"While it was already vibrant and had many success stories, there were not as many programs, initiatives directed at supporting Latino-owned businesses," professes Carlos Sanchez, Executive Director of the
. Feeling energized after the recent announcement of their $150,000 grant from the
, Sanchez and his team are ready to put the foundation's 'Fund for Community Good' to good work.
Rapid Growth: Congrats on your recently awarded grant! What is the first thing the Latino Business and Economic Development Center
(LBEDC) plans to do with the money?
Carlos Sanchez: We will use the summer to standardize the curriculum, add an evaluation piece to measure success, and work on the program’s re-branding.
RG: For those who are unfamiliar with the LBEDC, what specific role does it play within the greater Grand Rapids community?
CS: The Center’s two programs, Latino Talent Initiative (LTI) and Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative are aimed at supporting the development of Latin professionals and entrepreneurs.
RG: What are some unexpected things individuals can gain from the program?
CS: From the LTI, participants understand how to leverage their innate cultural skills in the workplace. Would-be entrepreneurs realize they are able to fulfill an unmet need and make money from it.
RG: What was the Latino entrepreneurial community like when you first moved to Grand Rapids—nearly 20 years ago?
CS: While it was already vibrant and had many success stories, there were not as many programs, initiatives directed at supporting Latino-owned businesses.
RG: Where do you still see opportunities for improvement?
CS: Those of us working in the Latino entrepreneurial ecosystem must continue to work together, in unison, and keep building paths of interaction between the Latino and non-Latino ecosystems; developing ONE entrepreneurial ecosystem.
RG: Speaking of, what other organizations does the LBEDC work with?
CS: I work directly with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
, as well as Spring GR
. The program right now is being facilitated by three individuals that work at the GR Chamber
. Start Garden
has been a supportive partner as well, in regards to the entrepreneurial program. From the talent perspective, I don't really work with any organizations, per say. I work with individuals one-on-one.
RG: What inspired you to take this path?
CS: My father who, right after graduating from engineering school, funded his own firm in Mexico City. To this day, in his '80s, he is still working (most) every day. Of course, it took me several years to realize this inspiration.
RG: Since the inception of the LBEDC, what has been one of your favorite success stories?
CS: There are many, it would be unfair to name just one. Talent Initiative grads have ran for office, moved to different and better jobs, have been recognized by their own peers, [and] serve on boards and committees. People have started successful businesses; some have failed but start another business. It has been a great ride.
RG: Has the program been tailored based on graduates' successes and failures?
CS: I don't think it has been so much about successes and failures, but identifying the specific needs for the entrepreneurs. We have a curriculum and based on the feedback we have received from the participates we sometimes go deeper and sometimes we focus less on certain parts.
RG: How can community stakeholders help with LBEDC’s overarching mission?
CS: Recommending potential Talent Initiative participants, spreading the word, and hiring program graduates. Stakeholders can support our mission by supporting Latino-owned businesses. All of them.
Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.