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Sweet ambition
María de los Angeles Retana Gentillini has big plans for her small-scale confectionary business in a suburb of San José, Costa Rica.

The 45-year-old homemaker and mother of five started making and selling homemade candies when her husband, Manuel, left for the United States to find work. "I was here by myself and trying to figure out something I could do to earn money," she says.

Retana was bringing in a small income as a street vendor, but that kep her away from her home and children too much. She decided to make and sell sweets.

That was two years ago. At first, she built up her business slowly, sending the children out to sell lillipops and other cnadies door to door. Then her husband returned from the United States ("it didn't work out for him; he couldn't stand being so lonesome"), and Retana put him to work.

"We made our patio into a candy kitchen and we started inventing new [candy] molds," she says. "He helped me because he's an inventor, just like I am."

With business increasing steadily, the home-based operation soon outgrew itself, and Retana decided she needed and industrial-scale kitchen. Some friends told her about Fundación Mujer (the Women's Foundation), an IDB-supported NGO that assists women microentrepreneurs in Costa Rica.

"I hesitated, because I don't like a lot of accounting," says Retana. But she went anyway to talk to the foundation about a possible loan. "They were very kind--there are a lot of really good people there--and they enrolled me in a course. After that, I got the loan."

Retana used the approximately $1,000 in financing to purchase an industrial oven, more expensive aluminum candy molds, and a motorcycle for making deliveries. Since then, her sales have grown to $1,500 a month, up from an average of $125 monthly the first year. But she has no intention of settling for that.

"Growth is my mentality--or rather, the mentality of my whole family, because there isn't one of us who isn't in the business."