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Transforming Barriers into Bridges: The Journey of Hispanic Entrepreneurs

Leveraging support systems and capital for economic mobility

Upon graduating from design school, Jeenifer M. made the transformative decision to immigrate from Mexico to the U.S. Despite the risks associated with being undocumented, she believed that this option offered greater prospects for a young professional like herself. Due to her legal status, she initially found herself confined to low-paying design jobs, as better opportunities were inaccessible. However, one avenue remained open to her: starting her own business. Yet, like many others in her situation, the process of launching a business in the U.S. appeared daunting. Sustaining it proved to be an even greater challenge, necessitating a support system that minority small business owners often struggle to find.

Like Jeenifer, there are tens of thousands of Hispanic individuals who, regardless of their legal status and limited English proficiency, have chosen entrepreneurship as a means to improve their economic standing. In the Inland Empire, one of California’s most impoverished regions, starting a small business represents survival and a pathway out of financial insecurity.

While these entrepreneurs possess key success factors such as unparalleled determination, passion, and creativity, their success often hinges on external support systems. Many of us take access to information, business advice, peer networks, and capital for granted. For Jeenifer, along with over 200 other participants in the SEED 2.0 program supporting entrepreneurs in historically underserved communities in the Inland Empire, such access can mean the difference between business failure and survival.

Latinas spearheading entrepreneurship despite challenges

Being an entrepreneur in the U.S. with limited English proficiency presents a significant hurdle. This challenge becomes even more pronounced for women of color. Nevertheless, the SEED 2.0 project, funded by California’s Employment Training Panel, illustrates how Latinas in the Inland Empire are at the forefront of local entrepreneurial endeavors.

Women made up 85% of the 200 entrepreneurs assisted by the Caravanserai Project, a local partner in this statewide initiative. These Latina entrepreneurs span various sectors including childcare, education, health, food, agriculture, and technology. Regardless of their age, they are creating significant impacts.

These women started their businesses primarily as supplemental income sources, but they all have the ambition to transition their ventures into full-time jobs and primary income streams. However, the lack of adequate infrastructure and resources to guide and support their entrepreneurial pursuits poses a significant barrier.

Business technical training: A reality-inspired approach to education

Mayra B, entrepreneur

Mayra B., entrepreneur

For entrepreneurs, prioritizing the growth of their businesses while simultaneously expanding their entrepreneurship knowledge has become the norm. The aspiration of becoming strategic business owners who plan ahead has evolved into their immediate reality and necessity. They are constantly seeking to better understand their customers, analyze their competition, comprehend the unique value proposition of their product or service, and secure capital.

While they might not fully comprehend the theories behind these concepts yet, the ability to reevaluate their businesses with these goals in mind signifies a shift in mindset. This new perspective offers fresh insights into potential directions for their businesses. This holds true for many Hispanic entrepreneurs supported by the Caravanserai Project, including Mayra B., the undocumented owner of a mental health startup. Mayra recognizes that access to information is vital.

“Before the training, I viewed myself as isolated with my small business,” Mayra shared. ” It allowed my imagination to run wild. I started to imagine the possibilities. Now my business can go so much further than I had ever imagined.”

Bridging the language gap in business training

Ortiz Ice Cream

Maria O.’s ice cream business

For individuals raised in various cultures and traditions, access to information that aligns with the expectations and requirements of their current society is crucial. Such knowledge assists them in navigating the intricate system in which they now operate. Business technical assistance programs are instrumental in fostering this understanding, ensuring that these individuals comply with all regulations and are aware of cultural norms and etiquette.

The demand for such resources is pressing, yet they are often limited—particularly those provided in native languages. Some entrepreneurs, despite their limited English proficiency, go above and beyond. Take for instance Maria O., the owner of an ice cream business in San Bernardino, California. Despite the language barrier, Maria used to attend business classes and training sessions in English, always bringing along a friend to translate as she took notes in Spanish.

The scarcity of business training programs in Spanish poses a substantial obstacle to maintaining the aspirations of numerous Hispanic small business owners. It isn’t merely about the language itself; it’s about creating a community of peers who share similar experiences. For immigrant entrepreneurs, finding and being part of such a network is vital as it offers a support system and additional access to information and resources.

The Impact of Capital Access on Minority Entrepreneurs

It’s well-known that minority entrepreneurs often face significant barriers when trying to access capital. While business training programs assist with planning and financial projections, the fact remains that actualizing these plans requires funding.

Guadalupe Buitron standing against wall

Guadalupe B., entrepreneur

As part of the SEED 2.0 program, entrepreneurs were given access to microgrants of up to $10,000. The impact of these grants has been substantial. Ideas previously discussed during business trainings were transformed into reality within weeks. The opportunity to take risks and unleash the innovative potential of participant businesses became attainable. For many, it was about more than just acquiring capital and enabling growth; it was also about the acknowledgement of their entrepreneurial status.

When I asked Guadalupe B. to describe herself as a business owner in Spanish, she hesitated. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants who struggled to make ends meet, the term “business owner” seemed untranslatable to her, as she had never envisioned herself in such a role… until now. As the founder and CEO of a financial therapy startup, Guadalupe is among the thousands of minority entrepreneurs redefining the socio-economic landscape in traditionally underserved communities within the Inland Empire.

Providing efficient business technical assistance and access to capital to these entrepreneurs must become a standard practice in strategizing around economic mobility, social impact, and free enterprise. Their journey to ownership and enterprise is not only a personal triumph but a step towards broader societal change.

Mihai Pătru is the Executive Director of Caravanserai Project, a California- based mission-driven venture focused on providing business training and access to capital to underserved minority entrepreneurs. He also serves on the 2022 Entrepreneurship and Economic Mobility Task Force supported by the California Office of the Small Business Advocate. Prior ... Read more



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