NHSBDC seeks to bridge the capital and networking gaps between Latino entrepreneurs

Edward Silverio runs a one-man cleaning service in Manchester. The Dominican business owner starts his shift at 9pm after the offices he cleans have closed overnight. He carries his supplies from floor to floor, making sure everything lights up. Silverio says he’s so passionate about his work that he sometimes loses track of time.

“In the end,” he said, “if you don’t like what you’re doing, you won’t succeed.”

But during the pandemic, Silverio says it’s been hard to keep going, and he’s drowned in deep debt. He might have been able to get a federal pandemic aid loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, but like many immigrant business owners, he wasn’t sure how to apply.

At one point, says Silverio, he saw an advertisement for a bank offering loans. He thought it would solve his financial problems and filled out a detailed application form. But in the end, he says, he was excommunicated. He didn’t have the papers or credit to get a loan.

“I felt cheated and didn’t know what else to do,” he says.

During this time, he said he occasionally received offers of help, including from people in his community. In one case, he says, another business owner offered to build his client base in exchange for 40 percent of the revenue. Silverio felt that people were trying to take advantage of him.

“It’s incredible what can happen when you don’t know how things work,” he said.

Many Latino business owners in New Hampshire have struggled to get help during the pandemic, says Rafael Calderon, a community liaison officer at the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center at the University of New Hampshire. The organization provides mentoring, training, and support to small businesses.

During the pandemic, Calderon says, other nonprofits have offered to help immigrant business owners, but sometimes they’ve faced language and cultural barriers, or owners need extra help that groups can’t provide.

“It’s not that organizations aren’t well-intentioned, and it’s not that society doesn’t value them,” Calderón said.

When some organizations did not deliver the promised help, it led to resentment and mistrust, says Liz Gray, state director at the SBDC.

“Members of the Latino community have seen organizations say they will help them and they are excited to be part of the community,” she said. “(But some) faded away and disappeared,”

Colleen Isla Mateo owns Tropical Point Restaurant in Nashua. She is expanding her business by providing space for events in her restaurant. (Gabriela Lozada-NH Public Radio)

Calderón says this was a problem before Covid. Even now, many New Hampshire immigrant owners are reluctant to ask for help.

Inclusivity commitment

Calderon was hired a year ago as part of SBDC’s Commitment to Inclusion Program, working with business owners of color primarily in Nashua and Manchester. He says he builds trust by contacting immigrant owners in their communities, and often holds meetings at local Latino restaurants. He offers to connect them with free services, such as training on how to get a bank loan. And speak to them in Spanish, if that’s what they prefer.

Calderon says he tells his clients that many organizations in New Hampshire offer them good economics and training resources. But he says to some of the owners of immigrants; All of this is uncommon because they often don’t have these types of programs back home.

“We don’t see ourselves walking into a room where no one is like us, and they have a wealth of information, but we feel out of place because we’re not used to seeing that,” Calderón said. “And then these services, as amazing as they are, remain unused.”

In New Hampshire, nonprofit programs are essential to spreading knowledge about resources to immigrant communities, says Gray. The organization works closely with groups in Manchester and Nashua, the two cities with the largest Latino populations in the state, to connect people with economic development bureaus.

Neither city tracks demographic data for companies applying for programs and grants. But Eric Lesniak, business coordinator at the Manchester Office of Economic Development, says they are looking into gathering demographic information to better serve the community. It will allow them, he said, to “identify different opportunities for grants and funding and measure growth.” “Without data, we know very little.”

In his work for the SBDC, Calderón says he’s connected to about 100 business owners of color—everything from plumbers and podcasters to barbers and childcare providers.

Silverio, owner of Bravo Cleaning Services, says SBDC helped him create a website and logo. He also provided financial guidance. More importantly, it helped him secure a $15,000 loan through KIVA, an international non-profit organization that uses crowdfunding to provide loans to low-income entrepreneurs in 80 countries.

“(SBDC) made me fall in love with them,” said Silverio. He is now spreading the word to family and friends about these opportunities.

Calderon says he believes the pandemic has highlighted how New Hampshire’s Latino community could benefit from being more united so they can help each other.

Colleen Isla Mateo, a Dominican-American restaurateur in Nashua, says she knew about the power of the community network even before SBDC helped her apply for a grant to expand her business.

When the pandemic hit, she stopped serving customers at her Tropical Point restaurant and started selling her food using Uber and Grubhub. But she says many Latino restaurateurs in her neighborhood weren’t aware of the apps. So I created a support group to share information to help keep their business going.

She would tell her neighbors not to worry: “Tomorrow will be a better day, it will be a better day. We will fight.”

Isla Mateo says that sometimes people from the local Latino community don’t feel connected or have problems trusting each other because they come from so many different countries: It’s not one community, but many. But she says it is important for people to know that they are not alone.

She is now collaborating with the SBDC to spread the word to other Latino business owners that reliable resources are available in their language and that it is okay to access help.

This article is shared by the partners at the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit Coopativenh.org.

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