Latina Entrepreneurship in Baltimore, MD
By Melissa Barrera-Sosa
Home of the NFL Ravens, MLB’s Orioles, the ever-innovative Johns Hopkins Hospital, the beautiful harbor, years-old neighborhoods, and many historical monuments, Baltimore’s Latina entrepreneurship is booming more than ever. While Baltimore, currently ranked the 6th largest city in the United States, has reported a decline in the city’s population over the past 10 years, the one area where it reports growth is in the percentage of Latinos living in the city.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Latinos make up 5.5 percent of Baltimore’s population. What’s even more exciting is that the increase in population has been followed by an increase in the number of Latina business owners, which is changing the economic landscape of the Baltimore area. Veronica Cool, Hispanic Strategist and founder and CEO of consulting firm Cool & Associates, believes that the increase in Latina-owned businesses is the result of women looking for ways to support their families and communities through renovation and a dogged work-ethic, not just in business but in corporations and non-profits.
Though Latina-owned businesses are on the rise, many business owners struggle with making their businesses successful. Maritza Huerta, who together with her twin sister Maricela, runs The Twins PR, says one of the biggest obstacles faced by Latinas is finding funding for their businesses, a sentiment echoed by Cool, who says, “Many resources exist, but they are not often promoted or visible to our Latina community.” She goes on to say that many starting out “have the talent and the drive, but often lack the knowledge and focus to execute profitably.” To help combat this issue, Cool suggests emerging entrepreneurs in the Baltimore area look into resources such as the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the SBDC. Cool also mentions Latino Innovators Pitch, a competition she started “to showcase the innovation of Latino entrepreneurs in the region.” The prize? A year-long mentoring program for the winner.
Corina Morga, Vice Chairman of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, shares the Latino Economic DevelopmentCorporation and Life Asset, a micro-lender to small businesses, as potential resources for those starting their business.
Nina Roque, Executive Director of the National Women’s Business Council offers the National Women’s Business Council and the Association of Women’s Business Centers as possible hotspots for training, mentoring, business development and financing opportunities. According to Roque, Latina entrepreneurs account for 17 percent of the total of women-owned businesses across the United States. “On average, Latinas start about 401 new business per day!” she shares. “The number of Hispanic women small business-owners is growing at a faster rate than any other racial or ethnic segment in the country, increasing 163 percent between 2007 and 2018. With the number of Hispanic women expected to double by 2050, the growth rate of Hispanic owned businesses is expected to continue to surge.” Both Roque and Morga’s advise to emerging entrepreneurs is to find a mentor in their journey. “Your mentor should be someone who inspires you, like a Steve Jobs or Richard Jobs, as well as someone local you can learn from, confide in, and reach out to when things get challenging,” Morga shares as she highlights Cool, who was named “Baltimore Entrepreneur of the Year,” as someone Latina entrepreneurs should look to. “She is a powerhouse and the perfect example of a successful Latina,” Morga continues. “She has opened many doors for myself and others, and her mentorship challenges the ways to become better business owners. She asks the right questions to help others succeed and is continuously helping you learn new things about yourself.”
When issuing advise to emerging Latina entrepreneurs, Cool suggests they take time to create a plan, with the input and guidance of some of the above-mentioned resources and focus on execution while Morga offers something a bit more practical. “Don’t give up!” Morga says. “Understand that there are many barriers or walls you will face but remain resilient. There is help at every level, and there is always someone willing to help. Be vulnerable and ask questions. Self-awareness is key so you can identify your weaknesses and find the right assistance.”
With so many opportunities available, Huerta offers this simple yet invaluable piece of advice, “Networking with other business owners, colleagues, and friends are your biggest help,” she elaborates. “By collaborating with others in your immediate network, you can see what everyone’s needs are, and potentially invest in and share access to tools that might otherwise be too expensive for a young start-up to purchase on your own. By coming together to collaborate, you can go after larger contracts or accounts by being able to offer more services…and when they grow, we grow.” With so many businesses on the rise, one might be concerned with the dog-eat-dog nature of it all, but Huerta suggests that mindset is outdated. “There’s room for all of us,” she says. “There are already so many obstacles, we should look for ways to help and support one another. Remember, you’re not alone.” Juntas si podemos!