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Marleny Rivas was at home one night watching television and trying to figure out what to do next after getting laid off from her job at a major corporation in California. Rivas had been selling her very popular homemade Salvadoran food on the side to friends and coworkers, making a good amount of extra money. She had been thinking about possibly doing it full time but wasn't sure how to go about it.
Then, she saw a commercial for free and low-cost business classes at her local community college focusing on the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship, and that turned things around for her. "I took classes on everything about starting a new business, how to put a business plan together, what kind of loans might be available, all of it," she says.
A Fast-Growing Segment
Not long after launching, Rivas had three locations and a lunchtime food truck, a mere 12 years after immigrating to the United States from El Salvador. This way, Rivas joined the fastest-growing segment of the small business industry in the United States—Latina-owned businesses.
There are over two million Latina-owned businesses in the country, a growth of more than 87% since 2007, according to the National Women's Business Council. These businesses are helping to fuel the U.S. economy. Nonetheless, many potential Latina business owners—and even those who already have a business—aren't sure of the options available to help them get started or to reach the next level.
The First Building Block: Education
Looking at programs that can help you achieve the dream of owning your own business is the key to getting started. "We're not talking about the traditional K-12 kind of education, but rather business education, such as understanding a financial statement, how to access capital, how to grow your business," says Lea Márquez Peterson, who owns a public relations firm in Arizona.
She has experience working in non-traditional endeavors, such as owning and managing several gas stations and convenience stores, as well as business brokerage (buying and selling businesses), which are all male-dominated industries. "As a woman, I was very unusual," Márquez Peterson says. If you educate yourself as much as possible in your particular business, it's easier to confront the challenges of starting and running a business, especially for Latinas who choose to take that non-traditional business path.
Like so many other would-be entrepreneurs, the biggest challenge for Latina business owners is access to funding. "I got turned down at first," says Rivas. "One bank said they wouldn't lend me the money because I needed to be in business at least two years and show a profit, so I ended up using some savings and tax refunds to get started."
According to Márquez Peterson, "Access to capital is the number one issue for Latina-owned businesses." She adds that "A lot of Latinas start real [sic.] small, with microbusinesses, such as [working] online, on weekends or at night. The challenge then becomes how to grow your business."
There are several options you can consider to address the challenge of obtaining funding to either to grow a business or get one off the ground. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Women's Business Ownership offers a variety of programs, including training and mentorships, and ways for Latina entrepreneurs to apply for loans.
Another good option is Fundera, a New York City-based organization that acts as a one-stop-shop and funding matchmaker of sorts for small businesses, pairing entrepreneurs with lenders. Fundera does not charge small businesses to access their information and apply for loans—the company receives a fee from the lenders—and its most popular feature is the convenience of having a variety of alternatives listed under one roof.
The important thing is not to give up, says Márquez Peterson. "Whether it's other women business owners, family members or a Chamber of Commerce, there has to be a place where you can go to determine what your vision is and what you aspire to be," she says.
"As a group, Latinas are very entrepreneurial. We push ourselves to get ahead," says Rivas. "Some of us come from very humble means, and if we don't push [ourselves] to get ahead, we literally don't eat. We have a survivor instinct."
The sentiment is echoed by Márquez Peterson, "Hispanic culture is very entrepreneurial. I grew up in a family with a father who had his own business, and my mom had her own business. I was told that if you want to make more money, [you need to] work harder, and if you're already working full time and you can't take on more hours, then it comes down to starting your own business. I think that's what has motivated so many Latinas across the country to launch businesses."