By Kristi Eaton
Edgar Olivo earned his college degree in business communication. But during the recession he saw a new need. He started a training firm focusing on helping small businesses get off the ground. He began working with cities around Phoenix to offer economic development-type programming.
During that time working with small business owners, he recognized there was little to no support for the Spanish-speaking community, so he started his own firm, Compass CBS, in 2011. Compass CBS is a bilingual business development training center serving thousands of visitors.
“We’re hoping to reclaim the word entrepreneur in the Spanish-speaking community,” he said. “There’s the sense that the word entrepreneur is a glamorized word to only apply to tech entrepreneurs, and our mission is to remind everyone who is wanting to start a business that you can be an entrepreneur, that you are an entrepreneur if you sold chocolate as a child, if you sold lemonade at a stand. You are doing some form of entrepreneurship as a child and you may not have even realized it.”
Olivo works with a wide spectrum of businesses, from mom and pop shops to tech startups. A local business accelerator called Fuerza, which is funded by Local First Arizona, a nonprofit aiming to support small businesses, offers a Spanish-language course to micro-entrepreneurs. The course series, which has seen 77 businesses graduate from it, started in Phoenix and expanded to Mesa, Avondale and Maryvale. Business participants have come from a variety of industries, including food and beverage, event supplies, cleaning services, beauty and hair, photography and graphic design.
Among the improvements the businesses garnered through the program were building new websites, new social media platforms and opening checking accounts for the first time. In 2016, Fuerza received requests for 10 loans and approved right, with the average loan size being $67,000, according to the 2016 impact report. Altogether, the total capital borrowed in 2016 was $532,000.
“Our mission is to really work from the ground up and we even work to try to influence policies within the banking industry to make it a lot easier to access capital,” Olivo said.
Universities are also trying to help underserved communities.
Arizona State University offers Poder, a training designed for individuals from underserved communities to use entrepreneurship skills to solve community issues, and Prepped, a main street food entrepreneurship program designed for women and underserved communities, said Elizabeth Cantu, program manager for Underserved Communities at ASU’s Entrepreneurship + Innovation.
“My goal with it is to have moments where the light bulb goes off. I hadn’t thought about that before. They might see potential for a partnership they didn’t see before or they might find a different revenue model they hadn’t considered,” said Elan Vallender, senior economic development specialist for the city. “That’s the workings of our program. To provide those moments of insight, so they can build out their business ideas in the best manner possible for them.”
Latino-based businesses tend to be smaller, Vallender said, and in his personal experience he said he has noticed that those of Latin heritage have a lower tendency to want to take risks and take out loans. “Usually their funding mechanisms are through family or personal credit, credit cards, loans from friend, so the capital they have to invest is not as large as if they went through other, more typical routes.”
Vallender has his own experience with entrepreneurship. Growing up in El Paso, he was taught he needed to go to college so he could get a job working for someone else, he said.
“My personal life experience, I went out and I did that and I oftentimes didn’t find joy in the job I was doing,” he said. “I had a lot of success but I just wasn’t happy with what I was doing.”
He was introduced to a man who was entrepreneurial minded, which changed his view in life and opened up new paths and opportunities, he said. Entrepreneurship isn’t necessarily always about business opportunities; it’s about solving problems, he said.
“Entrepreneurship is just a way to affect positive change in other peoples’ lives through ideas that you have.”