(This column originally appeared in The Inquirer)
There are approximately 12,000 Latino-owned businesses in Philadelphia and as many as 23,000 in the region. The Accelerate Business program is designed to assist them.
Entrepreneurship in the Latino community in the United States has never been stronger.
Latino entrepreneurs are projected to make up 29% of the U.S. population by 2050, up from 17% today, according to a study last year by the Stanford Graduate School of Business. And if Latino-owned businesses grow as fast as the U.S. average, they could add $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy.
The Philadelphia region is no different. Jennifer Rodríguez, the president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GPHCC), estimates that there are approximately 12,000 Latino-owned businesses in Philadelphia and as many as 23,000 in the region. Pew Research says that 4% of all Philadelphia businesses are Hispanic, which contribute about a 2% share of all revenues generated by businesses in the city.
According to Rodríguez, the vast majority of these businesses are solo entrepreneurs with maybe 4% to 5% being employers.
“We have had an influx of immigrants into the city,” she said. “Many of them — either for language, education, or other reasons — are not able to enter the workforce, so they’ve been starting businesses, mostly in the service and construction areas, because they’ve recognized these are opportunities to create wealth and to really provide for their families where a minimum wage job or a retail job might not be nearly as lucrative.”
These Latino entrepreneurs face unique challenges, ranging from immigration requirements to language barriers to the basic knowledge needed to run a successful business.
To address these concerns, the GPHCC has for the past few years offered its Accelerate Business program and is now taking applicants for the fall session. In partnership with the national community nonprofit organization Interise, the program is designed to assist Latino small business owners in growing and succeeding. Participants gain business knowledge, management know-how, and get introduced to the network needed to think like a CEO, increase revenue, hire people, and be contract-capable and procurement-ready to do business with Philadelphia’s large companies. The program is offered in partnership with the LGBTQ+, Asian, and African American Chambers of Commerce in the city.
A ‘streetwise’ MBA
Georgette Luna, with her husband, owns Sea Philly, a boat-touring company that operates on the Delaware and Schuylkill.
Luna committed months of her time to the program, which required a few hours a week to attend various educational classes, networking events, and projects that she had to complete on her own. The benefits have been significant. Thanks to what she’s learned, Luna is expanding her business next year from one to four “classic wooden” boats, which will feature everything from oyster and wine tastings to a hot tub. Luna says the Accelerate Business program was instrumental in helping her take these steps.
“It’s been like a ‘streetwise’ MBA,” she said. “For me the program filled a lot of gaps. It goes through all areas: from finances to marketing to tax. It’s really just an all-encompassing crash course of everything you need to know to run a business.”
Joe Santiago, the owner of Lansdale-based JJS Property Services LLC, which offers painting, cleaning, maintenance, and other property management services, said the program “was almost like going back to school.”
“The program walks you through the different facets of becoming a better owner and how to better manage your company,” he said.
There were many things Santiago said he never knew about running a business, such as how to develop a website, how to better manage your time, and even how to keep a proper set of books, which he learned. In order to graduate, the program also requires each participant to do an entire presentation about their business and form an elevator pitch.
Both Santiago and Luna have not only used what they’ve learned from the Accelerate Business program to grow their businesses but have also leaned heavily on the additional resources provided by the chamber, which are specifically geared toward Latino business owners.
Santiago said that because of the chamber, he’s been able to meet other minority business owners like himself as well as vendors who have diversity programs with minority-owned companies. This type of networking has generated more business for his company.
“Entrepreneurship should not be a do-it-yourself project,” the chamber’s Rodríguez said. “We make entrepreneurship a community-wide project.”
Luna said that the Accelerate Business program — and the chamber — take special care to gear their content toward Latino business owners like herself by offering bilingual and community support. In addition to the Accelerate Business program, the chamber is a strong advocate for policies impacting Latino business owners in the area and also offers classes for their members to get Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) certification as well as helps them to connect to potential financing. There are also events and classes for both business and fun.
“As a minority vendor, you only think of work, work, work, work, and sometimes it’s more important to work smarter, not harder,” Santiago said.