Edgar Sotelo owns Southwest Packaging Solutions, a small contract packaging company in Dallas. In 2012, his young company was in search of support to take the business to the next level.
“We did not have a good company structure, our training was lacking, we did not understand financials, and did not have a network strategy — in other words, we were just letting the business run itself,” says Sotelo.
That, said Sotelo, is when he joined the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is to grow and support the Hispanic business community in North Texas. Sotelo said that in 2012 he took Interise’s StreetWise MBA program, a course for small business owners that’s sponsored by the GDHCC. Interise is a non-profit organization that aims to stimulate economic growth in lower income communities, and its course had a huge impact on the company’s operations and its growth, according to Sotelo.
“The program helped us develop an attainable business plan and gave us access to capital,” Sotelo says. “Since then, we have doubled our revenue, have systems in place, our corporate structure is more efficient, we are actively participating in networking events, many of them through the chamber. We have also developed some really good relationships that have benefited us in the personal and professional level.”
Silvana Rosero, president of Small Pond Video Productions, joined the GDHCC in 2012 and won a Quality and Excellence Award, which recognizes local businesses that have “exhibited innovation, community involvement and dedication,” according to the chamber’s website.
“The chamber is a big advocate on behalf of our businesses — they make the connection between large opportunities around town and connect them to the membership, making sure we are included and we know about these opportunities,” she says.
NerdWallet recently spoke with chamber President Rick Ortiz to learn more about the region’s economy, some of the common challenges facing local business owners, how the chamber supports the advancement and economic growth of the Hispanic business community, and other useful local resources for businesses.
NerdWallet: Can you tell us about the Greater Dallas economy?
Ortiz: It’s been for the most part a strong economy. As a whole, it wasn’t as affected by some of the recent financial and economic challenges that the country as (a) whole has faced. And so we’ve had a pretty steady and strong local economy as a whole for the North Texas region.
We have a lot of companies, from across the country, that have been moving into the area.
Most recently, Toyota has made their big announcement and is in the process of getting everything moved here. State Farm is another. You’ve got many different companies that are moving into this area because of the local economy, business-friendly environment, there’s not a state income tax and there’s a lot of space. What you can pay for out here goes a long way versus some other parts of the country.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce?
Last year we celebrated 75 years, so it was a big year for this organization. It started off as an organization in 1939 that was built on advocacy, at the time for the Mexican-American community, in what was then called “Little Mexico” here. For those business owners, they formed the organization really to help create opportunities for themselves and their families, and it grew into a membership-driven organization that continued to be advocacy-focused for members and started to chip into areas that were really helping generate new opportunities, through programs.
We’ve got several programs that are economic-development programs, from the start-up phase and above. We have business assistance centers that are funded through (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) dollars and through our partnership with the city, so it’s a grant that comes through the City of Dallas and a contract that we have with the city. In this particular center, we work with start-ups in the Dallas community, and we work with the low- to moderate-income community.
Predominantly, it’s been Hispanics that have come through the GDHCC doors to come to the center, and we work with them on self-employment. It’s about creating businesses for them, working with them to start a business plan, understanding what it takes to start a business, but understanding that it is an option for those who feel like they don’t have one.
We’ve got another great program called Stars on the Rise that for 32 years has awarded scholarships to area scholars graduating from high school. We’ve awarded close to $30 million in scholarship dollars to area scholars since 1983. And those are just a couple of the programs we offer.
What are some of the main challenges Hispanic business owners face?
Finding ways to get more opportunities for Hispanic-owned and minority-owned businesses comes with the challenge that some of those businesses are not ready. That’s been a big challenge, for any business really, and that’s a realistic challenge; we don’t want them to go into something where they bite off more than they can chew, because it makes everybody look bad.
So, we work to build these capacity-building programs, from helping them get access to capital, or understanding a process, because that was one of the biggest challenges, too, in not knowing how to do business, getting them to understand how to actually bid for the work. You’d be surprised how many people didn’t understand that process. So, they couldn’t get in the door to be considered for the work. We had to work with them on that, and understanding how to keep the work, and continue to grow as a business.
Do you think financing is a big issue for small businesses, and where are local businesses turning for financing?
I can speak for our members: Financing is definitely a big issue, at the top of the list. Really, what has been successful is working with them to get to a point where they are bankable, and working with them to make sure they get to that point. From the lending side, we have banks that are partners that are involved, from JP Morgan Chase, to Wells Fargo, to Comerica and Bank of America.
But we also have certain lending restrictions that you have to meet, and sometimes we find that we work well too with some of the microlenders. We have PeopleFund here that is a very strong partner. We have The Lift Fund, which used to be Accion Texas. These are all microlenders that we work with that have a little more of relaxed criteria for small businesses. The amounts may be smaller, but you’d be surprised at how far these businesses can go with something that provides them that opportunity.
What are some other useful resources for small business owners in the area?
That’s a great question, because I think part of our overall strategy is collaborating and community partnerships with those that complement what we offer.
For instance, certification councils like the Dallas-Fort Worth Minority Supplier Development Council provides the Minority Business Enterprise Certification. Many of the private sector companies that are partners and that do business with these suppliers that are members, they will look for that certification. So we encourage our members who qualify for that, to go through that process, because that’s another opportunity for them.
Same thing with the Women’s Business Council. They offer the Women’s Business Enterprise certification that works for the private sector, and to some extent, the public sector. So those are opportunities where we work with our members to make sure they are giving themselves every opportunity.
If you could give one piece of advice to small business owners, what would it be?
What I always tell our members that are new here is to use the chamber as a resource, as an extension to your company, because they can’t do everything, especially the smaller ones. It’s like a company — a large corporation has different departments that do different things, whether it’s marketing or human resources.
Small businesses many times do not have that luxury, and you have a small business owner that is wearing many hats at one time. So what we offer through our economic development program is an extension to that, so you’re not up at 3 a.m. trying to understand what the (Small Business Administration) requires, or different things that are not easy to understand. Use the membership to your advantage, because we’re really here to serve as a resource.
Is there anything else you want to add?
We have programs that are a little more industry specific, too. We have two programs, one that was launched a couple of years ago, called the Executive Entrepreneur Program, that is for more established businesses. We’re launching a loan readiness program this summer. That is a big program that will help businesses become bankable.
For more information about how to start and run a business, visit NerdWallet’s Small Business Guide. For free, personalized answers to questions about starting and financing your business, visit the Small Business section of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor page.
Main photo and portrait of Silvana Rosero courtesy of Small Pond Video Productions.
Photo of Rick Ortiz courtesy of Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.