California immigrant small business owner’s journey from corporate life to entrepreneurship

As a first generation immigrant who grew up in a community and household of blue collar entrepreneurs, Lori Shao always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Her parents’ grit and perseverance always inspired her, especially because immigrants often face unique challenges with starting small businesses. Some immigrant entrepreneurs must navigate language barriers and cultural divides, along with difficulty accessing the capital needed to launch and grow a business.

Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Lori worked in financial services for nearly 20 years at global financial institutions like Silicon Valley Bank. She felt that there was an “innovation gap” within the industry, with little being done to help traditional small and micro businesses that struggle to pull resources together to take their business to the next level. Existing technologies were too expensive and too complicated and often were not built for her community.

Lori explains, “As I pursued a corporate career, I realized that I wasn’t satisfied. That led me to continue to look for something different, bigger and more challenging.” However, her dream of entrepreneurship was initially frightening for her as it meant leaving a stable job and familiar environment, especially as a caretaker for her parents and a mother of two children. Yet she truly believed that she was “building something bigger than myself,” and she shared that “everything clicked for me as I was getting my business off of the ground."

She founded Finli–a certified B Corp–four years ago to level the playing field for small businesses. It seeks to fill the innovation ga” that Lori encountered in the corporate world by offering an easy to use digital platform with the financial tools needed for entrepreneurs to run their small businesses. Finli offers customer management communications, digital invoicing, inventory management and quote management for small business owners while allowing the businesses’ customers to pay bills and approve quotes.

As Lori discovered, many traditional small businesses haven’t adopted critical technology tools and resources into their businesses. For example, if a business owner utilizes mailed invoices for payment systems, many customers will gravitate towards another service that can offer more convenient digital communication and payments. Additionally, receiving digital payments electronically is faster, allowing entrepreneurs to spend less time chasing down the money they’re owed. Managing all aspects of a business on paper can create an overwhelming administrative burden and takes too much time away from strategizing and reaching new customers. 

This challenge was highlighted by the pandemic. Accessing capital was difficult for small businesses, but especially for non-digitized service-based businesses. Lori notes that businesses with digital operations were able to get help from federal loan programs more quickly and that digitization allowed them to survive and even thrive. She’s proud that Finli served many small businesses during this time and that it helped “elevate and accelerate them to a level playing field with everyone else.” 

Lori reflects on her entrepreneurial journey, saying “It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made. In entrepreneurship, the statistics were not in my favor and the likelihood of failing is extremely high. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t deeply feel the conviction to wield change and the personal connection to the community that I want to support. Even four years in, it can be a struggle. But I continue to do it because every small business we support, every client who is succeeding using our platform just makes everything worth it.”


Small Business Profile