Notes from the Field: Latino Entrepreneurship Workshop


Notes from the Field: Latino Entrepreneurship Workshop at the Mexican Consulate

Pablo DeFilippi, Federation Senior Vice President of Membership and Network Engagement, attended the Foro Empresarial 2017 Latino Entrepreneurship Workshop at the Mexican Consulate in New York

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Rosa Franco, Neighborhood Trust FCU Director of Lending; Federation SVP of Membership & Network Engagement, Pablo DeFilippi; Mario Cesar Ramirez, Executive Director of Paisano Emprendedor; and Myriam Rebling of the Consulate’s Department of Economic Affairs.

The Federation was invited to participate in Foro Empresarial 2017, a day-long seminar for business entrepreneurs of Mexican origin, hosted by the Consulate General of Mexico in New York City on October 21, 2017.

The keynote speaker was Mario César Ramírez, a Dallas-based businessman who first came to the U.S. from Mexico with nothing, and has since become very successful after starting several companies. He is now a community leader in Dallas and has a nonprofit called Paisano Emprendedor that gives workshops to Spanish-speaking immigrants who want to start a business, but lack the necessary business skills or expertise.

I invited Rosa Franco, Lending Director for Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union, to present with me on the work of our Juntos Avanzamos credit unions, including our Ventanilla de Asesoría Financiera (Window of Financial Counseling) partnership, as well as the work CDCUs do to help immigrants gain  access to credit and programs supporting entrepreneurial efforts in the community. Rosa sparked a lot of questions from the audience and did a great job speaking on behalf of all Juntos Avanzamos credit unions in NYC.

Latino Entrepreneurship Driving Small Business Growth

Around 50 to 60 people showed up to learn about strategies to start or expand a business. I must say that it was a fascinating learning experience, as the entrepreneurship rate in the Latino community is higher than any other ethnic group.

A Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative (SLEI) 2015 Research Report made headlines for reporting that Latinos are creating more businesses today than any other ethnic group. But it also made headlines by noting that a disproportionate few of those Latino-owned businesses (LOBs) grow past $1 million in annual revenue. It’s the juxtaposition of the headlines — positive and negative — that have framed the opportunity that the Latino Business Action Network (LBAN) is pursuing: helping more LOBs to grow so that they can further contribute to the U.S. economy. It’s a $1.3 trillion opportunity gap which LBAN is looking to close with more research — with the nation’s largest database of LOBs — education, and mentorship.

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The Ventanilla de Asesoría Financiera (Window of Financial Counseling), a partnership between Juntos Avanzamos CUs and the Consulate General of Mexico, provides secure financial counseling within the Consulate office in NYC.

Earlier this year, the same group published a second study digging deeper into the demographic distribution of LOBs and found that “they are located all over the U.S., with 75 percent in majority non-Latino neighborhoods serving mostly non-Latino customers.” This runs counter to the narrative that the economic impact of LOBs might be largely limited to Latino communities. But as SLEI researcher Natassia Rodriguez Ott noted in a recent interview, LOBs increasingly serve non-Latino customers and hire non-Latino employees. The reality of LOB integration not only busts the myth of the barrio as the only place of Latino commerce, but also the myth that Latinos only create barrio businesses. Following on last year’s study, SLEI’s 2016 study notes LOBs “are distributed across a variety of industries and most concentrated in industries with the highest growth rate.” For emphasis, the report added: “Less than one-quarter of Latino firms are in construction or manufacturing and even fewer are in leisure or hospitality, combating common stereotypes of Latinos owning mostly restaurants and construction-related firms.”

I’m glad we were able to talk about credit unions, the Federation and Juntos Avanzamos, as way too often, organizations that provide support to micro and small businesses don’t even think about our industry. It also highlights the huge potential for micro and small business lending programs and the imperative for credit unions to offer this type of products.

The Saavedra Family: A True (Undocumented) American Success Story

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L-R: Federation SVP Pablo DeFilippi; small business owners and immigration advocates Natalia Mendez Saavedra and Antonio Saavedra; and Neighborhood Trust FCU Lending Director Rosa Franco.

I really liked the format of the workshop, as valuable information was mixed with testimonials from people who’ve become successful entrepreneurs whose businesses have not necessarily morphed into corporations (although they had a couple of those examples as well). My personal highlight of the day was the story of Antonio Saavedra and Natalia Mendez Saavedra, who migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico in the early ’90s and settled in NYC as undocumented immigrants. They worked extremely hard to bring their three children to the United States and provide them with a good education — all three graduated from prestigious schools and are now very successful young professionals — and of course, DREAMers. In 2008, right during the recession, Antonio and Natalia decided to open a restaurant and shared with the group all the challenges they had to face: first in Mexico, facing discrimination because of their Mazateco roots, and then here in the U.S., having to overcome language barriers (both in Spanish and English), hostility and abuse because of their status as undocumented.

Fortunately, things have improved for the Saavedras. Through sharing their story, Antonio and Natalia have become symbols of the drive and contributions that immigrants (documented or not) make to this country — so much so that Natalia has become an incredible advocate for immigration reform. They’ve been interviewed by every major publication in NYC, including The New York Times and ThNew Yorker, and have even been visited by Mayor De Blasio. I hope you all have a chance to meet this couple. They really brought into perspective why we do what we do. In the future, Antonio and Natalia may be seeking financing from Neighborhood Trust.

Si se puede!

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