Translating Success: How to Equip Hispanic Entrepreneurs for Growth

Javier Zamora, left, with offerings from Sushi Kong, his growing Miami-area restaurant business. Image Credit: Mastercard

March 21, 2024/Mastercard

By Dianna Delling

When Javier Zamora arrived in South Florida to open Sushi Kong, he had all of the makings of a successful restaurant: a winning concept — an upbeat restaurant specializing in Latin-Asian fusion with a tropical flair; a proven track record as the founder of two similar restaurants back home in Argentina; and the perfect location in Coral Gables, an upscale, multicultural community just southwest of Miami. 

So, as the immigrant fairy tale goes, Zamora and his wife poured all of their resources and love into Sushi Kong, and it quickly blossomed into a beloved neighborhood establishment.  

Yet none of their restaurateur magic mattered in early 2020, when Zamora, who’d always self-financed his ventures, sought a small business loan to upgrade his kitchen equipment. After a number of rejections from traditional lenders, he had nearly given up hope.  

It was around this time that Zamora heard about Ascendus, a national nonprofit and community development financial institution that provides entrepreneurs of color and low- to moderate-income small business owners with access to capital at reasonable interest rates. Unlike traditional financial institutions, the organization will invest in entrepreneurs who lack established credit histories or other standard loan criteria. In a stroke of blind luck, Ascendus gave Sushi Kong its first loan weeks before the pandemic shut it down and provided more funding later that difficult year.  

“They were the first company to believe in us,” Zamora says. “Honestly, without this support, it’s doubtful that we would have survived COVID-19.” 

Zamora represents a rapidly growing category of entrepreneurs in the U.S. The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in America grew by 34% from 2007 to 2019, according to a 2023 report from the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. Today there are more than 5 million Hispanic-owned businesses in this country, and they contribute more than $800 billion to the economy annually, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.   

Finding a support network that “speaks your language” — literally and culturally — is an essential component of any small business’s success. To that end, Mastercard recently partnered with Ascendus, Finhabits and SUMA Wealth to expand its Digital Doors program, launched in 2020, to offer a dedicated platform to help the Hispanic small business community grow their businesses and build their financial futures. 

Mastercard launched the bilingual Hispanic Digital Doors platform this month to connect entrepreneurs with online resources and trusted partners committed to working with the Hispanic business community. 

“From building a business strategy, creating a digital presence and establishing workplace benefits and financial management, we continue to work with our partners through Digital Doors to help small business owners seamlessly invest in themselves and their businesses,” says Ginger Siegel, North America small business lead at Mastercard. “This dedicated platform will help the growing Hispanic small business community build their financial health, both personally and professionally, creating a ripple effect that can grow opportunities for everyone.” 

While launching a business is always tough, Hispanic entrepreneurs face additional obstacles. Accessing financial capital, for example, can be extremely difficult for immigrants or first- or second-generation Americans of modest economic backgrounds. 

Others can find themselves sidelined by a lack of debt. For instances, a good credit history is critical when applying for business loans in the U.S. Yet many Hispanic entrepreneurs have grown up without mortgages or credit cards. “In many parts of the world, ‘debt’ is a bad four-letter word — that’s just not the way people were raised,” says Paul Quintero, CEO at Ascendus. “You come to this country and it’s all about borrowing money. It’s all about leverage. That can be a shocker.” 

And after securing a loan or credit card, understanding the nuances of U.S. credit culture — such as the importance of keeping credit card balances low to strengthen your FICO score — can be tricky for the uninitiated. “It’s not intuitive,” says Quintero, which is why Ascendus also provides educational support and resources to help borrowers use their loans effectively. 

Beatriz Acevedo, co-founder and CEO of SUMA Wealth, points out another problem. Because it’s hard to obtain funding, many Hispanic entrepreneurs rely on personal capital instead.

“They put up their homes, they put all their savings into their business. These things are not ideal when it comes to your personal wealth and building a company,” she says. “We’ve all done it, so we understand — but it’s important that people understand the implications, so they can protect themselves [and know how to limit their liabilities].”  

That’s why SUMA Wealth offers tools and educational resources to help entrepreneurs manage their money wisely — including a primer on company-sponsored retirement savings plans it’s dubbed “401 Qué?” The group addresses issues that are often more common in Hispanic cultures, such as providing for an extended family while also saving for retirement. “In my community, we tend to be responsible in a larger degree to supporting our older family members,” Acevedo says. “That can be a strain.”  

Retirement often feels out of reach to entrepreneurs who are the first in their families to launch business ventures. Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO of Finhabits, believes that working with financial advisors who act as fiduciaries — and know the Spanish language and culture — can help. “Finhabits evolved from the need to have a trusted advisor in the community,” Garcia says, “and part of that trust is built by speaking their language and simplifying financial concepts.” 

The dedicated Hispanic Digital Doors platform is part of a larger Mastercard Digital Doors program expansion that includes new partnerships with Avibra, One Degree Marketing’s Elevation Academy, GoDaddy, Nextdoor and SAP Concur to provide additional resources that help small businesses promote, manage and digitize their businesses.  

A little bit of support goes a long way. Zamora opened his second Sushi Kong location this past November and has plans for further expansion — growth that’s bound to reverberate throughout his community.  

“Helping one small business owner helps entire communities in terms of employment and the broader neighborhood ecosystem,” Quintero says. “Each business may be small, but it makes a big impact on quality of life and sense of community. It’s a ripple effect.”  

 

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