The fearless Latinx have transformed our communities and the world, with many contributing to many industries, such as, arts & entertainment, film, hospitality, science & technology, social justice, entrepreneurship, medicine and much more. Every year we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. It is a month designated to highlight, honor, and recognize the Latinx communities’ important achievements that have influenced and contributed to this country. Although Hispanic Heritage Month has come to an end, we should continue to appreciate the hard work and dedication behind many Latinx entrepreneurs and innovators all year long. So, let’s take this opportunity to honor while speaking out about the ongoing setbacks many Latinx business owners still face.
Currently, the opportunities to start a business are still unfairly harder for Latinx people than white people and come with a more significant risk of rejection, especially when seeking business loans. According to a Small Business Credit Study by the Federal Reserve Banks, 45% of the Latinx applicants got denied for insufficient credit history, while white applicants had a rate of only 33%. Credit loans and access to capital are just a few of the challenges that Latinx business owners face when starting their businesses, despite growing bigger annually than white-owned businesses.
As we celebrate the triumphs, successes and contributions of the Latinx community, past and present, here are just a few Latinx entrepreneurs disrupting industries and inspiring others to dream:
Tania Zapata, Founder of Akily
Serial entrepreneur Tania Zapata is the founder of Akily, an app that provides face-to-face developmental activities for parents, nannies to do with their children at home. Akily’s mission is to democratize children’s development. Zapata is also the former founder of Voice123, the first marketplace of its kind, which allows companies such as Disney, Pandora, Pixar, Spotify, History Channel, Warner Brothers and many others to find voice-over artists without the use of agents. Voice123 has been recently sold backstage.
Born in Colombia Zapata came to the states at the age of 18, where she worked as a receptionist at a Miami-based radio station; while learning English, she began to develop Voice123 to solve the inefficiencies in the industry in terms of connecting offer and demand.
“Our goal (my co-founder and I) was to make sure voice actors could have control of their own business by controlling how they were found and cast. At the time, I was a voice-over actress and knew how difficult it was to break into the industry, even more so for a Spanish-speaking voice actress,” States Zapata.
Zapata saw inefficiencies in the industry in terms of connecting offer and demand. Voice actors lacked control of their own business, and she and her co-founder, both Colombian, saw this as an opportunity to change the industry.
While she had a passion for voice-over acting and found an equally passionate partner in both life and business that co-founded her company – Zapata remembers the bumps in the road to get to where she is now. The cultural differences were one of them. She recalls: “My co-founder and I are both Colombian, and we come from a culture where asking for help or support is not seen as positive. So we didn’t ask for mentoring until we learned that in the U.S., asking for support and assistance is seen as a very positive attitude.” Combined with not having a network of people in the U.S. like most businesses usually require, they learned how to branch out and work remotely with team members in Colombia. Along the journey, Zapata states, “people doubted our abilities because of our background, but that only fueled our desire to succeed.
Nick Storm, CEO & Founder of BLUSTORM Marketing Group
Nick Storm, also known as “Million Case Man,” is the CEO and founder of BLUSTORM Marketing Group. Storm is also coined for introducing high-end liquor into hiphop music videos back in 2002 when Storm was launching the premium vodka drink Hpnotiq with its creator Raphael Yakoby. Storm secured a placement for the beverage in a video by hip-hop artist Fabolous, and the blue liquor skyrocketed to the forefront of the urban liquor scene, making it the fastest-growing liquor in the game. A few years later, Sean Combs (also known as Puff Daddy, Puffy, or P. Diddy), recruited Storm to do the same thing for his vodka line, Ciroc.
Storm is an Afro-Latino man of Puerto Rican and African American descent who disrupted the wine and spirits industry when he successfully sold 1 million cases of Hpnotiq in only three years. Storm’s career started at Sony, where he began as an intern and quickly got his foot into the music industry.
Storm remembers the struggle of starting as one of few minority businessman in the liquor industry and how he had to work hard to prove himself and make himself heard in an industry mainly dominated by white salesmen. This is a common barrier that could lead to discouragement, but Storm powered through and showed that no matter your background – drive and hard work will reflect and pay off in success.
Georgie Benardete, Co-Founder & CEO of Align17
Georgie Benardete is the Co-Founder and CEO of Align17, a private platform for family offices and ultra-high-net-worth individuals to identify vetted impactful investments. Benardete helps her clients access vetted Impact Investing opportunities alongside some of the world’s top investment groups.
Benardete was also previously co-founded and was the Head of Strategy of OrchardMile.com, a luxury fashion marketplace for busy women. Benardete was born in Santiago, Chile and spent her early years between Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Puerto Rico with her Puerto Rican Mom and Argentinian father. She moved to the U.S. after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s in Latin American history, where she attended Georgetown for her master’s in science in Foreign Service.
Benardete, like most Latinx entrepreneurs, faced a few setbacks on her path to where she is today. She explains how being Latinx, especially as a female in the global fintech industry, means working harder. “As a Latinx entrepreneur in the Global Impact investing sector, I’m used to being the only one at the table. I take that less as a challenge and more as a responsibility to share the best of our community and continue opening spaces for others to follow.”
Madeline Familia, Founder & CEO of Creative Voices PR
Madeline Familia is the founder and CEO of Creative Voices PR, a full-service marketing communications firm in New York City. At the early age of eight, Familia showed her entrepreneurial skills when she began selling pencils in school. Familia is a half Puerto Rican, half Dominican Afro-Latina who grew up in the Bronx, New York. After attending one of the worst public schools in the country, where the graduation rates were as low as only 30%, Familia continued her education at The Fashion Institute of Technology. In college, she realized how segregated the reality was and how misplaced she felt in an environment where very little came from her background. It took hard work and determination, but once she started her first job in public relations after college, she fell in love with the field and has since then, been in the industry for over a decade.
“When I first entered corporate America, I wasn’t prepared for the struggles I would face as a first-generation Afro Latina, and little did I realize that my shortcomings, economic background, and cultural upbringing would cause me even more struggles. There were many times where I was criticized for my cultural tendencies, which were then (and still today) not considered standards of professionalism, which are heavily defined by white supremacy culture. Today, many companies still discriminate against non-Western and non-white professionalism standards related to dress code, speech, work style and more,” states Familia
Familia continues,”So that led me my reasoning for starting my own business: I hated the corporate environment in which I worked. I felt somewhat constrained, almost like I was forced to work in ways that did not come naturally to me, and I saw entrepreneurship as my only viable path to prosperity,” continues Familia.
When Familia started her PR firm Creative Voices PR in 2017, she knew the importance of elevating Black, minority, and women-owned businesses. She saw a void and that they were not getting the exposure they deserved. Today, Creative Voices PR primarily represents women and minority-owned businesses and Familia passionately uses her extensive experience and skills to see them succeed.
Rossanna Figuera, co-Founder at Wafels & Dinges
Rossanna Figuera was born and raised in Venezuela and came to New York at the age of 25. Her career path has been what many may see as non-traditional and irregular, something Figuera takes pride in. Her experience as a diplomat for the United Nations, working as a banker in Wall Street, and an executive recruiter is nothing but impressive. She is now the co-founder and Ambassador of Good Things at Wafels & Dinges that has been credited with pioneering the food truck revolution. The company highly focuses on giving back to local communities, which inspired Figuera to start Perros y Vainas, a gastro-social venture that seeks to create awareness around Venezuelan issues. “I wanted to give back to my country, Venezuela, by doing what I knew what to do best: selling food in the streets of NYC. By the time COVID hit in 2020, we were feeding 120 kids/day in Venezuela by selling street-style hot dogs in NYC.” Figuera says.
She humbly describes her journey as a Latinx female entrepreneur to be no less challenging than non-Latinx people. However, she is grateful she found such a large, supporting Latinx community in New York when she started her business, where her success was celebrated.
Bren Herrera is an award-winning celebrity chef, T.V. personality, entrepreneur, actress, and author. Born in Havana, Cuba, and raised in Washington, D.C. she fell in love with cooking at a young age as her mother introduced her to the art of pressure cooking. After leaving a career in law, Herrera turned to cooking as her way to celebrate her Afro-Cuban roots but also to entertain through dynamic experiences. In her kitchen, she combines Cuba’s vibrant plate, seeded in Africa, and Spanish culture and cuisine, with modern flavors and textures, to create memorable and smart dishes. Herrera is known as the pressure-cooking Queen whose philosophy is to save time and energy so that we can spend precious time with your loved ones without sacrificing flavor and nutrition. Bren is the author of ‘modern pressure cooking’, which is available on Amazon.
CULTURE KITCHEN with a Bren is Cleo’s T.V. latest hot cooking show, which boasts Bren as the first woman on the network to host her own show on the network. Also, Bren is the first Afro Latina ever on any network to host a cooking show. Culture Kitchen is about celebrating the culture through food, family, friends, and the diverse beauty of the diaspora. In season one, Bren introduces the audience to her cooking style and afro Caribbean roots, while she invites special friends and family to her kitchen. You can expect to see very thought-out and technical dishes like a Chilean Seabass with a papaya beurre blanc but also comforting and straightforward meals that anyone on any level can cook. In addition to her Mother and her entire family joining her in different episodes, Bren also invites her friend and celebrity D.J., D-Nice, and makes a special Cuban dinner over an exquisite glass of red wine for him.
“Some of the struggles as a Latinx entrepreneur have been mostly related to capital resources and access to funding. While there are some strong relations and programs that offer financial services, the process seems to be much more Munding than our counter peers,” States Herrera.
“In my specific line of work, there is a palpable level of misunderstanding of the culture and how or when to integrate us (Afro-Latinos) into mainstream entertainment, lifestyle, etc. in addition, the stereotypes are still an everyday occurrence. When working with brands, most times the assignment is almost exclusively a Latin theme or concept. It’s almost as if the general public thinks we only listen to Latin music and eat only Latin food. That is the biggest misconception and probably one of the most egregious,” states Herrera.