Dr. Rosa Calcaño of Boston owns two businesses, but it wasn’t easy getting them up and running.
Like many other business owners who attended Boston’s first Latino Small Business and Entrepreneurial Summit in the Seaport on Thursday, Calcaño said she faced hurdles getting connected to resources to iron out legal details and banking issues for her businesses, among other things.
“It’s the roadmap that we lack, that hand-in-hand. It’s the mentorship,” said Calcaño, 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 nonprofit. “We have so many resources available from the city, but nobody knows where to go,” she told GBH News. “They’re not disclosing it. It’s not out there, so that’s also very challenging. And we’re very resourceful and we still don’t know.” Minlletty said the city needs to invest more in communication with local business owners.
Jorge Andrade, vice president of business banking at Eastern Bank, said Latin 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 do we not trust?'” he said.
Carina Lopez grew up in Boston and opened her consignment clothing business, Rose JP, in 2018. Operating her business has been a rollercoaster, having moved the location, then closed it down and reopened again for online-only sales.
Lopez, like her colleagues at the summit, said she spent hours scouring the internet for resources to help with her business, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She said she wasn’t eligible for pandemic relief because her business was too new to qualify.
Lopez said city officials aren’t extending their hands by knocking on doors and meeting businesses where they are. “People are too busy running their business,” she said. “They’re not going to go out looking for stuff because you have to run your day to day.”
Mayor Michelle Wu addressed the conference in Spanish, saying one of her passions is to break down barriers so communities can access the things they need most.
When asked about how to better spread the word about resources, Wu said it’s important to “ensure we’re not just taking our outreach to residents and businesses where they are now but encouraging people to think about opportunities in other parts of the city, in particularly in high foot-traffic areas of the city where there are vacancies to be filled.” That’s part of the reason the event was held in the Seaport, according to event organizers.
The free summit, which took place for the first time this year, was put on by El Mundo Boston and The Innovation Studio and offered several informational sessions for business professionals ranging from marketing tips to applying for loans. The majority of the summit, which brought in more than 200 attendees, was conducted in Spanish.
El Mundo President and CEO Alberto Vasallo said the summit had 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 the Seaport — a Boston neighborhood where the overwhelming majority of residents are white.
At the start of the summit, Vasallo 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 is 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 are making an intentional push . . . to ensure that more of our businesses owned by residents of color are actually reflected in spaces here. But there are big gaps to close in this area still.”
Daniel Enriquez Vidaña, president of Innovation Studio, said choosing the Seaport location for the event was strategic, as was hosting the conference in Spanish. “Events like this is what will allow people to feel safe and comfortable coming to different parts of different neighborhoods within Boston to get access to things that they didn’t think they could get to,” he said.
Vidaña said the biggest hurdles for Latino businesses include getting connected to resources, gaining access to capital and preparing the proper financial documentation for loans. Vasallo supported that claim, saying that Latino business owners historically get rejected for loans or don’t apply at all. And Andrade of Eastern Bank said when applying for loans a lot of applicants struggle with being financially ready with their personal credit and documents in order.
“They think because it’s business, my personal status really has nothing to do with it. It 100% does,” he said.
Vidaña said 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 like Haitian Creole.