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New America Alliance, Solange Brooks

New America Alliance CEO Solange Brooks says, “Diversity is one of the elements of success”

Solange Brooks is the CEO of New America Alliance (NAA), a national nonprofit organization committed to building on American Latino success to forge a stronger America and advocate for Latinos in the industry of investment. 

In the second installment of the National Leaders for Latinx Advancement Series, Latinas in Business President and CEO, Susana G Baumann, spoke to Solange to discuss NAA’s various initiatives and how the organization is helping increase capital access for women and minority-owned firms, and accelerate diverse leadership in entrepreneurship, corporate America, and public service.

Access to capital and investing in diverse firms

New America Alliance was founded in 1999 by a small group of successful Latino leaders, including Henry Cisneros, the former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Their mission was to advance the Latino community in four key areas: education, political awareness, economic empowerment, and philanthropy. 

Today, New America Alliance advocates for all communities of color and women, with a focus on financial services and access to capital for firms. 

“We believe strongly, that access to capital is one of the last bastions of the civil rights movement, and we have to go ahead and address it,” said Solange. 

Access to capital is a crucial first step for any project or venture and minority communities in particular often struggle the most in this area. Without capital, there is little you can do. This is something we know to be true for entrepreneurs and small business owners as well. For this reason, NAA began to expand to include other minority groups and become an even more diverse and inclusive organization. 

“We find that a lot of the things that help us, a lot of the tenets that we started this organization with, apply to too many people in the communities of color,” said Solange. 

One of New America Alliance’s biggest key initiatives is securing access to capital for diverse firms. 

“What we do is we meet with various institutional allocators to basically come and get to know us, get to know the members of NAA, get to know the opportunities they offer,” Solange said, detailing the process. 

“What happens often times is that people think ‘Oh, investing with diverse firms is like a social experiment.’ I’m here to tell you that, no, it isn’t. It’s not a social experiment at all. It’s basically money on the table that institutional investors have been leaving there because they don’t look at what we have, they have to be vetted. So we present opportunities. And we have a good conversation, we get to know the institutional investor a little bit, they get to know us a little bit. And then we circle back with them to see, which is the best way to present our opportunities. So it is not just a meeting that everybody feels good and goes their separate ways. But it’s a meeting where there’s actual engagement, and we have followed through. And this has been very, very successful. We have had people that may, they didn’t know anything about investing with communities of color, all of a sudden calling me and asking me, do you have somebody in infrastructure? Or do you have fixed income folks? And of course, there’s private equity. That’s very, very prevalent right now.” 

Diverse firms with diverse managers and partners are also more likely to bring in better revenue. This is because a diverse management structure prevents groupthink and allows for a greater pool of investment opportunities. 

“It has been proven over and over again that diversity is one of the elements of success…because everybody has different ideas, they have different worldviews,” said Solange.

“If you have everybody that came from the same place, went to the same school, had the same background, you are missing a huge portion of what you can do in investments. So yes, I know it’s right now, it’s very popular to quote diversity and inclusion. However, we, you know, NAA, has been doing that for 21 years. And there have been some institutional investors that this is all they do. And they’ve been having very good results.”

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NAA advocating for transparency in politics and educational initiatives 

Another key initiative for the New America Alliance is political awareness, specifically advocating for transparency. As a nonpartisan organization, NAA feels strongly about political transparency not only in corporate life but in pension plans. Through town halls and working with key legislators, NAA is pushing for greater transparency. 

“And you say,’ Why?’ Well, pension plans are the people’s money, and the workforce should know how their investments are being made. And they should know that the people in pension plans are doing their absolute best to take advantage of all the opportunities. And you do not know that unless you have a transparent system, where you can go ahead and observe what’s going on and have a dialogue about that,” Solange said. 

The third key initiative is in the area of education, passing on the torch to the next generation through mentorship opportunities. The NAA Institute Pathway Fellowship program is one of the ways NAA is working to guide young leaders. The program is an opportunity to foster and accelerate young leaders among American Latinos, women, and people of color and accelerate that leadership and entrepreneurship in corporate America and in public service. 

“So we have a program where we mentor the various individuals in the summer. And we basically have conversations with them, and they can see how somebody that looks like them is successful, and they’re in the financial services industry. And, you know, my favorite saying is like, ‘Hey, it’s not rocket science, folks. Anybody can learn it, just go to college, focus on math, focus on economics, and you’ll be fine.’ So we’re very excited about that program.”

Watch the full conversation between Susana G Baumann and Solange Brooks. 

For potential investors interested in becoming a member of New America Alliance, there are various advantages to becoming a part of the organization. NAA has a network of people, from large funds to small funds to people just starting out. 

“We help each other. Most definitely, because most of us know what it’s like to begin a business. Or know what it’s like to change strategy, and have to go ahead and discuss those opportunities,” said Solange. 

“One of the great things about investments is that there’s always somebody with a great idea. There’s always somebody new that’s bringing up their idea, and we want to nurture that.” 

Currently, the U.S. Latino population makes up about 18% of the total population and possesses about $1.5 trillion in buying power. The Latino population is also young and still growing.   

“And with all those little points, we are the future of this country. And Financial Services is only one segment where we have incredible value for institutional investors.”

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon discusses trends in investment capital for minority women asset managers

Currently, there’s about $70 trillion of capital to manage in the United States, yet only 1% of that capital is managed by women, or people of color despite these groups representing 75% of the US population. This is one of many barriers that prevent and limit access to capital for minority-owned small businesses.

During Latina in Business’ virtual panel, “Latina Small Business Post-Covid: Recovery Resources and Trends,” panelists discussed how the pandemic has shifted our relationship with technology. Now more than ever, businesses are relying on digital tools to connect with customers, grow, and thrive. 

We heard from Grow with Google Program Manager, Lucy Pinto, who shared resources and insights on how businesses are using digital resources to expand, grow, and connect. Later, tech entrepreneur, Rosario B. Casas discussed the rapid advancements in tech-fueled by the pandemic and identified some key tech trends for business owners and entrepreneurs to tap into. Finally, Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon, Managing Partner of Avante Capital, shared trends and insights in regards to access to capital for small, minority-owned businesses. 

Trends in capital for minority small business owners and entrepreneurs

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon, Managing Partner of Avante Capital. (Photo courtesy Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon)

As Managing Partner at Avante, Ivelisse is responsible for identifying, executing, and managing investment opportunities. Over the last 11 years as managing director, Ivelisse has raised $800 million and has deployed $650 million already to 40 companies. Additionally, Ivelisse is a longtime advocate and champion for women, minorities, and the underserved and underrepresented. She holds leadership roles in several local and national non-profit organizations and even launched a philanthropic organization called We Will with her two sisters, to support and empower underserved women and minorities in the areas of healthcare, education, and financial literacy. 

During the virtual panel, Ivelisse spoke with Latinas in Business Executive Board Member, Pilar Avila, and discussed some of the ways she and Avante Capital are supporting the growth of women’s businesses and what trends she is seeing. 

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon  17:19  

It’s so nice to be here. I wanted to start first by saying that while $800 million, does sound like a lot of capital, actually, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a drop in the bucket. So just as context, there’s about $70 trillion of capital to manage in the United States, $70 trillion. And only 1% of that capital is managed by women or people of color. Right. So even though women and people of color represent 75% of the US population, we only manage 1% of the capital. And the result of that is a lot of what we’re talking about today, which is that our communities don’t get access to that capital. 

No, the capital remains in the communities that manage it. And so it’s, it’s a very big issue that’s really obstructed a lot of businesses from growing, right. I’m encouraged because I feel like in the last year, a lot of our challenges in the country, a lot of our social and racial challenges have created a lot of awareness around it. And there’s a lot more intention and focus around investing in our communities. So there are a lot more options than there used to be. There are a lot more banks, a lot more creative finance companies that are evolving to serve our communities. 

That said, our businesses are still really small. You know, they’re really, really small. And while it’s one, it’s a wonderful place to start, for us to really create wealth and to create change and growth in our communities, we have to build them bigger, right, they have to get bigger…Because there’s no difference between us and companies that are larger. I mean, I look at these companies all the time and I think: We can manage these businesses. We can be the CEO, we can be the CFO. 

Pilar Avila  19:28  

We are the capital, right? We hired the talent. We know we have talent, too.

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon  19:33  

We have talent too, exactly. So I think that that’s what we’ve been really committed to at Avante, which is not only supporting women and people of color managing businesses but really trying to get women and people of color into this industry to manage capital so that we can go out and find entrepreneurs from our communities and help them grow. Because if there are not many people in my seat that look like us, our people are never gonna get capital. 

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon

Avante Capital Team in Los Angeles (Courtesy Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon)

Pilar Avila  20:16  

Have you seen particular trends in the extraordinary growth in certain industries or certain types of products or services that we should be aware of whether we have a company in that sector? Or maybe our companies can move into those services?

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon  20:41  

It’s a great question, Pilar, because, you know, when you go to look to see, where are many of the companies owned by women, people of color, they tend to be in a lot of service industries. Right. And I think that there are so many opportunities in other industries that have larger scale opportunities, healthcare, for instance, technology, Business Services, engineering,  we’re just as capable. But for some reason, we haven’t really moved into those industries and not in a larger way. And so I think, people who are doctors or nurses or engineers or computer engineers, starting businesses in those fields, you can gain a lot of scale, you could really grow quickly and be large.

Pilar Avila  21:28  

Continue to place a lot of emphasis on STEM, right, at every level of education. And once you have the education, and maybe get some experience under your belt, the large companies come out and start the businesses. 

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Taking advantage of resources and opportunities to grow 

Pilar Avila  27:21  

So what would you recommend to our small businesses, micro businesses between you know, 250,000, half a million to 5 million, to do to really apply best practices for the organization, finances, to be prepared to present themselves in the best light to obtain loans, investments, strategic partners and really grow into multimillion dollar enterprises. What do we need to do? How do we need to present ourselves and prepare?

Ivelisse Rodriguez Simon  28:03  

I think that the best thing to do is to find mentors and people that have done it before, that can really help you walk through the process. Because it is complicated. There are a lot of different things that banks want to see. And we had panels earlier that also had access to resources. There’s a lot of resources out there, right, and we should utilize them. But the key is to understand that there’s a lot of capital now available. You know, where I wouldn’t have said this 10 years ago, I think that there’s a lot of capital, if you’ve got a good idea, if you got a good business, if you’re a growth brand, you can get access to capital at this point in our country’s history. And you can grow and you should do it.