—Ann Dolan, CDR San Miguel | Forbes Global Properites and SanMiguelLife.com
After two decades as a fitness instructor, wellness coach, and business partner in her husband’s medical clinic, Lisa Attridge de Gordillo is now launching her own passion project, Rancho Corazón de Nopal, to provide equine-assisted physical therapy to children with disabilities, as well as emotional therapy. The ranch will have both a nonprofit arm to provide therapy free of charge to children in need and a business side as a retreat center that will help to underwrite the costs of the nonprofit.
“For a long time,” Lisa said, “I’ve had a dream that when I retire, when I’m 65, I will open an equine therapy center. I realized I could bring my dream forward.” Lisa is currently in the process of certification and hopes to open her doors to children with disabilities by the end of 2023. “I am so excited to work with the kids. It’s funny, my business coach is a little disappointed in me because she wanted me to focus on making money first as a retreat center, but I am much more passionate about getting the nonprofit up and running. That’s what’s important to me."
I, Ann Marie Jackson, moved with my family to San Miguel ten years ago and became deeply involved with established NGOs here. Then, seeing a need, I founded with friends a new nonprofit microlending organization for women called Mano Amiga. We provide business training, interest-free loans, and a powerful sisterhood, helping Mexican women to start or expand their own small businesses. While I see this as a natural evolution from my previous work with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. nonprofits to further human rights and social justice causes, I have also experienced the transformative energy of San Miguel: here, with more time and flexibility in my life, while immersed in this city’s beauty and rich cultural traditions, I became inspired to write a novel. The Broken Hummingbird will be published in October.
Zsuzsanna Slezák, the owner of Fuego y Agua Restaurant, hails from Hungary. She and her Mexican husband are building several businesses in the San Miguel area, including beautiful Viñedos Patria. “This is my dream, what I have now, building this vineyard and other related projects, each one unique and special. My mantra is ‘salir de tipico,’ to create something out of the ordinary, and San Miguel welcomes our creative spirit.” Zsuzsanna’s next project is a spa at Viñedos Patria.
“Launching a business means offering something to the community, and you can't know for certain how it will be received. So many new businesses fail in any country, so anyone brave enough to take that risk is commendable. When you're talking about doing it in a foreign country, that's an extra level of difficulty. I am so grateful so many women here are willing to take that risk and share their gifts with our community."
—Amber Nieto, CDR San Miguel | Forbes Global Properites and SanMiguelKids.com
These and so many other San Miguel women share a passion for their work as well as deep love and respect for Mexican culture. Should you be dreaming of following your own passion in San Miguel de Allende, they hope you will feel free to reach out to them. The sisterhood of strong, entrepreneurial women here will welcome you.