In January, 2014, Local First Arizona and Fuerza Local graduated their first class of students from their Accelerator Program, a six-month program designed to teach Spanish-speaking business owners important basics for successfully owning and operating their business. Students attend a series of twelve courses on a variety of topics, including marketing, business planning, customer service, and others. Students are taught about the importance of financial management by participating in an eMoneyPool, an online tool that harnesses the power of group cooperation to help members of that group save for their goals. At the end of the program, each student has saved $1,000 through the eMoneyPool, which is then matched by a scholarship from Fuerza Local. Each student also opens a line of credit at Arizona-based MariSol Federal Credit Union.
Local First Arizona Director Kimber Lanning believes programs like the Accelerator Program and Fuerza Local are key to building strong communities and vibrant local economies. “Local First Arizona believes that entrepreneurship is a pathway to prosperity for all and will play a key role in reducing the income gap across the country,” says Lanning. “I am proud of the work we are doing to help small businesses compete.”
“We launched the Fuerza Local Accelerator Program because we discovered there was a need among Spanish-speaking business owners to learn some basic business best practices,” said Carlos Velasco, Director of Fuerza Local. “By helping these businesses learn to thrive through simple changes and improvements in their practices, we are empowering these businesses to support themselves and their families, and build a strong community.”
Of the nine Accelerator Program graduates, eight were women, and all said that they learned a great deal from participating in the program. “I started my own business because I wanted to have the opportunity to be independent and have control over my own time, future and income,” says Elizabeth Hernandez, one of the Accelerator Program graduates who owns La 15 y Salas, a traditional Oaxacan Mexican restaurant in the Sunnyslope neighborhood of Phoenix. “I love the kitchen and the rich culture that the Oaxacan food style offers our community. Although I have had challenges with knowing how to organize, manage, grow and market my business.”
Hernandez said that the Accelerator Program has taught her how to face these challenges, allowing her to gain the confidence she needed to take her business to the next level. “Through the Accelerator Program, we were able to create a process that makes my business more organized. Because of the better organization, we have now been able to hire staff, improve our customer services procedures, and build a network of support with other local entrepreneurs.”
Like Hernandez, another graduate of the program Maria Susana Valenzuela said that she started her business because she likes the independence, but the experience was sometimes daunting. “With owning my own business, I like knowing that I could work hard to gain financial freedom,” says Valenzuela, owner of Multiservicios AZ, a company offering Internet services, alarms, computer classes, and tax services. “One of my biggest challenges with running my own business was having the courage and motivation to know that I could build a successful business. The courses from the Accelerator Program provided me with the knowledge and organizational skills to work towards building a successful business, and also provided me the opportunity to build a support network of other entrepreneurs.”
All of the graduates from the first class of the Accelerator Program have said they will return to mentor the second class of students, who began their first classes on February 18, 2014. “The Accelerator Program has giving us so much, we now feel an obligation to pay it forward and encourage other entrepreneurs to see the value in this kind of program,” says Hernandez. “We hope to be able to contribute to their success in any way we can.”
Hernandez and Valenzuela are part of a fast growing population of Latina business owners in Arizona and the nation. According to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), over the past decade there has been nearly a 200% increase in Latina-owned businesses, a huge growth rate when compared to the 55% increase made by their non-Hispanic female counterparts. The USHCC also cites studies that say Latina business owners have a start-up rate of six times the national average.
Both Hernandez and Valenzuela said they are excited to be part of this trend and are proud of their entrepreneurial role their community. “I feel that there is a new phenomenon happening with Latinas gaining their identity and empowering themselves by becoming entrepreneurs,” says Valenzuela. “Latina entrepreneurs will play a key role in the future job creating of this great nation.”
Fuerza Local and the Accelerator Program were featured recently on azcentral.com! Check out the article by clicking here.