Rutgers University Program Seeks to Bolster Black and Latino Entrepreneurs

Enrique Arbelaez (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

One afternoon 20 years ago, Enrique Arbelaez said goodbye to the group of friends with whom he met every day after school to play in his native Santa Rosa de Cabal, a municipality of the department of Antioquia, in central Colombia. His parents explained to him that it was time to think about his future and that traveling to the United States to learn English would change his life.

(…) Today, Arbelaez looks proudly at the progress he has made with the P.R. and marketing company he founded almost 10 years ago when he joined forces with his business partner Lily Gil-Valletta. She became his professional accomplice in an adventure called CIEN+, a project that has expanded to Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis and Miami and to a number of cities in Colombia.

“It has been a roller coaster of feelings, of emotions, but thinking back on everything that has happened fills me with pride, even though it has not been easy,” reflected Arbelaez (…)

He belongs to the group of Latino entrepreneurs who are creating new companies faster than the rest of the population, and who are also becoming an important part of the international market. Estimates from the division of JPMorgan Chase global financial services say that, by 2050, Latinos will constitute 29 percent of the population, compared to the current 17 percent.

(…) Despite the Trump administration’s rhetoric aiming to tarnish the image of the Latino and immigrant communities, a study published by Stanford University found that these businesses could add $1.4 billion to the economy if they grow at the national rate.

However, this is precisely the factor in which many Latino startup entrepreneurs find it hardest to attain stability. Funding is one of the obstacles hindering the growth of their businesses (…). In other cases, entrepreneurs simply do not have the right information – or believe that they will not meet the requirements. All this has prompted a number of universities and financial institutions to create nonprofit pre-accelerator programs to improve the opportunities for this community.

(…) Since he became an ambassador for the Black and Latino Tech initiative (BLT) – sponsored by Rutgers, his own alma mater – Arbelaez divides his time between work meetings and gatherings with other Latino entrepreneurs from the tri-state area.

“Over the years, we have had mentors who have helped us see business from a point of view that we simply would not have thought about. However, most of these mentors were not Latino but highly successful Anglo-Americans,” said the Colombian-born business owner. “It was through them that I was invited to participate in this project, which seeks to help Latino and African-American startup entrepreneurs connect with people who can open doors for us by introducing a potential investor or someone who can help you advance.”

The program, launched last year, has so far assisted 11 business owners, none of them Latino. To remedy this, the organizers tripled their efforts to connect with the Hispanic community and were able to attract some 54 applications by the end of February of which approximately half came from Latino entrepreneurs.

(…) “BLT is the first college-sponsored program in the tri-state area focused on finding capital for new tech businesses led by entrepreneurs of color,” said Lyneir Richardson, executive director of Rutgers University’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED).

Lyneir Richardson (Photo via El Diario)

(…) Richardson said that the program’s activities will take place at the college campus in Newark, New Jersey, and are expected to start on March 25 and run until May. Rutgers will award two entrepreneurs $10,000 in investments, in addition to the possibility to receive funding from investors who will be analyzing these business projects during the program.

Last decade marked a decisive change in the people leading companies. In the case of the Hispanic community, women are the group standing out most strongly among entrepreneurial circles. Rutgers’ study found that Latinas now own 44 percent of all Latino companies (…). White female entrepreneurs showed lower rates with 13 percent of ownership, while African-American women had 20 percent.

Alongside the women, Latino “millennials” who arrived in the United States as children were also found to be launching businesses in significant numbers. Of all companies created by immigrants with less than $1 million in annual income, 86 percent are owned by millennials.

“What we are seeing is an intense activity on the part of this group because these new generations of immigrants tend to speak English perfectly and are capable of moving easily in both worlds. This is an extraordinary advantage,” said Carlos Torres, an expert on immigrant community finances.

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