Lorena Camargo learned what can happen with hard work and determination very early on.
As a first-generation American, Lorena would often accompany her mom to work as a house cleaner when she wasn’t in school. “She’d tell me she’d give me $5 for each house, and I would bring a notebook and write down the date, where I went and what she owed me,” Lorena remembers. “I’d then save to buy things for school.”
Lorena attended a K-12 school in Southern California’s South Central Los Angeles area and knew she wanted a different life. She dreamed of attending college and wanted to study mechanical engineering. Lorena was always reading books and excelling in math. In 7th grade, she successfully asked her middle school teacher if she could be bumped up to high school algebra. “I knew college was my way out,” she says.
At 17, Lorena received a full-ride scholarship to her dream school—the New Jersey-based private research university Stevens Institute of Technology. Her parents discouraged her from going, however, which left her heartbroken, but more determined than ever.
Lorena decided to enroll in community college and began looking for a job in the summer to pay for tuition and books that fall. She landed a position with a courier company that would change her life and ultimately help her to rewrite her story as a successful woman business owner.
The courier company served different industries, but mostly advertising agencies in the entertainment sector and health care companies. We had a lot of exciting clients and I fell in love with the problems we helped them solve,” she says.
A few years after Lorena came on board, the company’s owner shared he was looking to retire and move out of state. Lorena was just 24 years old and had worked her way up to vice president of operations. “He asked, ‘Have you thought about starting your own company?’” she recalls. “He told me, ‘You’ve been running the business for the last few years. You’d be doing the same thing, but for yourself.’”
The owner decided to close his company doors, but gave Lorena the green light in December of 2011 to visit every client and let them know she would be starting her own company. “I didn’t realize how good of a relationship I had with everyone,” she says of those visits.
Pearl Transportation and Logistics was officially born. Lorena filed her company’s paperwork and got a tax ID. She created projections and a cash flow statement to take to the bank for a line of credit, but was turned down. “Luckily, a friend of a friend was able to offer me a loan and told me I could pay him back in three years.” Lorena did—in just 9 months.
“Looking back, I feel so blessed,” she says. “Some customers had 30-45 days to pay me and did in 15 days. That’s what I love about the people. I’ve been so fortunate to have met so many who were willing to help.”
Today, Pearl is a full-service courier service and logistics specialist that delivers anything anywhere. They do pickups, deliveries, warehousing, logistics, distribution and fulfillment throughout California, the U.S. and overseas.
It began with Lorena, one employee and a few drivers providing courier services in Los Angeles. By 2015, they grew to reach the $1 million mark in annual revenue. In 2020, they expanded to serve all of California and added air freight services to select U.S. cities. Next year, they are on track to reach $10 million in annual revenue.
“We’ve been able to grow from our existing client base,” shares Lorena, who is currently based in Northern California. “We have really good relationships with our customers and do a great job for them. I personally call the people we deliver to on behalf of our customers, and we get a lot of referrals from those customers.”
Something interesting happened in 2020, too, just as COVID hit and Lorena wondered if she’d have to close her doors. The majority of Pearl’s customers delivered to entertainment studios like Disney and Warner Bros. and productions had been halted because they weren’t “essential.” But when one door temporarily closes, another opens.
During COVID, many people rethought their priorities in life and wanted to expand their families. Lorena was looking into contracting opportunities and saw business booming with fertility clinics and tissue banks who needed a trusted partner to deliver sperm samples, frozen eggs and frozen embryos to patients. She went to work figuring out how to transport these sensitive biological materials (partnering with a lab and using cryo vapor shippers). Now, Pearl offers this service nationwide. Plus, previous customers have come back from COVID.
“COVID was like a restart to my business where I went into hustle mode and we’re now bigger than ever,” says Lorena, who is the recipient of this year’s NAWBO Rising Star Award. The award honors a woman business owner who, through creativity and innovation, is building sustainable growth in her economic and social ecosystem. She utilizes her growing platform as a social entrepreneur to propel her generation and future women business owners, regardless of their age or social standing.
Lorena was introduced to NAWBO early on by a mentor and longtime NAWBO Chicago member. “I was relatively young so knew I had to surround myself,” says Lorena. “She told me I needed three things when I started my business: the Chamber of Commerce, a trade association and a women’s group and that the women’s group had to be NAWBO.”
Lorena looked up NAWBO and went to an LA networking event. “Wherever I went, I was the youngest, but I listened to my mentor and stuck with it,” says Lorena, who has been a member for 10 years now and even served on her chapter board. “One of the things I love is that I know I’m not going to find my target customer at NAWBO; the ROI is it’s provided me so many personal friendships and professional growth.”
Since 2019, Lorena has also been part of the NAWBO Circle program for women with businesses with $1 million or more in annual revenue. “I get to talk to other women going through similar business issues,” she says. “Someone can always offer resources and advice. It’s a great group to bounce off ideas and a safe space where you can share. Being a business owner can be lonely. The Circle program reminds you that you’re not alone.”
About being recognized as a “rising star” by NAWBO, Lorena feels honored…and even more determined. “I was thinking how I’m really proud of myself and how far I’ve come but I still have a long way to go,” she says. “People say it takes 20 years to become an overnight success. I’m halfway there. This award is a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.”