The hopes and ambitions of several would-be entrepreneurs came one step closer to fruition Monday evening, as Women’s Economic Ventures  celebrated its latest group of graduates.

The ceremony, held at the Santa Barbara Mission at 6 p.m. was held to mark the completion of a 14-week program designed to take the self-employment ambitions of its participants from hazy dream to business plan reality. Around 150 friends and supporters were on hand to congratulate the new grads

“It’s amazing to see my own dream resonate with so many people,” said WEV founder Marsha Bailey, who started the organization in 1991, changing what was then the Santa Barbara Women’s Community Building Project into what is now known as the Women’s Economic Ventures. The program, she said, was an offshoot of her own experiences as a female entrepreneur, and the need she saw that women had for basic business education.

Several years, and hundreds, if not thousands of graduates later, Bailey’s organization continues to demystify business operations for people who are just getting their entrepreneurial feet wet, as well as those who need the training to handle existing ventures.

“For me it was a great organization to come in with a bunch of other people in the same process,” said Elizabeth Poett, who’s going into business with her father at the family’s cattle ranching operation near Lompoc.  After several years in New York working for the television networks, she’s come home to partner up with her dad to jump-start the family’s organic beef business, after a temporary slowdown where her father decided to work on improving and strengthening the herd.

“I didn’t even know how to write a business plan,” said the ninth-generation rancher, who wants to augment the already-organic and humane practices her father put in place at Rancho San Julian with an ecological sensitivity.

Now Poett’s clearer about what she wants and how she’s going to get it, a sentiment shared by all of the WEV graduates Monday evening. Not only that, they say, they’re more confident about what they can do and they know what they can’t.

“I don’t see it as WEV’s role to say no to any business idea, no matter how far-fetched,” said Jennifer Ruskin, WEV client services director and past instructor.  The point, she said, is to give participants the tools to assess for themselves whether or not their plans are viable. Sometimes they are, sometimes the plans take a little tweaking before they become possible.

As a result, some once-nebulous business ideas have become Fresco Café, Santa Barbara Scrapbooks and Santa Barbara Axxess, and up-and-coming business plans include eco-friendly children’s parties, a local beer brewer, an artist co-op and bicyle tours with a spiritual twist.

WEV isn’t just for women, Ruskin said. Although the organization is targeted toward women because of their historical, and in many cases, ongoing disadvantage in the business world, men are also served by WEV’s programs, particularly low-income minority men who have not had access to business education, capital and traditional business training.

“In the English-language classes we have about 95 percent women, but in the Spanish-language classes the breakdown is almost 50-50,” she said.

For many of the almost 40 graduates who marched up to receive a certificate of from WEV, another from longtime WEV supporter Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-35th District, and a rose from Bailey, Monday evening’s ceremony will not be the last they see of each other. In fact, with the organization’s expansion to include services beyond the launching of small businesses, it’s likely this band of would-be business owners will be networking with each other for quite a while.

“We’re all here to realize a dream,” said graduate and speaker Lucy Hamlin, “and it has served to truly inspire one another.”