Latinos make up 20 percent of Boston’s population, contribute $9 billion of economic activity in Suffolk County, and own 10 percent of businesses in Boston. Despite these significant numbers published by The Boston Foundation 2017 Latino Legacy report, Latino-owned businesses average less than $100,000 in annual sales, compared to $644,000 in annual sales for all privately owned firms.
Closing this disparity is what drove attorneys Betty Francisco and Eneida Roman to create PowerUp Latinx Biz, an initiative focused on increasing growth and economic opportunity for Latinx-owned businesses. Their mission is to build an expansive network of entrepreneurs and connect them to resources such as venture capital, mentors, accelerator programs, and investors.
PowerUp Latinx Biz, part of the larger Amplify Latinx and Latina Circle initiatives, officially launches during Boston HUBweek (Oct. 8–14), a weeklong ideas festival where art, science, and technology converge.
What started as a grassroots effort built from the ground up has grown with high-profiile partners and sponsors such as the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts earmarked $150,000 in the fiscal year 2019 budget for Amplify Latinx civic engagement programming.
Francisco and Roman, who connected through the Association of Latino Professionals for America, created the Latina Circle in 2012 for women professionals to support and partner with one another with the mission of advancing to more positions of power and influence.
As practicing lawyers, both women see few other Latinas in the legal profession and have recognized that, oftentimes, professional and decision-making roles are gained through who you know. In turn, they kicked off the Latina Circle with quarterly events called cafecitos, their version of networking over breakfast, open to women of all backgrounds and all industries.
It really is important to have that network supporting you; you feel more confident to rise to the occasion. — Eneida Roman, Amplify Latinx co-founder
“We emphasized mentorship and quality interactions between women—and impressive women at that,” Roman tells Exhale. The first Latina Circle cafecito featured Carmen Milagros Ortiz, former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts.
Judith Garcia, current Chelsea city councilor, attended a cafecito as a 23-year-old with political aspirations.
“[Garcia] attended one of our cafecitos where we discussed the Latino political gap, the lack of leaders in state and local government,” says Roman. “And she told the group she always wanted to run for office but never had the courage to do it and felt she was too young.”
The Latina Circle members offered Garcia their unwavering support in her campaign, personally and financially, and Garcia was elected to the Chelsea City Council at 24 years old with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
“It really is important to have that network supporting you; you feel more confident to rise to the occasion,” says Roman.
When I first started working, the expectation was to work your ass off. And not that millennials don’t work their ass off, but there’s a difference in that there’s more respect for having a life outside of work. — Betty Francisco, Amplify Latinx co-founder
For Francisco, the mentorships among the over-100 women in the Latina Circle are reciprocal. “What I learned is that mentorships are not driven by age or experience but by relationships,” she tells Exhale. “Although I may be mentoring someone much younger than I am, I learn so much from them…the challenges they face, what their priorities are.”
An intergenerational revelation she had was how millennials view work-life balance.
“When I first started working, the expectation was to work your ass off. And not that millennials don’t work their ass off, but there’s a difference in that there’s more respect for having a life outside of work,” says Francisco.
Over time, the focus of the circle moved away from just networking and toward addressing specific issues the Latinx community faces. “We created these safe, inclusive spaces to have these conversations led by well-respected community leaders, and we started talking about issues such as representation, economic empowerment, and civic engagement,” says Francisco.
One major issue addressed is the fact that, on average, Latina women earn 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. In response, the Latina Circle sets up salary negotiation workshops for women in their network, in partnership with the City of Boston.
In late 2016, driven mostly by the presidential election results, Francisco and Roman launched the Amplify Latinx initiative to increase both civic engagement in the community and Latinx representation in influential decision-making roles including elected offices and executive boards.
The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs, and especially for entrepreneurs of color, is access to capital. —Betty Francisco, Amplify Latinx co-founder
And with the new PowerUp Latinx Biz, the focus is on economic empowerment. Through nominations and recommendations from partners, the network has 80 Latinx business owners so far, but the numbers are expected to increase by joining forces with other organizations like the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce.
“The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs, and especially for entrepreneurs of color, is access to capital,” says Francisco. “We’re opening up doors to angel investors, creditors, venture capitalists.”
Although Roman and Francisco have created a niche network, “It’s important for us to have allies and be tied into the mainstream community, because they’re the ones who still have the power,” says Francisco. “We will never get to equity without them.”