Latino business owners in Boston still lack access to vital resources

Dr. Rosa Calcagno of Boston owns two businesses, but starting them wasn’t easy.

Like many other business owners who attended the first Latin American Small Business and Entrepreneurship Summit in Boston at the Seaport on Thursday, Calcaño said she faced hurdles connecting with resources to iron out legal details and banking problems for your business, among other things.

“That’s the road map we’re missing, that hand in hand.” That’s the mentorship,” said Calcagno, who owns Better Breathing Dental Studio and runs La Cumbre Global de Liderazgo, a faith-based leadership organization.

Her colleague and friend Ivelisse Minlletty is looking to open a non-profit organization. “We have so many resources available from the city, but no one knows where to go,” she told GBH News. “They don’t reveal it. It’s not there, so that’s also a big challenge. And we’re very resourceful and we don’t know yet.” Minlletty said the city needs to invest more in communicating with local business owners.

Jorge Andrade, vice president of business banking at Eastern Bank, said Latin American businesses often struggle to connect with lenders. “A lot of us are first generation or even just immigrants and it’s like, ‘Who do we trust, who don’t we trust?'” he said.

Karina Lopez grew up in Boston and in 2018 opened her consignment clothing business, Rose JP. Running her business has been a roller coaster since she moved locations, then closed and reopened for online-only sales.

Lopez, like her colleagues at the meeting, said she spent hours searching the Internet for resources to help her business, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She said she was ineligible for pandemic aid because her business was too new to qualify.

Lopez said city officials are not reaching out by knocking on doors and meeting businesses where they are. “People are too busy running their businesses,” she said. “They’re not going to go out looking for things because you have to work every day.”

Mayor Michelle Wu addressed the conference in Spanish, saying one of her passions is breaking down barriers so communities can access the things they need most.

When asked how to better spread the word about the resources, Wu said it’s important to “make sure we’re not just reaching residents and businesses where they are right now, but encouraging people to think about opportunities in other parts of the city, especially in high-traffic areas of the city where there are vacancies that need to be filled.” That’s part of the reason the event is being held at the Seaport, according to organizers.

The free summit, held for the first time this year, was organized by El Mundo Boston and The Innovation Studio and offered several informational sessions for business professionals, ranging from marketing tips to applying for loans. Most of the summit, which brought together more than 200 participants, was held in Spanish.

El Mundo President and CEO Alberto Vassallo said the meeting has three goals: connecting business owners with life-changing resources; making sure the city and state know how important Latino small businesses are; and bringing Latinos to Seaport, an overwhelmingly white Boston neighborhood.

At the start of the meeting, Vassallo asked the crowd how many people had never been to the Seaport. About 15 hands flew up. Minlletty said: “When you say ‘Seaport’ people say ‘What’s that’?”

To get Latinos into the seaport, El Mundo offered the first 100 registrants $50 to cover parking and gas.

When asked about the inaccessibility of the Seaport, Wu said, “We’re making an intentional push … to make sure that more of our black-owned businesses are actually reflected in the spaces here. But there are big gaps that need to be closed in this area still.”

Daniel Enriquez Vidanya, president of Innovation Studio, said the choice of the port location for the event was strategic, as was holding the conference in Spanish. “Events like this are what will allow people to feel safe and comfortable coming to different parts of different neighborhoods in Boston to access things they never thought they could get to,” he said .

Vidaña said the biggest obstacles for Latin American businesses include connecting to resources, gaining access to capital and preparing the right financial documentation for loans. Vasallo backed up that claim, saying Latino business owners have historically been turned down for loans or never applied at all. And Eastern Bank’s Andrade said that when applying for loans, many applicants struggle to be financially ready with their personal credit and paperwork in order.

“They think that because it’s a business, my personal status really has nothing to do with it. 100% has,” he said.

Vidaña said that in the future he would like to host more summits for specific business sectors, as well as more conferences in Spanish or even other languages ​​such as Haitian Creole.

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