Latinx Entrepreneurship Celebration

Across the nation, the number of Latinx entrepreneurs continues to grow significantly faster than the overall U.S. average. During the past decade, the number of Latinx business owners grew 34%, compared to 1% for all small business owners in the U.S.

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Before the pandemic, those hard-working Latinx entrepreneurs generated nearly $500 billion in annual revenue and employed 3.4 million people. 

Despite this, Latinx entrepreneurs are less likely than white entrepreneurs to have their funding needs met by traditional banking institutions. Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF), we make it our mission to drive economic mobility by delivering affordable capital and responsible financial solutions to determined entrepreneurs and communities, including Latinx business owners. 

This year for Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15,  we are spending every day celebrating the vast contributions that Latinx entrepreneurs make to our society. We are proud to support Latinx-owned businesses that build vibrant communities and strong economies across the nation. 

Our CEO, Luz Urrutia, is a Venezuelan immigrant with decades of experience fighting for financial inclusion. After graduating college and while working full-time at Wachovia Bank, she was denied a credit card because, as an immigrant, she had no credit profile. Luz went on to co-found El Banco De Nuestra Comunidad, a for-profit bank based in Georgia serving underbanked Latinx clients. This first-hand experience shapes her leadership and her advocacy efforts to implement broad changes to policies that impact under-resourced populations.

At AOF, nearly 80% of our borrowers are people of color, including 27% Latinx clients. We offer comprehensive business resources in Spanish and English, and our staff is comprised of 64% people of color, of which Latinx is the most predominant group. 

Through our work with major brands and Latinx superstars, like Colombian reggaeton artist J Balvin, we broaden our support of small businesses. AOF recently received a $50,000 donation from Miller Lite to support Latinx-owned businesses, such as bodegas and corner stores. The donation was part of “Es Jose Time,” a partnership and campaign featuring Jose Alvaro Osorio Balvin (a.k.a. J Balvin) and his take on Miller Time.

“Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF) was the perfect choice for this collaboration,” Kayla Garcia, Community Affairs Manager for Molson Coors Beverage Company, the parent company of Miller Lite. “For 25+ years, AOF has advocated tirelessly for financial inclusion while championing diversity and supporting economic empowerment across our Latinx communities. We are excited to partner with them to continue to support Latinx entrepreneurs.” 

We caught up with some of the thousands of Latinx entrepreneurs who have received loans, coaching or resources from AOF to celebrate their successes this Hispanic Heritage Month.

 Cesar Perez, Rumble City Boxing

Cesar spent 13 years as an educator, working with at-risk youth and with young adults with autism or Down syndrome. He soon realized when his students could release energy through physical activity, it increased their focus in the classroom. But California has cut physical education in public schools. Classrooms were crowded, with one adult supporting every eight to 10 children with special needs. 

While Cesar was working full-time for the school district, his love of boxing grew. After working in several gyms, he realized that many of the facilities lacked the fundamental connection with the students that he’d developed as an educator. 

Cesar started Rumble City Boxing, a small gym in San Jose, California. The pandemic hit with brute force right after the gym opened. With only three to four months of savings, Cesar had to lay off employees and trainers. He sold the gym’s equipment, down to the flooring. 

“It felt like our gym was a body, and the circulation had stopped and our organs were failing,” he said. 

But Cesar’s landlord talked him into staying and waived the rent on the gym for a month.

Then, Rumble City Boxing secured a $15,000 grant from the city of San Jose, administered by AOF. 

“This was such a huge blessing,” Cesar said. “With the grant, we’ve paid a portion of rent to our landlord; we were both very happy to have accommodated each other. I started purchasing equipment again, stocking up on cleaning supplies. Following the city’s guidelines, I’ve been able to open the gym at 25% capacity at indoor use. We didn’t give up on our dream, on our fight that this was going to get better.”

Cesar encouraged other business owners to “always adapt.” 

“Don’t sit back and wait for an answer—look for an answer,” he said. “Getting this grant was like starting from the very beginning again. At the beginning of a small business, there’s a dream, and with the dream comes a drive. And we have that.”

Javier Rodriguez, Antojitos Colombianos 

Javier Rodriguez opened the first Colombian restaurant in San Diego in 2011. Six years later, Antojitos Colombianos has grown into an essential neighborhood spot for authentic Colombian food and good times with friends. Regular diners mix with customers from the nearby military base to create a fun atmosphere with live music and delicious food.

Javier came to the United States from Colombia to study business. After graduating from San Diego State University, he worked in the hospitality and restaurant management industry for over two decades. Before long, he followed through with his dream to start his own business.  

In 2016, Byron needed to buy merchandise from Colombia and new equipment.  AOF’s loan agent, Byron helped close a $10,000 loan in September 2016. The fast, easy-to-get, and affordable capital made a difference in Javier’s eatery right away, he said.  

Javier is grateful for the connection to Opportunity Fund, not just for the working capital but also to build a relationship with a lender that understands his needs.

“I tried other lenders,” he said. “There were so many requirements. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet some of them.”

With 20 years of success in the industry and two Small Business of the Year awards from California State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, Javier is no stranger to success. He is grateful for … 

“I wanted to have something of my own,” he said. “It was the time to decide I didn’t want to work for anybody else. I want to have time for my family, to set up my own schedule, and it works now.”

Lia Hirtz, World Empanadas

A first-time entrepreneur at age 55, Lia Hirtz started World Empanadas in 2012 in the back of a Burbank, California liquor store. At first, the small, rent-free location worked out. After her businesses expanded to make over $16,000 a month, Lia knew she needed her own space. 

Growth was the biggest challenge for Lia and her family business.  Everyone loved their fresh, handmade food, but they needed a walk-in freezer to keep up with demand.

“I really needed a freezer and I didn’t have the funds to buy it,” Lia said. “I knew we couldn’t grow without a place to store our empanadas. I was stuck.  I couldn’t sell any more.”

Lia was facing more than just a dilemma about where to store her empanadas.  Her business was also tied up in aggressive merchant cash advance loans that helped finance the move into her new space and other improvements, such as installing a hood for the stove. Her friends and family had offered personal loans, but  World Empanadas needed help to get the equipment that could change her business forever. 

AOF loan consultant Robert Zapata connected with Lia and offered her a $15,000 loan, which helped World Empanadas purchase the walk-in freezer unit.  Lia was overwhelmed with joy at the fast and easy loan process.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Lia said. “Within a few weeks, Robert called me and told me I could pick up our check. It was just like that.”

Mahena Torres, Mahena Tax Services

A love of math drew Mahena Torres to accounting in college. Years later, she started working on income taxes for friends and family. She received so many referrals that she founded her own business, hoping that being her own boss would mean more quality time with her four kids.

Mahena now has two employees and over 1,900 tax clients. In addition to income tax services, Mahena Tax Services provides bookkeeping, payroll, helps clients with unemployment, and assists with citizenship applications and renewals. Over 90% of her clients are Spanish speakers. 

I feel very confident and connected to my community— 15 years after I started, all my business still comes from referrals,” she said. 

Though COVID has limited the number of walk-in clients at her Gonzales, California office, Mahena has adapted by shifting to online booking and appointments with the help of a California Rebuilding Fund loan. She’s also purchased an air purifier and a thermometer to keep her office safe. AOF helped establish the California Rebuilding Fund, joining 11 other Community Development Financial Institutions to lend to small businesses in underbanked regions. 

Mahena emphasized the value of her hard work. 

“Running a business is not easy, but if you’re willing to work hard, you’ll have the freedom to spend time on what’s important to you,” said Mahena, whose oldest son just graduated with his own accounting degree. “I’ve never forgotten why I started this business. “

Tania Torres, Vanidad Beauty Salon 

Tania Torres has been doing hair since 1996, and she’s had some clients for 24 years. She doesn’t see them as customers — she sees them as family.  

Tania is originally from Nicaragua, where she started working at her mother’s store at age 9. After completing high school, she moved to the U.S., bought a $200 English dictionary, and studied cosmetology. She worked for an electronics company while taking beauty school courses during the day and English classes at night. 

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She eventually started her own salon and she said her “dreams have come true.”  She loves the flexibility of setting her own hours for herself and her customers. 

In 1998, she bought her first townhouse using the money she had saved from tips, plus help from her mom. In 2006, she bought her dream house with a swimming pool, where she hosted family parties. Though owning a business, she has also been able to make her dream of traveling the world a reality.  

Mayra, Tania’s loan officer at AOF, connected Tania to a $2,500 loan to build her credit. In July, Mayra referred Tania to a federal savings account that will be returned in one year. Not long after, Tania followed San Jose’s shelter-in-place orders and closed the salon from March through September 2020, then from December through February 2021. Recently, much of her work has been fixing “pandemic hair;” and catching up with her customers who have been waiting for her. 

For her, owning a salon is a passion. 

“As a business owner, you need to have a lot of faith. I thank God for every day—you don’t know what is going to happen, what problems you’re going to face. I would tell other business owners to have hope for the future. When you trust that something is coming for you, you will work hard for it.” 

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