Entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. is in a historic slump, according to Gallup and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship. But you’d never know it by looking at the data on Latina entrepreneurs.
Latinas are the fastest growing cohort in the U.S. women’s entrepreneurial arena. According to The State of Women-Owned Businesses 2014, a report commissioned by American Express OPEN, the number of Latina-owned firms has more than tripled since 1997 (up 206 percent), their employment has risen 85 percent and their revenues have more than doubled (up 160 percent).
By contrast, there’s been just a 68 percent growth in the number of all women-owned firms in America during that time, an 11 percent growth in overall employment and a 72 percent growth in revenue.
Over 1 Million Latina-Run Businesses
The report also notes that Latina entrepreneurs in the U.S. now run an estimated 1,033,100 businesses (up from 540,0745 in 2002), making them second to African American women (1,237,900 businesses) among all female minority-owned firms. The Latina-run businesses generate $71.1 billion in revenue and employ 433,600 workers in addition to their owners.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that many of these Latina business owners began their entrepreneurial endeavors in their 40s and 50s.
Eager to understand this cultural phenomenon, I interviewed Yesi Morillo-Gual, a 40+ Dominican-American serial entrepreneur and founder of Proud To Be Latina (PTBL), a personal and professional development network aimed at helping Latinas “rise to their full potential.” PTBL’s target audience is middle-management Latinas in corporate America.
I started by asking her: “Are there unique strengths inherent in their cultural backgrounds that make Latinas predisposed to think and act entrepreneurially?”
Correcting a Misperception
She was quick to correct my perception that Latinas (and immigrants in general) look to their communities for support and have an innate desire to help one another.
“They may live in communities to ease their way into a new culture,” Morillo-Gual said, “but they are still fiercely competitive within those communities. My own mother, for example, who immigrated to America from the Dominican Republic, was opposed to my success. She said I was supposed to be subservient — not a businesswoman.”
Far more relevant, she noted, was that “immigrants, in general, have innate entrepreneurial skills. When they arrive in America, they have to figure out everything for themselves — from language, to where to live, to how to support themselves.”
Morillo-Gual’s Entrepreneurial Path
Morillo-Gual has been an entrepreneur nearly all her life. Her first business was as a typist while in college. That transformed into being a Virtual Assistant. In 2006, she launched a Notary Public business that paid for her Masters and Ph.D degrees, allowing her to graduate with zero debt.
In 2010, while holding down a senior executive job at a top Wall Street financial services firm, she founded PTBL, her most personally rewarding business. By that point, Morillo-Gual says, she had “made it” in corporate America and was eager to help other Latinas navigate their career space with more confidence.
PTBL hosts free monthly conference calls with roughly 150 people on a specific topic, such as how to take rejection and make it work for you. The organization also hosts quarterly networking events and annual Empowerment Conferences; its next one (cost: $199) will be held June 8 in New York City.
Morillo-Gual says the Latina entrepreneurship business startup impact far exceeds Latinas’ corporate impact. In her corporate division of 500 people, for example, she says she’s the only Latina at her executive level.
4 Tips for Starting a Business
I asked Morillo-Gual what advice she’d offer midlife Latinas eager to start their own businesses. Here are four of her tips (which she says are equally applicable to anyone of any gender, ethnicity or age):
1. Be patient and plan strategically. “All businesses need to be built on strong ideas, and it takes time to build them. You need to grow your business slowly and organically,” she said. “I started businesses while I was still in school or was employed, to get them robust enough to support me. PTBL was an idea I wrote in a notebook and put it away for five years. Then I joined a similar organization as an unpaid volunteer, until I realized I could do this and do it more effectively in an organization of my own.”
2. Set concrete goals and stick to them. “You need to know what you want and then focus on what you need to get to the next step,” said Morillo-Gual. “I began my corporate career in administration. My goal was to become a Vice President and I did. Now my passion is to encourage others to break barriers and rise to their potential. If I can, you can!”
3. Believe in yourself and ignore the naysayers. “I grew up surrounded by negativity, people always saying you can’t do it. If you believe you can do it, you can figure it out,” she said.
4. Put in everything you’ve got. “You have to be prepared to do almost all the work on your own when you begin,” said Morillo-Gual. “Everything you see on the PTBL website is my creation.”
Elizabeth Isele wrote this article with support from the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellows program, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.