SBDC Programs Create Opportunities for Latino Entrepreneurs

Photos via the SBDC Columbus website -

Latino-owned businesses are growing at more than double the rate of all businesses across America according to a study from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The number of companies has grown 31.6 percent since 2012, equating to nearly 4.4 million businesses pumping $700 million into the economy.

The Ohio Small Business Development Centers at Columbus State Community College are making sure that the city’s Latino business owners share in that success with culturally-competent programs and classes offered in Spanish.

Language can make all the difference for an entrepreneur striving to start a business. Center Director Mike Bowers says many of the Latino entrepreneurs they work with speak English, but the language of business is complex, with concepts difficult to understand even for native speakers. To level the playing field, the SBDC offers classes like its startup B.A.S.E. Workshop in Spanish.

Latino Center Director Thalia Amador says many of these individuals have run businesses in their own countries, but the U.S. brings a whole new set of rules, processes and licenses.

“For somebody to provide them all of that in Spanish…I’m breaking a barrier for them in allowing them to participate and to do great things,” Amador says.

Several Latino entrepreneurs have found success through another program the SBDC offers in partnership with Festival Latino. Launched two years ago, Mercadito Raíces provides a five month training program for food-based businesses to create and validate their concepts.

Spanning 10 training sessions, Amador says the program is specific to food-based businesses, whether food truck, caterer, home baker or something else. It’s a similar process to the SBDC’s other training programs covering the ins and outs of business, from pricing and marketing, to licensing and working with the department of health. Where Mercadito Raíces stands out is in its hands-on validation process.

Business that complete the program validate their concepts through sales at Columbus’ annual Festival Latino.

“It has provided a lot of benefits for my clients,” Amador says. “Not just that they validated the idea, but also introduced them into the community.”

Amador adds that all of the Mercadito Raíces participants have gotten jobs or additional contracts as a result of participating in the program.

It’s a win-win both for the festival and the food businesses participating.

The idea was born out of Festival Latino’s desire to get more local vendors involved. When the program started, over half of the festival vendors were from out of state. In 2018 alone, Mercadito Raíces brought five new local vendors to the festivities.

Amador says all of the businesses have been profitable at the festivals (even through rainy conditions last year). However, it’s not just about the success that weekend, but creating long-term opportunities.

“It’s really allowed them, and gave them, the opportunity to learn in a safe environment where they can be profitable, and replicate that for themselves, and participate in other festivals and other areas of the community,” Amador says.

She shares that one of the participants thought she would never be able to start a business because of her command of English, but now she’s a successful business owner.

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ADDITIONAL READING: Learn more about how the SBDC’s programming and services have evolved to meet the growing interest in entrepreneurship in Columbus.