What I Learned From the Hispanic Community About Entrepreneurship
Consider Latinos' often overlooked contribution to the U.S. economy. As American society continues to diversify, the lessons of one group can be applied to others.
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As a Mexican-American who has followed the recent celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I am very proud of my culture. The Hispanic community has a certain passion that transcends its component cultures and draws in others. The vibrancy of Hispanic cultures' style, music and food has influenced the look and feel of America. This passion is also evident in the way many Hispanics do business and the opportunities that they create.
Since 2007, Hispanics have been starting and growing businesses at more than twice the national rate. More than 3.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses will collectively contribute over $486 billion this year to the U.S. economy. While the population growth of Latinos is widely acknowledged, its business contribution to the American economy is often overlooked.
Also overlooked are the lessons that Hispanic entrepreneurs can teach the broader business community. Because Hispanic entrepreneurs incorporate many aspects of their culture in their professional careers, they have a unique perspective on business and opportunity, making them an ideal demographic for creating new wealth. Below, I've outlined a few of the key characteristics of my culture and teachings to which I owe my own personal success.
1. Don't stop at "no thanks."
Any entrepreneur will say persistence is a requirement for success and it has been embraced by many members of the Hispanic community to that end. While societal undertones are changing in places across the country, many Hispanics have dealt with adversity and challenges. When confronted with rejection, I and other Hispanics I know have not shied away from forging ahead to create a path.
When there are no "help wanted" signs or employment applications go unanswered, Hispanics stand on the street and offer their brawn to bring home the bacon to feed the family.
Instead of waiting for opportunities to be offered, I have operated on the principle that opportunities must be made for one's self.
I immigrated to the States as a youngster and grew up in a central California labor camp and although the conditions were less than advantageous for members of my family, our work ethic and pride in our work led us to go beyond the expectations that others might have had for us. Many others are going through similar transitions and will drive the U.S. economy going forward.
Despite economic challenges, poorly equipped schools and parents who worked hard but lacked academic preparation, my siblings and many peers found a way to achieve a measure of success. The realities of stratification combined with a work ethic honed by hard labor in fields and the packing sheds had a way of driving us towards success. A popular Mexican saying goes, "no te rajes," which means "don't back down" from a challenge.
On a personal level, know yourself. I knew early on that I needed to be my own boss. But being successful took a great deal of preparation and willingness to take risk. I left Silicon Valley in 1995 with a meager bank account and a dream despite the plethora of opportunities there that I didn't even bother to explore. Entrepreneurship was my way forward.
As President Calvin Coolidge said, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education [by itself] will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
2. Make your own network.
Hispanics call upon friends and family to develop business opportunities. Yet many Hispanics are first- or second-generation immigrants to the United States. As relatively new arrivals, they aren't as likely to have broad existing family, friend or professional networks available to leverage when searching for jobs or selecting careers. Because they don't have a foundation that's been built up for decades, they must actively look for new connections and opportunities.
Other entrepreneurs can learn from this by being willing to move beyond their comfort zones and broaden their networks to places where opportunities can be found. Never stop making connections with the people who can advance a career. These ties are often the most challenging to make but the most rewarding.
When outnumbered and feeling unlike their peers -- still the case for many Hispanics in Silicon Valley -- Latinos need to reach out and create personal connections within and across cultures. This requires breaking out of your shell and being more open and self-confident that you have something unique to offer.
Knowing that you've got a unique and valuable perspective -- whether in a peer-to-peer discussion or when developing a business plan -- this is the seed of entrepreneurship.
3. Embrace technology.
Modern technology has opened the door for anyone to become an entrepreneur, depending on the quality of the idea and gumption to run with it. Now that the world has become an economy of ideas, those who leverage technology to their advantage can succeed despite a lack of traditional resources. Crowdfunding sites have overcome the challenge of capital, mobility has evaded concerns about location and social media has circumvented the issue of awareness and helped level the playing field.
Indeed studies have shown that Hispanic Americans are very active on social media channels. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet Project, "80% of U.S. Hispanic adults use social media, compared to 72% for the country overall."
Never stop looking for opportunities to engage with others and equip your personal and professional brands accordingly to seize opportunity.
The Hispanic community is becoming increasingly visible across America's professional and economic landscape. As American society continues to diversify, the lessons of one group can apply to all groups. By understanding and learning from Hispanic experiences, members of the greater business community can emulate this success and capitalize on it. Americans can learn values and lessons from all communities to be collectively successful.