The rise of the Latina small-business owner
By Stacia Affelt
December 1, 2015
Some people enjoy Arizona for the heat. Others are drawn to the desert landscape. Many Latina entrepreneurs find Arizona to be the right climate for growing their small business, according to a recent report.
In fact, the number of businesses owned by Hispanic women in Arizona more than doubled between 2007 and 2012 to over 40,000, according to DATOS 2015: The State of Arizona’s Hispanic Market report. The study shows that out of the estimated 123,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in the state, Hispanic women own the majority of them — about 54 percent.
Ruth Enriquez, vice president and small business banker at Bank of America, works with Latina small business owners every day. She takes pride in educating her clients on how to make important business decisions and watching them grow their business. Specifically, she likes traveling to their places of business and hearing how they came up with the ideas. “That is kind of the bonus for me outside of helping them achieve their financial goals,” she said.
Working alongside these women has inspired Enriquez to start her own small business. She can spot women’s passion from a mile away, she said, but passion isn’t the only thing Latina and Hispanic businesswomen share in common.
Each one may have a different path to starting her business, but most of the women I spoke with said that what makes Hispanic women unique is their hard work ethic, close community relationships and interest in giving back.
With migrant farmworkers as parents, Olga Aros said she understands the importance of hard work. “If it was one thing I learned from them, it was a strong work ethic,” she said.
Coming from the farmworker movement motivated Aros to give back from the very beginning of her career. After spending 20 years in “corporate America,” she took the business skills she learned with her to work for the city of Phoenix as the equal opportunity director. In the city, she saw more inequalities than equalities, specifically for women and Latinos, she said.
Seeing this motivated Aros to be part of the growing movement of Latina entrepreneurship. “We see Latina entrepreneurs as economic engines for Arizona and for their families and for their communities,” she said. “They are building, hiring and creating jobs that many people can benefit from.”
As a businesswoman, owning a firm was a lifelong dream for Aros, who founded ORA Worldwide Consultants in 2004. “I was at a point in my life experiences that it was time for me to give back what I had learned,” she said.
Over the last decade, Aros has consulted with various small businesses to help them develop strategic plans. Some of the entrepreneurs she trained over six years ago still thank her for teaching them about how to move their careers forward. “Of course that’s a payback, right, when someone succeeds because of something they learned from you,” Aros said.
While a strong work ethic is enough to keep a business running, a robust network is what many Latina and Hispanic businesswomen in Phoenix credit as the way to get that business off the ground.
Like most entrepreneurs, Amanda June didn’t find her niche until after her career had already started. Once she did, she launched a media company that aimed to change the way Latino and Native American communities interact with each other.
June had no experience in media, but had always dreamt of becoming a business owner. She spent her early career working for local and national nonprofits and building strong relationships in her community. Her last position exposed her to the media industry, and June fell in love.
“[Media is] definitely one of the most honorable fields that I could’ve gone into besides nonprofits,” she said. “I’m just trying to do a good job in upholding the integrity of the industry that way.”
Despite her new affinity for the media, June noticed a lack of diversity in news coverage — namely in coverage about Latino and Native American communities, with which June has a personal attachment. Most of the media is from a non-Latino and non-Native perspective, June said, so you don’t hear from other diverse communities.
This disconnect led to the creation of SmokeFire Media and its first publication: The Visionary Business Magazine, which June started in order to create more news coverage of Latinos and Native Americans.
On top of that goal, she wants to get these communities talking to one another. “They both have very fast-growing industries. They have huge potential,” she said. “I felt that if they united their voices and their businesses, that they would have an even larger national presence.”
June credits the support of her network to being able to launch her first business. Her background in business, marketing and public relations didn’t hurt either.
After launching the magazine just a few months after crafting the idea for it, June has helped create conversations in these communities by covering issues they care about. “We are being visionary to a bigger picture and what this could mean for our communities,” she said.
Lisa Urias also chose to start her business in media, with the goal of creating respect for and understanding of the Hispanic market. “There are so many beautiful things about the Hispanic culture that it would be nice for people to know more about,” she said.
After dedicating 15 years of her life to working for international marketing firms, Urias decided to take time off from work while pregnant with her second child.
When it came time to start working again, Urias knew she didn’t want to return to the corporate world. What she really craved was flexibility and not to feel mired in her work. “I really didn’t want any boundaries put on me in terms of my capacity to grow,” she said. “I wanted to be able to do what I wanted to do, and I wanted to take it to the next level.”
Luckily for Urias, her husband was a corporate lawyer who gave her the idea and the tools to start a marketing agency for the Hispanic market, one that was rapidly growing at the time. Urias Communications was born in 2004. Today, the Hispanic market is still growing, and the agency has grown along with it, she said.
Like June, Urias’ strong relationships with her previous clients helped her agency launch right away. Urias, whose family has been in Phoenix for five generations, found Arizona the perfect and easiest place to start her business because it is “the small-business capital of the world.”
The biggest challenge, however, was pitching the business. It’s hard not just for women, but for all Latinos, to succeed in business, she said.
“There is just an inherent unfairness in that,” she said. “We went to the same schools, we have the same education, our campaigns are no different, our expertise are no different, so sometimes I wonder why chances … aren’t taken on us.”
Urias Communications has allowed her to accomplish the goal of accurately representing Hispanic markets in the media. More importantly to her, Urias has been able to inspire other Latina entrepreneurs. “I want them to be able to thrive and grow and to be able to do things that are still within their culture and have meaning, but also give them some great economic bonus,” she said.
Cathy Garcia, founder/owner of Cha-Cha ChiC t-shirt company, is all for “girl power.” She said, “We’re all here to help each other.”
After years of helping with her husband’s business, Garcia wanted to do something for herself. Her oldest granddaughter suggested she create something, and that’s exactly what she did.
Garcia always had an eye for fashion, although she admits she “wasn’t trying to become the next Vera Wang.” She began by sketching t-shirt designs, drawing inspiration from her colorful and bold Latin culture.
The next step was to find someone to invest in her designs. She landed a meeting with a couple manufacturers — all she brought with her were three sketches, a “James-Bond-looking” briefcase and a sharp outfit. As it turns out, that was enough to convince them to invest in her passion.
Since then, Garcia has been able to feature her t-shirts in celebrity gift bags at the Latina Grammy’s and sell her designs in local stores. “I just put a little sparkle and color in somebody’s day, which makes everybody’s day better,” she said.
Her dream is to own a boutique someday soon. Until then, Garcia surrounds herself with other businesswomen, constantly learning from them and giving them advice. All of these women see a promising future for Latina and Hispanic women who want to enter the business world.
“Hispanic women are driven, they like to work, they like to be successful and I do think they want that flexibility to be able to do and create whatever it is they want for themselves,” Urias said.
Stacia is a senior at the Cronkite School focusing on print journalism with a certificate in marketing. Her passions include editorial writing, fashion and women’s issues. Her articles have been published in The Huffington Post, Arizona Foothills Magazine, Redbook magazine, and more. She hopes to empower women to look and feel their best through her work.