The 14th Annual MD Hispanic Business Conference wrapped up with the capstone event emphasizing the innovation prevalent in the immigrant community: “The Latino Innovators’ Pitch,” the entrepreneurial competition wherein four Hispanic businesses presented their concept and/or idea to a panel of judges for a grand prize of $5,000 and 12 months of support and guidance. This being the inaugural launch, we expected a small program, and maybe not a lot of enthusiasm or participation. To our great surprise and pleasure, we were flooded with interest from the community.
Many thanks to the gracious and generous judges: Henry Turner with the Small Business Development Resource Center; Diana T. Gaines, founder of Tu Casa Development Group LLC; Thomas Kohn, Pessin Katz Law P.A.; and Natalia Luis, M. Luis Construction Inc. Not only did they invest their time in the judging process, but each of them committed to supporting all of the participants in their business ventures.
After a prescreening process, the four selected finalists covered a broad spectrum of industries, personalities and backgrounds. The presenters included: Juan Barbaran, founder of #JUAN Guacamole. A Peruvian immigrant with enthusiasm and vision, Juan started selling his guacamole in farmers’ markets across the region and is on track to close 2015 with $100K in revenues. He passed out samples of his secret-recipe guacamole and #JUAN Hot Sauce to the crowd.
Sagrario Ortiz, a Dominican socialpreneur with enthusiasm and passion. She was an audience favorite. Her organization, El Poder De Ser Mujer, focuses on creating programs and events to empower and advance women. Her English was accented, but her confidence never wavered. She didn’t allow the language barriers to impede her presentation or to impact her drive to succeed or serve women across the Mid-Atlantic.
Nathalia Edmonds Cruz, a Puerto Rican dynamo who is very involved in the Maryland Hispanic business community. She specializes in real estate and property management and is owner of Clearview Real Estate Services. Knowing that Latinos are becoming a huge portion of the housing market while still not always understanding the process or rules (such as credit reporting and down payments), she’s developing an app that can provide alternative credit reporting options, especially for those individuals without Social Security numbers.
And Hector and Evette Zuniga, founders of Your Answer Solutions Center, which focuses on the opportunity of leveraging Hector’s Mexican connections to provide bilingual operators for call centers based in the United States. It’s an outsourcing tool that to can provide bilingual support while reducing labor expenses.
Each of these individuals further supports the inherent Hispanic entrepreneurial drive. Today in the U.S., Latinos are establishing businesses at three times the national average. In Maryland, we have over 40,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, contributing to the economy by creating jobs and buying goods and services, continuing to fuel our neighborhoods and communities.
After deliberating, the judges selected a winner – not an easy decision since each presenter brought very unique qualities and viable opportunities for sustainable success. Juan Barbaran was named the winner of the inaugural Latino Innovator’s Pitch. His joy and pride were evident in his big smile and speech.
“The $5,000 is huge, but more valuable to me is the 12 months of guidance and support,” he said. “It will help me take my business to the next level.”
The future is bright and full of innovation and enthusiasm.