Latina Style Magazine: Latina Entrepreneurs on the Spotlight

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With the staggering growth of women business owners in the U.S, women are becoming the fule that drives the economy. According to recently released census statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners reports that there were 787,914 companies owned by Hispanic women in 2007, (the time of the survey), representing a 45 percent increase from the last survey administered in 2002. Here are three Latinas who are powering a significant part of the country’s economic engine as it continues its road to recovery.

Ambition for Something More

Deborah Aguilar-Velez, founder, president, and chief executive officer of Sistemas Corporation, was the first Puerto Rican woman with a chemical engineering degree to be hired by Exxon Corporation, becoming a senior analyst and one of the few women in an industry dominated by men. Like several Latinas in the corporate world, she worked her way up through the company for five years. Aguilar-Velez recalls how one day she studied the row of photos of company CEOs that adomed a wall and “they were all White men,” she says. “I knew that it would take me a very long time to achieve that level within a company as large as Exxon. I saw owning my own company as a way to immediately become a president and CEO.”

In 1993, she founded Sistemas Corporation, a 25 year-old computer consulting and training firm specializing in engineering and financial applications. Aguilar-Velez remembers how at the time she started her business, there were very few books and resources on how to start and run a small business, but with dedication and guidance from the American Women’s Economic Development Corporation in New York City she developed her business. “I was a chemical engineer, but didn’t know much about what it meant to start and run a successful business,” says the successful business owner. With eh motto, “Women should mind their own business,” the organization’s primary focus was to help women start their own companies.

Through the center, Aguilar-Velez was able to participate in a two-year program to learn about sales, marketing, finance and management. “The organization no longer exist, but it was a God-send to me,” she says. “Since the birth of the Internet, women can find the information they need about business planning from the comfort of their homes.”

A company does not sustain itself for more than 30 years without effort. According to Aguilar-Velez, Sistemas’ ability adapt quickly in response and anticipation of change has been a competitive advantage. “During the first 20 years of business, I had office space and lots of employees, which translated to lots of overhead expenses,” she says. “Since moving to North Carolina, I have hired contractors as-needed to support projects. During the recession, I didn’t have employees the pay when I didn’t have the projects. Now I have contractors only when i have the work. Big corporations don’t have that option; they have to lay off employees.”

From the beginning, Aguilar-Velez envisioned Sistemas Corporation as a lifestyle business that would serve as a platform for achieving her personal goals. Being tapped to serve on several corporate boards has been a significant accomplishment and she advises other women who are interested in serving on corporate boards to first develop their expertise. “You also have to ensure that your online and offline brands represent your reputation of being an expert in your field and your ability to contribute value,” she says. “Be the kind of person that people want to listen to because you provide valuable knowledge.”

As she states, providing value is a key to building a strong foundation for an enduring business. “If you are always generating value, you are always going to be needed,” she says. “Your products or services must either eliminate or provide pleasure.”

Operating with integrity and finding strong allies for collaboration are additional keys for business success. “Always deliver what you promise, and nurture relationships. When workload is low, you can always tap into the resources of your vendors and associates,” Aguilar-Velez says.

Making an impact on the Latino community is also important to Aguilar-Velez, who says that she doesn’t want her legacy to be defined by Sistemas. “Rather, I want to build something that has a broader impact that promotes and improves the perception of Latino,” she says. “Now is the time for us Latinas to see the impact we’re making on the global society, unite ourselves and help one another succeed.”

Perseverance In Spite of Challenges

At the tender age of 13, Tina Cordova decided that she wanted to be a doctor-and nothing was going to change her mind. She dreamt of returning to her hometown, Tularosa, New Mexico, after medical school and happily taking care of all of her friends and neighbors. When she became pregnant while still a teenager, there were plenty of naysayers who told her that her life was over. But they were wrong.

Today, Cordova is the president of Queston Construction, Inc., a commercial construction firm with a devision devoted to roofing. The winner of numerous entrepreneur awards, Cordova served on the Board of Directors of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) for six years, serving part of her term as Chairman of the Board. The board to success was far from easy.

After getting married young and earning a Master’s degree in Biology, Cordova enrolled in medical school. Two years into program, she weathered a divorce and took of leave of absence from her courses-fully intending to return.

Cordova began waiting tables in order to take care of her son. Opportunity presented itself when a young restaurant chain owner sat in her section. He ended up hiring Cordova as his administrative assistant. Five years later, Cordova was managing the operations of the three restaurants. During this time, she met her life partner, Russ Steward. “Russ had previously owned roofing companies, and suggested that combine his construction know-how and my administrative skills to start our own company,” Cordova recalls.

Cordova left her job and invested 5,000 of her savings to start Question Construction, Inc. in 1990 with Steward. Two years later, the couple purchased a roofing business. Before long, Cordova earned her contractor’s license. “I prefer to work in a physical way, and I absolutely loved working side-by-side in construction with the crew,” she says. “There’s something rewarding about seeing your projects physically develop before your eyes.”

Cordova’s innate business talents, prudence relating to taking on debt and willingness to reinvest profits into the company helped Queston survive the recession. She feels a certain responsibility to her employees and their families to provide a stable workplace. Before the recession, she never had to lay off an employee. When she was forced to lay off six employees, she quickly offered them their jobs back as soon as she was able.

“I’m happy to have reached a level of business achievement that allows me to support community organizations,” Cordova says. “Getting involved in the community has given me amazing and opportunities I can’t put a value on.”

She has served as president of the Minority Business Association for several years and served as chair of he U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She also serves on the foundation board for her alma mater. New Mexico Highlands University. Cordova recommends that women business owners avoid becoming isolated by staying in the community.

She credits much of her success to hard work, faith and a willingness to take risks and press on despite obstacles. “I was a teenage mom, am a cancer survivor, went through a divorce, had to file bankruptcy at on point and started an undercapitalized business in an industry I knew nothing about. But I made it,” she says. “Be bold, don’t take no for an answer, know your business inside and out, be confident and competent, work hard and don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Leveraging the Global Potential of Hispanic Achievement

Following a successful career in technology, rocket scientist Sylvia Acevedo became increasingly sought-after from colleagues needing assistance with their construction projects. But it wasn’t her ability to read blueprints that her friends were interested in; it was her ability to speak Spanish.

“They were experiencing challenges communicating to their Spanish-speaking employees, so I developed a line of Spanish-speaking-English translation communication cards and products to help them,” says Acevedo, president and CEO of CommuniCard LLC.

Her success quickly caught the attention of additional clients, and soon she was traveling extensively to consult major corporations. “Being an entrepreneur means that I have the flexibility to innovate quicker,” she says. “Our clients tend to be big corporations. Because I worked within big corporations, I know how their budget cycles work and how they operate.”

She was able to help her clients with strategies and solutions, especially in the education and health care sectors. “When our clients needed help implementing these solutions, we have created a mobilization campaign that has dramatically improved the community capacity in dealing with changing demographics,” Acevedo says.

When she started her company in Austin, the educational organizations she worked with only had 20 percent of their materials in Spanish and the very few Spanish speakers despite the fact that the organizations served Hispanics. After receiving the help of Acevedo’s trainings and mobilization campaigns, the organizations now have 90 percent of their material in Spanish, and have increased their number of Spanish-speaking staff.

“We offer evidence-based training to help organizations be more effective with their precious resources,” she says. “We also take the population they’re serving and teach them how to find success in the U.S. educational system. The impact has improved ESOL and GED enrollment for the community college in our service area four years in a row by 35 percent year-on-year.”

Due to their success in Texas, the company was asked to bring the approach to Los Angeles. The team took an outreach event in LA that had been attracting 300 people and increased attendance to 20,000 people. This year, they are expecting 30,00 people.

In May 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Acevedo to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. “The U.S. used to be ahead in terms of producing college grads in the world, but today we’ve dropped to number six,” she says. “As President Obama says, we must out build, out innovate and out educate the rest of the world to remain competitive in a global economy. One of the best ways to accelerate academic performance in the U.S. is through the fastest-growing population in he U.S.-Latinos.

Most business owners understand that networking is important, but Acevedo stresses that it’s important to extend out of your comfort zone and meet people who may not be like you. “Identify your core strengths, look for talented and give them an opportunity,” she says. “Collaborate with others. Be a leader and innovator in your field.”

Additional Resources

According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, what was once regarded as a minority now represents the fastest-growing segment of the nation’s economy, and Hispanics are opening businesses at a staggering rate. Here’s a breakdown of some government and non-profit resources and programs, which specifically support Hispanic business growth.

If you are thinking of starting a business or are already engaged in the early stages of business ownership, get valuable in-person advice as well as networking opportunities from numerous local organizations who specialize in promoting the growth of Hispanic businesses through training, advice, and loan assistance, and more.

Here are a few to consider:

Minority Business Development Centers (MBDC): connect you with loan programs, training courses, one-on-one assistance, and more. Also read more about: The Minority Business Development Agency: Essential Tools & Resources for Minority Entrepreneur.

Small Business Development Center: SBDCs provide small business advice, training and networking opportunities in local communities across the country.

United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Also find a local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Funding for Hispanic-Owned Businesses Consider a loan from a bank that is guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA)

Online Government Resources for Hispanic Empresarios

Another government-sponsored resource to check out is SCORE (part-funded by the SBA). SCORE offers online small business workshops in Spanish as well,

Hispanic Business Associations

In addition to government agencies, there are many trade associations and non-profit who are committed to helping Hispanics in business succeed. These include: – Content, an online community and other resources for Hispanic entrepreneurs, Latin Business Association-Events, training, networking, and more.

Additional Resources

Follow These Steps to Starting a Business,
Starting a business involves planning, making key financial and completing a series of legal activities. These 10 easy steps can help you plan, prepare and manage your business. Check out the links to learn more, 10 Steps to Starting a Business:

–Ashley Cisneros
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.

About the Author:

Ashley Cisneros Mejia is a journalist, entrepreneur and marketer. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later as an editor at Florida Trend business magazine. Ashley has worked as a professional freelance writer since 2009, as a technical writer, marketing manager, and public relations practitioner. She also founded two digital marketing agencies in Orlando. Named one of Orlando’s 40 Under 40 and honored by the Women’s Executive Council of Orlando for achievements in media and communications, Ashley earned a B.S. in Journalism and an M.S. in Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida.

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