‘Latinopreneurs’: The Importance Of Developing Business Ownership For A Multicultural America

Source: Forbes | By Giovanni Rodriguez Posted December 1, 2013

A couple of months ago, I got an email from Jesse Martinez — a devoted and tireless leader of Latino entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley — asking me to speak at a leadership summit.  He also asked me what I wanted to speak about.

A great question, because while I have spoken at many events like this, my interest in Latinos in business has evolved.  Or should I say:  Latinos in business have evolved, and so have my views.Latino Entrepreneurs

There was a time when I used to speak about the special assets that Latinos bring to startups, particularly in the world of social technology. Now I like to talk about the category itself — Latino entrepreneurship — because the category itself has special value.

New markets

But in case you were wondering, make no mistake:  lots of folks have questioned the strategy of developing entrepreneurship around ethnicity, gender, and other kinds of identity.

To be clear, lots of folks in Silicon Valley have questioned the strategy.

First it began with a conversation about the absence of African American leaders in tech.  Then it became a conversation — though we’ve had this conversation before — about the absence of women leaders in tech.  Recently, I found myself in a silly argument with a journalist who had convinced himself that identity-based strategies for empowering people had the ultimate effect of marginalizing them (“ghettoizing them,” is the phrase I believe he used).  I’m happy to report that I got him to see the situation differently … but only after examining a number of ways that identity-specific approaches help everyone, not just the group in question.

First — and this should be obvious — the group in question may actually have access to new markets that typically elude people who are not in the group. When it comes to Latinos, what we are looking at is the access that comes to markets where there is a language barrier or a cultural barrier.  This is, by the way, why more and more businesses — including large tech companies like Google and Facebook– are investing in multicultural marketing. There’s a growing recognition that it’s no longer about the mainstream but the manystreams that make up the new global marketplace.

New services

Second — and I am sure this is less obvious — the group may actually have ideas for services that typically elude other entrepreneurs.  A while back, I wrote about a Silicon Valley technology startup — Interersante.com — that had a special spin on how to serve Latin American immigrant communities in the US through ecommerce (for example, Argentinians who miss shopping in Buenos Aires).  To pull this off required a special knowledge not just of language and culture but the special needs (think products and services) of the increasingly transient Latin American professional community. People less familiar with Latin America think simply about immigration.  People more familiar think deeply about diasporas and their positive economic impact.

New narrative

But for me, there’s a more powerful reason for supporting Latin American entrepreneurship and creating more Latinopreneuers:  it changes the narrative of Latin Americans from being a community of have-nots to a community of haves, from a community that is solely focused on getting jobs to a community that creates jobs … for everyone.

There’s a reason why Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are so crazy about entrepreneurship these days.  At some point, everyone realized that one of the fastest paths to economic growth is company formation (the other is household formation — i.e., the creation of new households, which helps to drive other parts of the economy, including retail).

But just as it’s no longer about the mainstream in marketing, it’s no longer about the mainstream in technology acceleration.  There are many new markets in the new multicultural marketplace, and a strategy that puts people on the supply side of the equation — particularly people who have not seen themselves on the supply side — is, in my opinion, the right strategy.  And it’s the one that organizations like Manos Accelerator and Jesse Martinez’s org — the Latino Startup Alliance — are following.

It’s still early days in the Latinopreneuer movement, but already we’re feeling the impact of the new narrative.  If you attend the leadership summit this week, I am confident you’ll feel the vibe.  It’s what America feels like – and ought to feel like – in the 21st century.