From the April 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

Guillermo Alvarado remembers collecting bottles in an alley with his brother to raise money for movie tickets. Though the tickets cost 50 cents each, they could only raise enough money for one. So they went to Woolworth's, bought a pin for 49 cents, stood outside the door and sold it for a dollar. Then they went back inside, bought two more and sold those for a dollar each. That gave them money for popcorn.

Despite his ingenuity, it took Alvarado, 52, decades to start his own Chicago business. "I could just never put two nickels together," he says.

At least not until he found Latino Economic Development Assistance Corp. (LEDAC). LEDAC is helping local entrepreneurs who lack sufficient equity start businesses and, as in Alvarado's case, secure loans. Along with Connections for Community Ownership, which works in African American and Hispanic communities, LEDAC's parent company, Hispanic Housing Development Corp., started a marketing program with Chicago banks in January. Among the dozen franchises involved are The Coffee Beanery, Fantastic Sams, Gold Coast Dogs, Kid to Kid, Money Mailer LLC, Party Land Inc. and Sign-A-Rama Inc.

Alvarado actually worked for Hispanic Housing before opening his own business, a Sign-A-Rama. He borrowed about $70,000 of the store's $100,000 start-up cost, opening in October 2000; by November, he already had about $25,000 worth of bids out. He expects 2001 sales to reach $240,000.

When he's not working, Alvarado is out walking the streets, meeting potential customers and developing a rapport with neighbors. Perhaps the most important success of the program won't be the money he makes, but the community he helps to rehabilitate.

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