Unleashing the Latino Entrepreneurial Spirit

It’s been a while since I wrote my last piece. I like to think that it’s not because of all the workload, but because I had to recover from one of my toughest professional experiences. And I’m not talking about a challenging client presentation or dealing with procurement. I’m talking about fourth graders. Yes, that’s right. As part of our Leo Burnett partnership with Junior Achievement, I had the honor to participate in giving a class on entrepreneurship to elementary school students. And though a very demanding activity, it also proved to be a very rewarding and insightful one.

Fueling Economic Growth

According to the Kauffman Foundation, Latino entrepreneurs nearly doubled, representing almost 20 percent of total entrepreneurs in the U.S. (versus 10.5 percent in 1996). In that same period of time, immigrant entrepreneurs have also doubled: 27.1 percent in 2012 were foreign-born versus only 13.7 percent. Teaching at Walsh Elementary, a heavily Latino school in Chicago, seemed like a perfect fit.

These kids easily see themselves starting a new business. They feel very optimistic about achieving their American dream, sharing the same positive spirit that most multicultural entrepreneurs have: 70 percent believe their business will exceed 2012 results versus only 47 percent in the general market. Yet this optimism is not an unfounded dream but is grounded in more planning and hard work.

Interesting to note, when I asked the kids about entrepreneurs they knew, they first thought of family members. Yes, they are familiar with the likes of Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, or Thomas Alva Edison, but for these students it’s everyday business to interact with someone who runs his own venture in areas like food, healthcare, retail, or construction.

The New Breed of Entrepreneurs

Most multicultural entrepreneurs are not superheroes but fighters. Building their own business is challenging; most of them don’t have a higher education, their stories are not like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. They are humble people who were escalating the ranks within a small business and then either became the owner or decided to start their own.

This new Latino breed of entrepreneurs is defined by being:

Ignored by corporate America. They have decided to go out on their own and starting a business seems like their only solution. They are not used to bureaucracy and do not strive to be big corporations.

Community engaged. Multicultural entrepreneurs are very conscious of the role that they play within their community. They are looking to hire people from their community and to build ties via organizations that help other entrepreneurs move forward.

Proud of their heritage. Latino business owners are leveraging their culture either in the style in which they run their operation or putting culture at the center of what they do. Not just to cater to other Latinos but also to influence a mainstream audience who continues to open up. Like 5 Rabbit Brewery, an innovative craft beer in Chicago that defines itself as: “Bringing the energy, passion and richness of Latin culture and cuisine to the delicious world of craft beer.”

A family thing. Most multicultural businesses are run and operated by their extended family. Seventy percent of businesses have relatives beyond spouses and children who work there. It’s a key investment, usually started with their own savings, that turns into something tangible they can pass on to their family.

An Education (Challenge)

Technology has played a big role. Having access to laptops and the Internet has definitely helped level up opportunities for these kids.

In regards to some of the challenges, the teachers usually find themselves having a hard time having students think about higher education. Unfortunately, most of the students don’t have role models in the Latino community who they can look up to in areas like math and science. As I discussed in my “Permission to Dream” column, we need more (positive) Latino representation to influence kids’ aspirations.

Likewise, parents usually don’t understand the skills students need to prepare for selective enrollment high schools nor to attend college, and as a result they usually cannot support kids with such endeavors.

Last but not least, language and culture are big barriers. Though most of the kids are fully bilingual, their parents are not. In addition to this, parents coming from a completely different education background are not used to playing such an active role in children’s education. And the language barrier definitely doesn’t help in engaging with schoolteachers, either.

A Brighter Future

There’s no doubt that a new breed of entrepreneurs is emerging. Multicultural business owners are catering to the changing tastes and influences of the American consumer.

As marketers, we have the opportunity to provide these kids with more inspirational role models as well as support academic initiatives. In order to succeed, the learning environment should complement traditional academics with specific business skills development while leveraging cultural heritage.

I made my small contribution to unleash the Latino entrepreneurial spirit with Walsh fourth graders. Believe me, I can’t wait for next year to volunteer again.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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