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Weekend edition November 05, 2021 | Kailyn Lamb

Centro Hispano will open small business program for Latino owners early next year

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

Centro Hispano de East Tennessee is hoping to help Latino business owners in the region take the next steps in growing their business through a program modeled after CO.STARTERS. The program is called “Grande Sueños en Pequeñas Empresas,” or “Big Dreams in Small Businesses.”

Brandon Ledford, Director of Workforce Development at Centro Hispano, said the organization began putting the program together in 2019, by working with a University of Tennessee, Knoxville student and interviewing local business owners. He said they wanted to hear from them about what barriers there were preventing them from growing as a business.

“We really wanted to dive deeper into the regional needs of small businesses,” Ledford said. “Centro is very passionate about creating programs and creating events and things out of community need. Without doing that initial assessment, we really didn’t know what the biggest needs were for small businesses in the area.”

Claudia Caballero, President and Chief Executive Officer of Centro, added that the organization was built to be “the door to the Latino community,” and a bridge to connect to the non-Latino community. For other programming offered by Centro, she said they partner with other organizations that have expertise in that area. But there wasn’t an organization that had both the resources for small business owners and the language skills to teach them.

“We’ve known for years that we needed a program for small business. We kept getting people coming in,” Caballero said. “We kept getting contacted about that and we really didn’t have any resources.”

“Grande Sueños en Pequeñas Empresas” launched in July with smaller classes for specific topics such as marketing and business licenses. Centro opened a waitlist for the larger program and already has 64 businesses on the list. Ledford said the first cohort, which will be 15-20 businesses, will start early next year.

Centro began working with CO.STARTERS to create a culturally relevant educational program. The program will last for 10 weeks and will have a more 360 degree-view of business strategy, Ledford said. He added Centro didn’t want the program to be just about financial success, but to  teach skills such as leadership that will help create strategic growth and allow businesses to thrive.

Caballero said having CO.STARTERS as a resource has helped to build the new program.

“They really did an incredible job making it culturally relevant,” she said. “We’ve loved working with them.”

Caballero said they are keeping the program broad but will continue to offer case management with mentors or stand-alone classes for any niche businesses that come up. So far, several of the businesses that have contacted Centro about the program have been in services such as goods and food.

Ledford added that the case-management and one-on-one sessions are important components of the program. With “Grande Sueños en Pequeñas Empresas,” Centro is hoping to build a business community for Latinos. Ledford said they are working on identifying individual mentors for the program now but hopes that alumni will help fill that spot in “empowering people to be support systems for other people who are also in the region.”

“What we’re really excited about is not just this first inaugural year, but how do we begin to create cycles of people who go through the program and they also have the support services for people who come after them,” he said.

Caballero agreed, adding that the social capital that comes from building a community can be just as valuable as a 10-week program. It’s also something that’s currently lacking in the area, she said.

For bilingual individuals in the region that are interested in being a mentor or working with the “Grande Sueños en Pequeñas Empresas” program, contact Ledford at Caballero added that another way local businesses can help the Latino community is to think about how bilingual services are promoted if they are available.

She added this program will create jobs in the community and allow it to grow.

“Our vision for our organization is to see every Latino thrive culturally, educationally, and economically,” she said. “This program really hits several components. In terms of education, helping people understand how to live and thrive in the community, and also economically because small businesses bring greater impact to the larger community.”

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