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Sisters Hilda and Sarah Perez Jarrett challenge the status quo as Latina entrepreneurs

Hilda Perez and Sarah Perez Jarrett are the COO and CEO, respectively, of SALUD. Founded in 1991 by their father, Dr. José Rigoberto Pérez Díaz, SALUD has made all-natural, high quality health and wellness products for over 25 years. Today, the two Dominican sisters are continuing to grow and expand the company, challenging the status quo, and crafting their own American Dream through entrepreneurship. 

Latina sisters challenge the status quo 

SALUD grew from humble roots, beginning as a small, Latino-focused mail-order company catering to the greater New York City area via a health food store and nutritional consulting practice. 

Hilda and Sarah’s father started the business with a passion to help his community with traditional knowledge to treat many common ailments. Today, his mission continues: to make natural health accessible to everyone. 

“When we first joined the team, we had the opportunity to expand our father’s dream by launching community health events with local partners and fine tuning our product line,” said Hilda and Sarah. “We also expanded our reach by bringing the small brick and mortar store to the digital and ecommerce age.” 

As Latinas, joining the world of entrepreneurship and business was “no easy task” they said. The sisters struggled at first to find their footing. It took a lot of “grit, empathy, hustle and heart,” but soon they found their way and began carving their own path. Like many women in business, they also faced sexism from colleagues and vendors who doubted their skill and expertise. 

“As a legacy business, we had to learn to grow outside our father’s shadow. Therefore, one of the biggest struggles has been commanding respect from our father’s colleagues or business vendors,” the sisters shared. 

“Dr. José Rigoberto Pérez Díaz is well-loved and respected in our community. He was extremely supportive when we became co-owners of the business. However, we undoubtedly faced  sexism and disrespect from his colleagues or vendors who were used to working with a man instead of two young women.” 

To overcome this challenge, the sisters had to be savvy in navigating relationships and strong willed when commanding respect as they pushed the company’s vision forward. Together, they jumped over every hurdle, receiving support from their father and supporting each other along the way. 

“As a legacy business, we had to learn to grow outside our father’s shadow.” (Photo courtesy SALUD).

Another struggle they faced was creating change within the company. As young women, they knew that to compete with their peers and create a larger impact, the company would need to bring their operations and services to the digital world. Many members at the time were hesitant of this change, scared to shake the status quo and set out on an unfamiliar path. The change would not be easy, either. 

“To make it even more challenging, we had to do this with very little knowledge and resources at the time. It required an immense amount of patience, communication, and professional development,” said the sisters. 

However, Hilda and Sarah were determined to push the business forward and expand its reach beyond the status quo. They joined business roundtables, went back to business school, and participated in certificate programs at Stanford University and Columbia University. They did everything they could to better themselves and deliver the best for their business because they were filled with a passion to grow and make a greater impact. 

“We are happy to say that our company has grown significantly by committing to grow ourselves as owners. We did that by being curious and not being afraid to ask for help. When a challenge came up, we made sure to learn about it, or find the help we needed to tackle it. We believe that curiosity and commitment are a big part of being business owners”

You might be interested: Hilda Mera: “I could break with stereotypes and be a role model for my community”

Finding strength in teamwork and community 

Sarah Perez Jarrett, CEO and Vice President of SALUD. (Photo courtesy SALUD)

Working together, not just between themselves, but with their team, has been one of their greatest strengths as minority business owners. Many entrepreneurs try to go it alone or take on too much, leading to burnout. But Hilda and Sarah know there is strength in teamwork. They believe in creating a team that believes in the greater vision of the company. Their team has become a family. 

“We have team members that have been with us for over 15 years. From celebrating weddings and quinceaneras to welcoming new additions to families. We persevered through recessions, pandemics and mourned deaths together. Despite these adversaries, our core team has remained intact and has remained flexible. We all have enjoyed the entrepreneurial roller coaster.” 

As every Latino knows, community is everything. Community is family. And SALUD’s family extends beyond its team to their loyal community of customers. In 2017, during one of their most difficult times as entrepreneurs, Hilda and Sarah saw just how much their customers valued SALUD. 

“We had a major opportunity to pilot our products with a national retailer. However, our supplier at the time was being difficult and did not want to offer the necessary insurances we needed to proceed with the contract. We then had to move to another lab. When the former supplier was informed, he got so angry at losing out on the contract, he refused to make any of our products! We were in complete shock. Within weeks we no longer had inventory. We were a retail business, with no products to retail. It was a threat to the survival of our business, and above all, for our team and clients that depended on our health products,” the sisters shared. 

Hilda Perez, COO and Vice President of SALUD. (Photo courtesy SALUD)

This dark time seemed hopeless at first. They worried that they would lose their entire client-base and feared what would happen to their business. However, they soon learned one of their biggest lessons. They chose to be transparent with their customers, informing them that the company was moving labs and that it would take months for products to arrive. 

“To our incredible surprise they understood and kept on buying products on pre-order! This was a lifeline and a testament to the loyalty we had with our customers. We learned that transparency is critical and when you have a quality product and strong team, your customers will support you in your hardest moments. That was one key moment that made us know what we have is special; it was poised to grow.” 

Their journey as Latina entrepreneurs has been full of highs and lows, but seeing the impact of their work, challenging the status quo, and watching their company grow has been worth it. 

“Being an entrepreneur is difficult, we won’t sugarcoat it. There are weeks when you don’t know if bills will get paid, if suppliers will pull out of deals. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you also find yourself celebrating an employee who was able to buy their first home thanks to your support. If you have a real passion for what product or service you want to bring to the world, or use your talents to make something better for someone, then go for it!” Hilda and Sarah advise. Start now, and educate yourself with the plethora of free resources out there to make you a stronger entrepreneur.” 

Hilda Mera: “I could break with stereotypes and be a role model for my community”

Hilda Mera is the co-founder and CEO of S&A Auto Repair. As an Ecuadorian immigrant and woman in the auto industry, Hilda has learned to navigate the many challenges of entrepreneurship and being a woman in a male dominated industry.

She has been recognized by Marquis Who’s Who Top Executives for dedication, achievements, and leadership in management and business operations and in 2016 she was notably honored as VIP Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. Most recently in July 2021, Hilda was awarded as one of The Top 100 Leaders in Transportation and Automotive by the International Transportation and Automotive Summit.

Navigating obstacles as a woman in the auto industry 

Founded in April of 2013 by Hilda and her husband, Jose Masache, S&A Auto Repair is a family-owned business located in Newark, New Jersey providing honest and professional auto service in the areas of mechanical, electrical, and diagnosis. 

Their journey as entrepreneurs began after Jose grew tired of working as a mechanic for someone else. The couple began searching for a place where they could start their own garage. After an unsuccessful first try, a friend pointed them in the direction of a rental space that would soon become their business. 

The rental space needed work. It was “a mess” as Hilda described it. But they were determined to make it their own by fixing it up and giving the space a fresh new look. 

S&A Auto Repair, founded in 2013 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo via Instagram)

As they embarked on their journey, they soon learned the many obstacles and struggles of owning and running a business. Not only was everything was new, they lacked the knowledge on how to start and run a business and also lacked the capital. 

“It was hard because we had no money and a lack of knowledge. We took the risk of our lives going into business. We did not have a lease, (we were month by month for about 5 years). Today, I realize how dangerous it was and that we could have been asked to leave the auto shop at any time. However, we never, even thought of giving up,” said Hilda. 

Despite these great challenges starting out, for Hilda, the biggest challenge has been being a woman in the auto industry, an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men. However, this challenge has also become one of her greatest strengths driving her toward success. 

“I do not fix cars, but that does not mean I can not manage/run a business. It does not mean I can not learn to understand my car. Becoming an entrepreneur has been one of the best things that could happen to me. This way I feel I can leave a legacy for my kids, be a role model for women of my community, and break with stereotypes,” said Hilda. 

 

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Another strength Hilda draws upon in the face of challenges is her faith. As a woman of faith, Hilda is positive, honest, and determined. “I believe that everyone has a purpose. I have found mine, therefore, I ask God for wisdom so I can accomplish it. Every time I work on a project or  strategy to make my business grow, I put it in God’s hands.” 

Her faith and positivity make her confident, even when things don’t always turn out the way she wants, she still looks at every situation with a positive outlook. 

Now, Hilda feels grateful for everything they had to go through because it taught her so much about running a business. Like all challenges, overcoming them makes people stronger.

“I learned how important it is to have the social and working capital to succeed. I learned to overcome any obstacles that we have encountered during these eight years in business. I learned that with faith, discipline, consistency and honesty everything is possible.” 

You might be interested: Jennifer Garcia tells you how to leave a secure job to launch your dream business

Women empowerment through knowledge and education  

As a woman in the auto industry, Hilda is committed to using her business to empower the community, especially women, through educational auto workshops. 

For Hilda, trust and education are important. According to the American Automotive Association, 66% of American drivers do not trust auto mechanics. Customers are often overcharged, do not trust their cars are being fixed properly, or recommend unnecessary repairs. Women are also often taken advantage of due to a lack of knowledge about cars. 

Hilda shares a story about a past client’s experience and how it inspired her to create her own educational auto workshops for women. 

S&A Auto Repair Woman’s Seminar, March 2020. (Photo source)

The client came into the shop looking for a price for a transmission. Hilda offered to give an estimate but first wanted her husband to check and see if that was what the client really needed. 

“They both went and took a ride. When they came back, my husband put the car in the lift and showed her under the car. The noise that she was hearing and the reason she was told that needed to change the transmission was metal that was hanging under the car. She got really upset. That got me so upset and I talked to my husband about doing something to help women,” Hilda recounts. 

That day, she made the decision to empower herself in the industry so she could empower other women through educational workshops. 

“I like the fact that I am a woman working in an industry that is mainly dominated by men, therefore, it makes me feel stronger and capable of accomplishing anything in this life.” 

Knowledge is power, especially in industries where women are underrepresented. For women looking to start their own business or advance in their field, Hilda recommends gathering the necessary knowledge first, then go for it and take every opportunity given. 

“We are strong and smart enough to accomplish anything we want in this life. We are capable of overcoming any obstacle, because the only limit is oneself. Be honest and consistent all the time.”

Marcela Berland, a pioneer in working from home, combines work and maternity

Marcela Berland is the President and CEO of Latin Insights, a strategic communications firm  that focuses on the Latino market and Latin America. LI bases their strategies on research and digital and AI tools and develops digital and marketing strategies to help clients achieve their goals. LI’s clients include political candidates and heads of state, corporations and nonprofit organizations. 

Building a successful consulting firm from the ground up

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Marcela Berland eventually came to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship and began working in New York in strategic communications and polling. At the time she did not expect to launch her own consulting firm and embark on her own entrepreneurial journey. However, life circumstances would soon steer her onto this path.

It was 1996, after the birth of her daughter, Isabella. Marcela asked her then-boss for five extra months of maternity leave so she could work from home taking care of her newborn. She had done the same before when her son was born so Marcela did not expect to be told “No.” After her 3 months of maternity leave, Marcela announced her resignation. 

Marcela Berland, Frank Gomez, Latin Insights

Marcela Berland and Frank Gomez. (Photo by Max Canovas)

“They realized then that they needed me. Many of my clients wanted to work with me so, they agreed to let me work primarily from home.  Now, too little too late, I positioned myself as an external consultant and negotiated a higher salary for fewer working hours. They agreed to all my terms.  However, I was very disappointed at the whole situation and had already made plans to consult for other clients,” said Marcela. 

After three more months, Marcela left for good, showing them that it was possible to work remotely from home and be effective– even in the late 90s! 

In 2000, Marcela decided it was time to launch her own firm. As a Latina, she had a unique perspective to bring to her company, understand the multicultural market in a deeper way, and she was already committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in addition to women’s issues. 

The brand new entrepreneur began to plan and gather as much information as possible. She was nervous to set out on her own, fearing failure, but determined to try. Soon, she reached out to someone she admired to help her build her business: communications, media, and political expert, Frank Gómez.  

“At the time, Frank was working at a corporation but thinking about retiring. He not only gave me great advice, but he ended up leaving his job and joined me as a partner. I was thrilled. And that’s how Latin Insights started, just the two of us at first,” said Marcela. 

Conquering the fear of failure and following your dreams 

After over 20 years, Marcela’s venture has become a success. She now serves a variety of clients that include political candidates and heads of state, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. As a successful Latina, she is also often the only woman in the room when working with Presidents and political candidates in Latin America. 

And she has proved that working remotely from home and being successful is possible. This was especially evident this past year during the pandemic when Marcela and her team worked remotely on a presidential race, developing a successful and highly effective strategy that ended with their candidate winning a very tough election. 

Despite her successes now, the early days of her entrepreneurial venture were full of doubts and fear of failure—a common fear for many new entrepreneurs. 

“The first obstacle I faced was overcoming my fear of failing. I was doing very well just consulting on my own, but starting a new company, becoming an entrepreneur had a completely different meaning. What if I didn’t make it? How could I sustain a business? Take care of all the financial and administrative needs associated with it?” Marcela shared. 

Like all newcomers, she soon learned the antidote to this fear was knowledge. Now, whenever she feels doubts, she takes this as an opportunity to learn and come back stronger. 

Latin Insights Founder and CEO, Marcela Berland. (Photo courtesy Marcela Berland)

“During my career as an entrepreneur, I learned that you need to reinvent yourself, adapt to the ever-changing times and take risks. It is the only way to grow. Learn from your mistakes. You need to be open and humble enough to admit that you made a mistake and change direction. Also, become associated with people who share the same values and mindset. I was very fortunate to find Frank early on. We sometimes disagree, but in more than 20 years, we have never had an argument.” 

You might be interested: Rosita Hurtado shares how she transformed a childhood passion into a successful design export

With over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, Marcela has found that success is not about winning alone, it is about making a difference. Additionally, each success is made all the more enjoyable because she loves what she does and loves helping her clients. For her, the work is more than just work, it is something she is passionate about. Having that passion pushes her to “go the extra mile” because she believes in delivering the highest quality service for her clients.  

To aspiring entrepreneurs, Marcela urges that you follow your dreams and go for your passion. She shares her pillars of advice for new entrepreneurs: 

First, be well prepared. Have very clear goals of what you want to achieve and develop a product/service that distinguishes you from others. Next, find the right partners/team to support you and ask for help from the right partners/associates/mentors. Check for resources that can help you and also make sure you help others on your way to success. Don’t give up even when you fail. Network strategically. Raise capital if needed (many organizations can help you with this task).

Finally, never stop learning; make sure you learn something new every day if possible, and always honor your values, treating others with respect. 

Jennifer Garcia

Jennifer Garcia tells you how to leave a secure job to launch your dream business

Jennifer Garcia is a multi-faceted business professional and leadership coach with a passion for empowering people and transforming businesses. She is the Chief Operating Officer of Latino Business Action Network (LBAN), a collaboration with Stanford University driving research, providing education, and cultivating a growing ecosystem of 800 scaled Latino and Latina entrepreneurs across the United States and Puerto Rico, who contribute nearly $4.9 billion in annual revenue. 

Jennifer Garcia, founder of Fluential Leadership. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Garcia)

Jennifer is also the founder of Fluential Leadership, a business and leadership consulting firm focused on elevating small-to-medium-sized business performance through developing and executing growth strategies, recruitment, and retaining talent.

Cutting the ‘golden handcuffs’ to start business from zero 

Like many entrepreneurs, Jennifer was driven to start her own business out of a desire to pursue her passion and make an impact. For fourteen years, Jennifer worked in the finance industry and in a variety of leadership roles at Bloomberg, a global financial data provider. Through her work, she recognized her strength in developing people, transforming teams and departments. 

Her work at LBAN has also allowed her to continue elevating Latino businesses to the next level by creating growth pathways. Jennifer’s passion for helping women and Latino business owners and leaders grow is what ultimately led her to launching her dream project, Fluential Leadership in 2018. 

Jennifer wanted to make a greater impact and use her expertise as a leader and consulting coach to help others achieve their own career goals and dreams. 

“I positioned myself to equip business leaders and elevate small-to-medium-sized businesses, which are the driving force in the U.S. economy,” says Jennifer. “I have a unique perspective with a long corporate career, first-hand experience as a business owner and a birds-eye view supporting businesses through LBAN and Fluential Leadership. I’ve learned that there are systematic challenges and barriers for women in professional careers, and in entrepreneurship.”

Launching Fluential Leadership was the first step for Jennifer was both exciting and challenging. She was stepping into the unknown and leaving the comfort, certainty, and stability of her career. 

“I stepped away from a successful career, a secure job inclusive of all the benefits provided by a top-tier corporation. I often describe it as the cutting of ‘golden handcuffs’.  The challenge was going from zero to one, building from scratch, doing the role of a CEO, CMO, CFO, content writer, content deliverer, and much more,” says Jennifer. 

entrepreneur, leadership, mentor

Jennifer Garcia mentoring at an event. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Garcia)

However, these initial challenges only helped to further fuel Jennifer’s passion and determination. Launching Fluential Leadership afforded her the opportunity to pursue something she was passionate about and build something that was all her own. She says there were many long days and nights, but she put in the time and effort, determined to make an impact and follow through on her dream. 

“Each of our journeys are unique, our entrepreneurial dreams or careers are personal, and so is the price that is paid for it,” she says. “It’s important for me to understand my ‘WHY’. Why am I doing this? Why am I putting in the long hours, why did I step away from a secure career?  It is that understanding that sustains me through the season.  And I do remember that seasons change.”

Owning your story

Like the changing seasons, life can be unpredictable. However, change is good and necessary for any progress or growth. Every entrepreneur is on their own personal journey and that journey becomes your story. Where you started from, how you worked to get to where you are today, where you stumbled and failed, and where you succeeded. 

“My story is my unique strength, and so is yours,” says Jennifer. “It is my story and experiences that shaped who I am today, how I approach business, and the lens in which I propel other business leaders. I grew up selling Christmas trees and firewood on the side of the road with my father, not around the dining room table discussing stocks and bonds or venture capital. The conversations and the work I do today with my kids, with women professionals and business owners, has the ability to empower and elevate leaders, creating exponential and generational impact.  Regardless of my starting line, my purpose is consistent and that is to move the needle for women, business leaders and the Latino community.” 

business, leadership, mentor, storytelling

“Don’t mute your story. Let the world know!” (Photo courtesy Jennifer Garcia)

For entrepreneurs, both established and aspiring, embrace your story and own it. Your story is what will set you apart from others. Your story is uniquely yours. 

“Don’t mute your story,” says Jennifer, “let the world know!” 

Writing your story, telling it to the world, and following through on your dreams can be daunting and even downright terrifying. But the alternative is never trying, never sharing, never starting. Jennifer took a chance on her dream, stepping away from the comfort of a corporate job to build something new. 

You might be interested: Employees are quitting in record numbers to start their own business

To the aspiring entrepreneurs looking for that final push, Jennifer says, “Go for it! Jump and grow wings on the way down. There will always be logical reasons why today is not a good time to start your business or aspire for the new career move.  I’ve found that opportunity doesn’t always present itself in opportune times and we just need to embrace it.  Learn what you can from the season.  To borrow a few lines from the powerful poem by William Arthur Ward:

Believe while others are doubting

Plan while others are playing

Begin while others are procrastinating

Work while others are wishing

Persist while others are quitting

Tech-entrepreneur Maria Camila creates Latiner, a dating app for Latinx singles 

After experiencing racial based rejection on mainstream dating platforms, Maria Camila created Latiner –the first Latina-created dating app for Latinx singles. 

Founded by Colombian born tech-entrepreneur, Maria Camila, Latiner is the first Latina-created dating app for Latinx and Hispanic singles. (Image courtesy of Latiner)

According to Pew Research Center, the Hispanic population in the U.S reached 60.6 million in 2019 and accounts for approximately 18% of the country’s total population. For tech-entrepreneur Maria Camila, this realization coupled with negative experiences on mainstream dating apps, prompted her to launch her first venture. 

“It hit me that we, as the second-largest racial or ethnic group in the U.S., should have one dating app built on our own. A dating app catering to whoever wants to date Latin American singles, considering that mainstream dating apps are mostly created and dominated by white people,” says Latiner founder, Maria Camila. “Latin American singles need a comfortable and efficient dating platform. That’s what inspired me to create Latiner.”

From bad dating experiences to an entrepreneurial opportunity 

Latiner, Maria Camila,

Latiner founder, Maria Camila. (Image courtesy of Latiner)

At 25 years old, Maria Camila is already making a name for herself as an entrepreneur. Born and raised in Bogotá-Colombia she studied business administration at Fundacion Universitaria Cafam. She now lives in San Francisco where she works at a logistics company and she is now also the founder of Latiner. 

The idea to create Latiner came to Maria in January of 2020, after many unpleasant and disappointing experiences on mainstream dating apps. 

“When I first came to the U.S. 2 years ago, I felt lonely, kinda hoping I could find a boyfriend to be around,” Maria says. 

Maria’s friends in the U.S. set her up on many blind dates but most ended the same way. “Some of them turned me down because of racial differences, while others said they were afraid of the ‘Latina temper’,” explains Maria. 

Then Maria began her own online dating journey and learned first-hand how racists people could be when it came to dating. 

“I kept coming across profiles stating ‘Whites Only’,” she says. “As a Latina, it does take an emotional toll when people turn you down constantly, simply because you’re not their dating preference, not to mention the colossal waste of time swiping the wrong one on a wrong app.”

Latiner, Latinx singles, dating app

Latiner is changing the game as the first Latina-created dating app made specifically for Latinx singles. (Image courtesy Latiner)

These experiences prompted Maria to do something to change the game for Latinx singles. She began discussing the idea of a Latinx dating app with friends in the IT industry. Soon she persuaded them to join her team and together they successfully developed the app in 3 months. 

“The key to success is to start before you are ready” 

Before launching Latiner, Maria did not have any experience or educational background in technology. Everything was new. She didn’t feel “ready” to start, but she had an idea that she believed in and so she sought the right people to help her make her vision a reality. 

Latiner, Maria Camila

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. The key to success is to start before you are ready.” (Image courtesy of Latiner)

“All I had was an idea of creating a dating app for Latino community,” she says. “But I had a bunch of friends who worked in the technology industry, and some of them were app developers. I told them about my idea as well as the prospect of Latino online dating market. They thought it was awesome, and they wanted to work together with me to develop the app.” 

When thinking back on her process, Maria recalls something she once heard from Steve Jobs about creativity. 

“He said creativity was just connecting things. People who were creative meant they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. In my case, I connected my unhappy online dating experiences with what I could do to make Latino singles feel comfortable while dating online, and I came up with an idea of making a dating app for ourselves,” Maria says. “In a word, you should know your community very well, know what they need, and you have to be creative and initiative to do something about that.”

You might be interested: 8 Steps to launching a tech startup

Through her experiences as a new entrepreneur, Maria has learned that anything is possible. “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” she says. “Be brave. Every single woman, regardless of ethnicity, race, age, or whatever you think might hold you back, has the right to make her own choice. The key to success is to start before you are ready, nothing will work unless you do.”

Dr. Marlene Orozco demystifies misconceptions about Latinas through data 

Latina researcher, Marlene Orozco shares the importance of data in demystifying misconceptions and biases about Latinas. 

Dr. Marlene Orozco is the Principal Investigator and CEO of Stratified Insights, a Latina-owned research consulting firm that provides academic grade research solutions to organizations from research planning and design, data collection and analysis, to reports and presentations tailor-made for key stakeholders. 

Recently, Marlene was a guest speaker at our third annual Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Summit last month where she shared key insights and data from the 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship report.  

We are honored to have the opportunity to share her amazing story with you today and how she is using her research to help demystify misconceptions about Latinas in business and entrepreneurship.

Latina researcher and founder of Stratified Insights, Dr. Marlene Orozco, shares the importance of data in demystifying misconceptions about Latinas.

As mixed methods researcher by training, Marlene has over 250 hours of in-depth interview experience and quantitative expertise in big data. She holds a Ph.D in Sociology from Stanford University, a Master’s in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a B.A. with honors in Sociology from Stanford. 

Throughout her years of education training in the field of research, Marlene decided to use her research as a tool to make a real-world impact, especially for minority small business owners and entrepreneurs. Her research is guided by her passion for education and economic equity and exploring pathways of mobility for immigrants, women, and entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds. 

Marlene’s work has been featured extensively, appearing in over 100s of media outlets including Bloomberg, MarketWatch, Forbes, NBC News, CNN en Español, and Univision, among others. She is also the lead editor and co-author of an academic volume, Advancing U.S. Latino Entrepreneurship, and has written academic publications in peer-reviewed journals in addition to several industry reports and research briefs. 

Additionally, Marlene’s tremendous skill and success has been recognized through various accolades such as being named 40 Under 40, Top Young Professionals by Silicon Valley Business Journal and presented the Stanford Community Impact Award by the Stanford Alumni Association. 

Demystifying misconceptions about Latinas through data 

It’s no secret that Latinas are often misrepresented, undervalued, and unappreciated in the professional world. Latinas are also the most underpaid group of women, making on average only 55 cents for every dollar earned by a white, non-hispanic man. Latinas have to work harder than almost every other group just to get the same recognition and struggle to gain access to resources such as capital to grow their businesses. These unfair biases have an impact on the rate of success for Latinas and other minority groups. Many feel isolated and hopeless when they see themselves and people like them failing to advance in their professions. 

This is why information and data is important. According to the 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship Report, the number of Latino-owned businesses has grown 34% over the last 10 years compared to just 1% for all other small businesses. In fact, Latino-owned employer businesses are growing revenues at a faster rate than White-owned employer businesses. Moreover, much of the growth in the number of new businesses among Latinos has been driven by women. Latinas represent 40% of all Latino business owners and the number of Latina-led employer firms has grown 20% within the last five-year period.

When we asked Marlene what pushed her to launch her own research consulting firm, it was the desire to see her research have a real-world impact. 

“As a Latina who appreciates the power of data, I seek opportunities to demystify misconceptions about Latinas’ contributions to society with hard facts.” (Photo courtesy Marlene Orozco)

“In the middle of graduate school, I was starting to feel unfulfilled by the lack of real-world impact that my research was having,” she told Latinas in Business. “Through much of my rigorous, academic training in producing peer-reviewed publications, I found that this research would largely live within the ivory tower. I started my company in December 2019 to bridge academic research grade solutions to industry needs. My first major client was the National Association of Investment Companies, where I produced a white paper on the state of growth equity for minority businesses as part of an initiative supported by the Minority Business Development agency to aggregate billions of dollars of growth equity capital to invest in ethnically diverse and women-owned business enterprises.” 

As a Latina, who appreciates the power of data, Marlene seeks opportunities to demystify misconceptions about Latinas’ contributions to society with hard facts. 

“I thus have a strong philosophy that reminds me to document my small wins. This philosophy is to never assume your work speaks for itself,” she says. “While I pride myself in the outputs that I produce, it is important that we communicate the milestones and successes along the way. Being able to readily produce these metrics are critical in instilling confidence in your clients that you can get the job done but also keeps you encouraged about the work that you are doing.” 

Marlene Orozco speaking as Keynote Speaker at the 6th annual State of the Latino Community in Sonoma County hosted by Los Cien. (Photo courtesy Marlene Orozco)

Along with her research work, Marlene provides coaches and provides expertise to reduce system-level bias facing women and people of color who are entrepreneurs, fund managers, or in the investment field through her position as a founding board member of CRESER Capital Fund and an Illumen Capital Ambassador. 

“We cannot do this alone” 

Marlene is a big believer in the power of community. As an entrepreneur, coach, and researcher she herself has experienced the immense benefits that come with being part of a community groups and networks. 

“I have been very fortunate that I am tapped into an extensive entrepreneurial network at Stanford Graduate School of Business as I also lead research efforts at the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. I would encourage readers to get connected to community organizations and structured networks as these are key to scaling and growing your business,” Marlene advises. “My research has shown that you are more likely to come into contact with capital providers if you are part of an organizational network. As we experienced first-hand in the pandemic, information impacting small businesses changes very quickly from local ordinances to relief aid.  Organizations such as chambers of commerce, trade associations, economic development centers, and nonprofits are able to synthesize and distill this information quickly. Get connected!”

Being part of a community of like-minded individuals will not only give you the support you need, but also allow you to be the inspiration for someone else. You never know who might be in your circle who is seeking your advice, expertise, and talent, so make those connections, reach out, and share your story! 

Latino entrepreneurship, Marlene Orozco

Marlene Orozco sharing insights on the latest trends in Latino entrepreneurship at the 6th annual State of the Latino Community in Sonoma County hosted by Los Cien. (Photo courtesy Marlene Orozco)

“A couple of years ago, I was a keynote speaker at the 6th annual State of the Latino Community in Sonoma County hosted by Los Cien. The event included many sponsor tables put peppered throughout the ballroom were high school students engaging with these business leaders,” Marlene shares, recalling a moment where she was able to guide and empower a young student. “After I shared the latest trends on Latino entrepreneurship, a high school student bravely took to the mic and asked a question about how to scale her craft business. I was so moved by her courage and by the fact that I was able to play a small role in compelling her to share her story publicly. Motivating others through the power of data and my research encourages me to keep pushing my public scholarship.”

Communities and networks allow emerging entrepreneurs to access the resources and aid they need to grow and succeed in their ventures. However, knowing when to ask for help from your community and peers is an area where Marlene has seen women struggle. We often think success is being able to do it all for ourselves, but this can sometimes hold women back from achieving the full potential of their success. 

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I would encourage women to get started even before you think you are ready. There are numerous research studies that show that women, especially Latinas, hold themselves back on applying for a job or financing due to their gendered perceptions about qualifications,” says Marlene. “Know your worth, have confidence in yourself, and keep personal and professional support groups to turn to for advice and encouragement. This past year, in addition to navigating the complexities of the pandemic, I was finishing graduate school, publishing a book and articles, working full time, kick starting my business, and raising a toddler. Call on others for help as we cannot do this alone!”

Ivana Sedia is helping people connect and transcend borders through language translation services

Ivana Sedia is the founder of Unida Translation, which delivers both spoken and written word translation services in over 125 languages for projects in the certified, legal, government, medical, and technical fields. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ivana moved to the U.S. with her family in 1989. In addition to her Argentinian roots, Ivana is also Italian and Macedonian and is fluent in Spanish, Italian, and English with knowledge of Macedonian.

Ivana Sedia,  Unida Translation

Ivana Sedia, founder of Unida Translation. (Photo courtesy Ivana Sedia)

A passion for language-learning sparks business 

Ivana Sedia, founder of Unida Translation. (Photo courtesy Ivana Sedia)

Ivana’s interest in languages began when she was a little girl and only continued to grow throughout her life. She is passionate about helping people and cultures transcend borders and find understanding and commonality through language. With experience with writing in Spanish and English for Latino Social Magazine and working for the government by assisting non-English speaking immigrants, an MBA in management, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, International Relations and Diplomacy with a minor in Italian, Ivana decided to open her own translation service business, Unida Translation.

The idea for her business was born after the birth of Ivana’s first child. 

Ivana recounts, “The idea of trekking from home in Indiana to Chicago downtown every day, with my new baby on my hip, was less than ideal and with the exuberant cost of daycare close to home, I chose to leave the Illinois Secretary of State and step into my new role as a full-time mom.” 

While at home, Ivana kept herself updated with the “working world” by translating documents and hosting Spanish and Italian lessons. These hobbies would eventually turn into her very own translation service business. However, like many entrepreneurs and business owners know, the road was not without some struggles. 

Ivana with her husband and two children. (Photo courtesy Ivana Sedia)

“Teaching Italian and Spanish is my passion, but I was advised by so many individuals that my classes were not going to be enough to grow my business,” said Ivana. “Then COVID-19 hit, and my clients were too afraid to come to my classes. Contracts that I had were canceled. Halfway through 2020, I thought my business was over, but then I received a surprise call and found out that I had won the Indiana Technical Assistance Program (INTAP) grant. Thanks to this grant, I was able to launch a new brand to refresh and become Unida Translation.” 

This experience taught her not to lose faith as the grant came just when she needed it most. 

“Do not lose your faith in applying for help and God,” she says to other entrepreneurs. “I applied for this grant twice and failed the first time, but then the grant came at the right time.” 

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Connecting and transcending across borders 

Ivana cites her knowledge of cultures and languages as one of her greatest strengths. It is through these strengths that she is able to help people understand each other and connect and transcend across borders. Her connections with people across the world have also helped her in her business and in the business world. Another crucial strength for Ivana was growing up in a family of entrepreneurs which gave her early life experience in business. 

“Nothing beats experience!” she says. “Even if it is experience from watching your parents sell while you were playing with your Barbies.” 

translation services, Unida Translation

Ivana and the Unida Translation team. (Photo courtesy Ivana Sedia) 

For Ivana, success is achieved whenever she is able to help people communicate and connect better. She shares with us one of her favorite stories of a time she helped someone through her translation services. 

“It is no secret to the people who really know me that I am always a hopeless romantic! Still, my favorite story about my business was when a client from the government approached me and asked me to translate a letter from English to Spanish because he wanted to ask for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage. It was such a romantic and respectful letter and I really enjoyed translating it! It is translation jobs like that sort that keep me going so that I can continue to help people communicate and in turn, achieve success.” 

To other minority women who are thinking of starting their own venture, Ivana shares a few words of wisdom that she has learned along her own journey as a Latina entrepreneur and business owner. 

“Just do it. Do not be afraid because you never know what your business will be, and you will always wonder ‘what-if.’ Of course, do not go crazy! Have limits especially on how money is spent. Also, be open to interacting with others, put all your insecurities and judgement aside. Lock it up! Ask questions and mingle with others so get off your phone. To the women who want to be successful in their professions or careers and I think the same applies to entrepreneurs, remember that learning is never enough. Go get that degree or take that course to get certified. After all, like my mom always said to me, ‘They can take away your car, house, man, friends, ideas, but no one can take away your degree or certification!’”  

skincare beauty brand

B2 Beauty By Bella: A skincare beauty brand by for Latinas

B2 Beauty By Bella is a natural skincare beauty brand founded by Latina entrepreneur, Edith “Edi” Lagunas, with the mission to provide quality natural, simple, and affordable products that maintain youthful, smooth skin and empower women.  

skincare beauty brand

B2 Beauty By Bella, a natural skincare beauty brand founded by Latina entrepreneur, Edith Laguanas. (Photo courtesy Edith Laguanas)

A skincare beauty brand for Latinas 

Edith Laguanas, owner and founder of B2 Beauty by Bella. (Photo courtesy Edith Laguanas)

Edi first launched her business this past year in November 2020, though the idea for a skincare beauty brand had been a dream in her mind since 2008. As a Major in the U.S. Army, Edi has traveled the world and lived in over 15 domiciles throughout her life and has served various positions in the Army from platoon leader, company commander, to Executive Officer. During her many travels across the world, Edi’s skin was exposed to various seasons and climates which affected her skin tremendously. From bitter colds to blistering heats and humidity to the harsh sandstorms in Iraq, Edi skin suffered. She realized then that she needed skincare products that would provide protection, moisture, and keep her olive skin hydrated and youthful. 

“I saw that other female soldiers had skincare products that complemented their skin needs,” says Edi. “However, I also saw the lack of Latina brand representation in the skincare and beauty industry and how much we spend on cosmetics and skincare products.  That feeling I had of someday launching a skincare product finally came to reality last year.  In March 2020, when COVID hit, and I saw the shutdown of brick-and-mortar business,  I saw how the e-com businesses and those that were able to transition to the digital world were surviving and thriving.  At that point I knew that I had to launch my career in skincare not only for me, but so that other Latinos could see that being an Entrepreneur in the digital world was possible.” 

In the years leading up to Edi going for her dream, she spent time trying out different skincare products that contained essential ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C and vitamin E that would ensure her skin retained its firmness, elasticity, and skin tone. When she decided to launch her own brand, Edi knew she wanted her products to contain these essential ingredients and no harmful chemicals or parabens. However, ensuring top quality in her products would come with some obstacles. 

As a Latina entrepreneur, Edi is adaptable and resilient. Coming from an immigrant family of five kids that grew up with minimal resources, Edi learned how to get creative early on so that everyone could benefit. This made her become resilient and adaptable for when things don’t pan out the way she planned. 

B2 Beauty By Bella Repair Resurfacing Serum. (Photo courtesy Edith Laguanas)

“Last year in March 2020, when I began my research into skin care ingredients and began meeting with manufactures and learning about their chemicals in the products, I learned that most manufacturers have minimum order quantities and the cost to buy one product would require an investment on my part of thousands of dollars,” says Edi. “At this point I was becoming disillusioned and discouraged.  But I kept searching and meeting with skin care manufacturers until I met with a company that met both my needs in the type of product I wanted and, in the amount, I financially was able to invest in.  In this experience I learned that we have to keep looking and trying until we find that solution that fits our needs.”  

Representation matters: Opening the door for other Latino businesses

Edi began B2 Beauty By Bella to provide skincare products that would enhance skin and empower women to feel beautiful and confident, but throughout her journey her mission has grown. She has connected and collaborated with many people from many backgrounds and discovered the beauty in relationships, community, and life. “La vida es Bella!” 

B2 Beauty By Bella all natural skincare beauty line. (Photo courtesy Edith Laguanas)

The importance of community and representation became especially evident after the Covid-19 business shutdowns. Edi saw the devastating impact of the pandemic on the Latino community and labor workers. Now, she hopes to inspire other Latinos with her company and her story to show them that success is possible and that Latinos can thrive in the Post-Covid e-commerce world. 

“I see on the news the impact that Covid has had on the Latino community and the labor workers.  I keep telling myself that if we are the ones doing the labor and buying the products, then we should also own the businesses,” says Edi. “Representation matters and I believe that small e-com businesses like B2 Beauty By Bella can open the door for other Latino businesses and keep it open for them to join us.” 

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Edi recommends that anyone interested in starting their own business or entrepreneurial venture should first start by finding a community of like-minded individuals to empower you and sit in your corner. Find mentors and ask questions. Do not be afraid to fail. 

“There is always a way,” says Edi. “Get creative when things don’t go as planned and find a way to get things done. ‘Que la vida es dificil cuando nosotras mismas la hacemos dificil.’ Life is full of obstacles and it is up to us to remove those obstacles and keep trying.”

“You have the power to change the narrative”: Selina Sosa empowers young Latinas to succeed

Selina Sosa is a serial-entrepreneur with three businesses in diverse fields, from the food truck industry to life coaching and a non-profit for young Latinas.  

Selina Sosa, serial entrepreneur and founder of Ethnic Perspective non-profit for young Latinas.

Supporting young Latinas’ success with non-profit

A transplant from New York, Selina currently resides in Texas with her family who are the love and joy of her life. Always working toward a goal, she is currently pursuing a degree in cultural anthropology, all while working full-time and juggling her three businesses: Flavors of the Islands, a food truck she runs with her husband; Selina Sosa Coaching, a coaching business for career development, and Ethnic Perspective, a non-profit for young Latinas. 

Selina founded Ethnic Perspective in October of 2016 after seeing a need in the community, especially for young Latinas. She noticed there was a lack of Latina representation in many areas of business, education, science and technology. 

“I set out to find women who are making strides in every field and bring a more personal approach to their accomplishments,” she says. “I founded Ethnic Perspective to encourage young women to define their own ideas of success by means of entrepreneurship through education and mentoring.” 

This has been a great passion in Selina’s life and while there have been many hurdles, she continues to look for ways to connect and collaborate with other women to ensure our young Latinas are not left behind. 

“Anything you start will be met with obstacles or struggles,” says Selina.

When she began her non-profit, some of the obstacles she first encountered were around money. “I did not realize the financial investment I would be making starting a non-profit,” she says. “The laws and regulations were not in my area of expertise.” 

Luckily, Selina had people to act as a helping hand and walk her through the process, as well as a plethora of resources online. 

One obstacle she was not prepared for however, was getting women to trust what she was bringing with her organization. 

“In that process, I saw a great lack of support,” she says. “Many people expressed a lack of inclusivity. Why only Latina girls? That was always the question. The truth is why not? Our culture, upbringing, beliefs tend to be vastly different. To meet the needs of a people group, you have to interpret the culture. The hardest part was when other Latina women would also come down on our cause. My heart is still set on changing that narrative.” 

“You have the power to change the narrative”

As a minority business owner, Selina cites her biggest strengths as accountability, honesty, and a drive to finish no matter how hard. She also holds firmly to the belief that: “If you have started anything, you did it because you manifested an innate desire to succeed or make a difference.” 

These strengths and beliefs are her core foundation that have helped her build her successful businesses and push through hardships. 

“On the days that I feel like giving up because I do not see the outcome I hoped for, I remember why I started. Nothing worth fighting for comes easy. Every business established requires a firm foundation to last, if you leave before that foundation is laid it will never achieve its maximum potential,” says Selina. 

Part of laying this foundation is putting in the work and not being afraid to fail. Through all her years in business, Selina has learned not to give up and not to be afraid of failure. 

“Everything requires work, so put the work in. Failure can only come if you try,” she says. “So do it! Make the move. If one strategy is not working, seek another. Keep the pieces on the board moving. It will be the only way to succeed.”

Another key to creating a strong foundation is to know when to ask for help. “As Latinas we often have this ‘I can do it all’ pride –and we can– however, that does not mean you can’t have help along the way,” Selina reminds us. 

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Selina is grateful to all the women who saw her vision and helped her make her non-profit for young Latinas a reality.  

“I can not speak about the organization without shining a light on those that helped me start the venture,” she says. “Shelly Cassady was with me from the beginning and was the VP for 4 years. She helped bring insight from the perspective of an educator. Briana Reyes & Rikeisha Cunningham-Byrd were my two college students who were on our board of directors. They helped provide insight into the needs of their generation. Since then the faces of our organization have changed but the heart behind the mission has not.”

These women and others helped give Selina balance and clarity as she built Ethnic Perspective and together they also published a book, Rise Up to Greatness, to share their inspiring stories as women, entrepreneurs, and Latinas. 

Ethnic Perspective, Rise Up to Greatness, young Latinas

Rise Up to Greatness features the stories of 11 fiery women who have come together to create this compilation book and devotional. Not only do they speak about faith in God, but share their personal stories of tests, trials, and triumphs to encourage, uplift, and inspire young women.

We wanted other women to know no matter where you started, you have the power to change the narrative of your ending,” says Selina about the book. “In the process of all of this, my mother was fighting a battle with cancer. When I wrote the book, I was able to share with her my vision and stories about things that happened that she did not know about growing up. She was able to see my book be published, and I was able to hear her express her love and that she was proud.” 

Unfortunately, a year after Selina had begun this journey, her mother lost her battle with cancer. 

“There is something about the loss of someone who meant everything to you, that gives you the drive to succeed. She would have loved all that we were able to accomplish and I know would have been standing right there with me along the journey.”

Now, Selina continues her journey, helping other young Latinas succeed and reach their own dreams. 

Ethnic Perspective is dedicated to stepping up their efforts in addressing issues within Hispanic communities through cooperation and community empowerment. They strive to make a difference, and invite you to learn more here.