Friends of Sunstone: Vivian Shimoyama Shatters Glass Ceilings

By Eric Peterson

Sunstone Staff Writer

Give Vivian Simoyama a glass ceiling and she’ll figure out how to break it, whether it’s in her own career, the career of someone she is trying to help, or even in her glass studio, Glass by Vivian.

“Years ago, I designed a pin that symbolizes breaking the glass ceiling,” Shimoyama says. “It’s not just a message of breaking barriers, but it’s about that invisible barrier that people bump up against, whether it be in a corporation, whether it be in technology, but there are barriers in people’s way, and it was to encourage people to break through barriers.”

Shimoyama came up with the design and found glass artists to produce a batch in 1992. The pin became a very big deal after former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other prominent leaders wore one.

“It’s been a symbol of breaking barriers, and it’s been shown in the Smithsonian and several other places,” Shimoyama says.  “The idea around it is to make sure that people are working towards ways that we can remove barriers for people so that people can realize their full potential, and that we utilize the resources of every individual.”

That’s a recurring theme in her career as a consultant and her volunteer work with such organizations as the National Association of Women Business Owners, the National Women’s Business Council, and the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion over the last 30 years.

After overseeing the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program in Southern California from 2010 to 2019, Shimoyama returned to consulting. The glass studio is one half of her current business, Shimoyama Enterprise, with the other division focused on small business consulting.

“As an entrepreneur, you pave your own path,” she says. Her career has been “under the umbrella of a steady and focused pathway around economic development, around assisting small business owners, and that whole educational part of: How do we advance these businesses and why? The ‘why’ is economic impact. It’s about building our communities, because when people have an opportunity to create their own income, create jobs, and retain jobs in our community, there’s long-term sustainable growth, not only for our community, but for generations of individuals to come.”

Shimoyama, who has lived in Long Beach for more than 25 years and is vice chair of the City of Long Beach Economic Development Commission, joined the board of the Long Beach Accelerator in 2021 at the urging of fellow board member Brenda Wunsch. Shimoyama is currently the board’s chairperson after serving as vice chair.

She says the accelerator’s collaborative strategy attracted her to the opportunity, noting, “The partnership with Sunstone Management is a strength. It was a way that the Long Beach Accelerator had engaged an investor in the work that we do with a public-private partnership.”

The common thread between her day job consulting and her work at the accelerator? Helping small businesses succeed — and break through any glass ceiling that is impeding their trajectory.

“That’s where it connected for me, because 68 percent of the cohorts of the businesses that we selected have diverse founders,” Shimoyama says. “We need more accelerators that are doing that kind of work, because it’s good for our city and it’s good for our nation.”

“I have a passion for it,” she adds. “I want to see these businesses succeed.”

Shimoyama says her focus is squarely on “the economic inclusion piece” of the accelerator. “We haven’t fully utilized the potential of all individuals,” she explains. “A major part of it for us is to make sure that we are focused on economic inclusion, or bringing all people forward together.”

“Here’s my pitch for the small business owners and entrepreneurs,” she continues. “Buy something at a local business. Invest in a startup company. These are the companies that need our support. They are the fabric of our community, and they are the people who are creating jobs and retaining jobs.”

Shimoyama’s entrepreneurial career has paralleled her work with glass. With Glass by Vivian, she’s crafting her own pieces and still gets orders for her glass ceiling pins. The mother-daughter team that made her first pins in the early 1990s became her mentors.

“I apprenticed with them, so I’m a glass artist now,” she says, noting that her original pin “has a life of its own.”

Case in point: The Study of the U.S. Institutes Madeleine K. Albright Young Women Leaders Program reached out to Shimoyama after Secretary Albright’s passing in 2022 to make a new version of her glass ceiling pin for 80 participants every year.

The recurring theme?

“I want to encourage people to break through barriers,” Shimoyama says. “That’s a big part of my life’s work.”

About Long Beach Accelerator 

The Long Beach Accelerator provides early-stage tech startups with the resources and runway they need to flourish.  The LBA has a current application cycle open for Cohort 7.  The LBA is a public-private partnership between the city of Long Beach, Sunstone Management, and CSULB and has been named one of Southern California’s top tech accelerators by dot.LA. 

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About Sunstone Management  

Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital management firm with headquarters in Southern California that provides a range of early-stage venture capital, real estate, and fixed income funds to qualified and accredited investors. The firm delivers new and exciting options for economic growth through innovative public-private partnerships, making use of its unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the second quarter of 2023, PitchBook ranked Sunstone the seventh most active early-stage venture capital firm in the country, and 18th overall. 

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