Latino Entrepreneurs: West Michigan’s best kept secret

I was honored last week to be invited to participate on a panel discussion with other esteemed West Michigan colleagues at Davenport University. The panel was part of a series by the university entitled Secrets of Success. We were asked, as Latino business owners, to talk about lessons learned, barriers overcome, and our thoughts about how other businesses and organizations can connect to the burgeoning Latino demographic. It was a privilege to be invited and I truly enjoyed the engaging conversations held with the audience and my fellow panelists.

The event was hosted by Davenport University and moderated by Carlos Sanchez, the executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Along with myself, the invited panel of guests included Maria Erazo from Farmers Insurance, Carlos Pava of Voices for Health, and Ivan Guzman of Metrology & Engineering Technologies. The university held the discussion in their downtown Grand Rapids satellite location known as the Peter Cook Center.

After a brief introduction and a few statistics about Latino demographics from Carlos Sanchez, we were each asked to tell the audience our stories as entrepreneurs. It was heartening to hear my fellow panelist were motivated not only by financial reasons but also by an innate responsibility to empower and deliver inspiration within their Hispanic communities. Maria Erazo announced that she had recently completed a book about her family’s journey as immigrants to the United States from Mexico. Like many other Latino business owners I know, there was an undeniable link between business and personal passions.

At one point we spoke about how other businesses may be able to connect with Hispanic consumers. We agreed that at times, for those who are non-Latino, understanding the diverse nature of Latin American nationalities, ethnic groups, and language dialects could seem daunting. There was also an acknowledgement that the growing Latino population, albeit a business opportunity for many, can unfortunately be a source of fear for some. As a nation, we have the choice to observe the changing face of our communities with trepidation or confidence.

During a question and answer session at the end of the discussion, I was pleased to be asked how Latinos continue to over-index all other demographic groups in the U.S. with social media use. I explained that our social dispositions as Latinos and the need to stay connected, be it with friends or distant family, are likely reasons for our strong social media presence. It was good the audience in attendance acknowledged online and mobile engagements not just as social trends but strategic marketing tools.

Thank you to Carlos Sanchez and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for their facilitation and to Davenport University for their hospitality. We trust our participation gave the attendees sufficient ideas and insights to consider about Hispanic entrepreneurs and connecting to our Latino communities.

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