National Hispanic Heritage Month presents a welcome opportunity to celebrate the achievements, contributions, backgrounds and cultures of American citizens whose ancestral lines reach the Caribbean, Central and South America, Mexico and Spain. The celebration - which lasts from September 15 to October 15 - became official in 1968.
At LOVE LAW FIRM, we focus on serving the legal needs of entrepreneurs, startups and small business owners. Here, we highlight the achievements of five Hispanic Americans who have found success and provide lessons that benefit all business owners.
Alberto "Beto" Perez
A passion for dancing, a belief in fitness, and a decision to work three jobs at age 14 to help his single mother support their family, compelled Alberto "Beto" Perez to realize his dream. A Colombian choreographer, he created the Zumba exercise fitness program and founded a small business to promote it. Chasing a dream may take a long time, and it indeed did for Perez, but persistence and a belief in himself made all the difference.
Although he loved moving to music as a teenager, he knew the financial condition of his family didn't allow for professional dance lessons. Showing the determination and innovation that characterized his life, he entered and won a Columbian national lambada contest. His achievement produced acceptance by an academy in his hometown of Cali where he studied dance and taught step aerobics.
When he moved to Miami just short of his 30th birthday, he focused his creative abilities on originating dance routines featuring Latin music and aerobic exercises. An opportunity to promote his fitness and dance concepts came his way with his first infomercial and the financial support of investors who saw his potential. Workshops featuring Zumba routines led to the distribution of DVDs that attracted an international audience.
In just seven years after he arrived in Miami, his dream of starting an organization to sell his videos, products and Zumbawear came true with the founding of Zumba Fitness LLC. His website also gives his fan base worldwide an opportunity to hear Latin music and musical artists. Zumba products appear in 185 countries where people who love aerobics, dance and Latin music can visit 160,000 locations worldwide.
By pursuing what he loved, Beto Perez has brought dance, fitness and – most importantly – joy to millions.
Her grandmother's wish for Maria Contreras-Sweet to become a secretary and work in an office came true in spades; though, like most wishes, in a slightly different manner than expected. Though she spoke no English when she arrived in California at age 5, the office that Maria’s grandmother wished for became California's Business, Transportation and Housing (“BTH”) Agency where she did, indeed, become the Cabinet Secretary. During her tenure, she managed a $14 billion budget, 14 departments and 44,000 employees. Later, she made history as the first Latina to become the U.S. Small Business Administration administrator, a Cabinet level appointment.
Remembering her single mother's struggle to support six children inspired her achievements. As the BTH Secretary, she created agencies that provide managed health care services and new guidelines for patient advocacy. As serial entrepreneur, she co-founded Fortius Holdings, a private equity fund and commercial real estate development company; ProAmérica Bank, a bank focused on the Hispanic small- and medium-sized business market; Contreras-Sweet Enterprises, a company she founded to provide marketing and research solutions for businesses; and Rockway Equity Partners, a private equity firm where entrepreneurs can seek investments in manufacturing, infrastructure and technology projects.
Maria Contreras-Sweet has used all of her opportunities to help elevate others in her community, exemplifying the saying that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Rea Ann Silva
The foresight and self-sacrifice of a working-class Latino family in Los Angeles opened unimaginable avenues to success for Rea Ann Silva. An expectation of training beyond high school never even occurred to her, but her parents' desire for her to have opportunities unavailable to them changed the course of her life.
Her father worked as a factory mechanic for Ford and her mom served as a waitress, making college tuition seem difficult to obtain. Still, Silva's artistic interest and ability to sketch and draw inspired her mom to enroll her in Los Angeles' Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Her Beautyblender sponge carries the name of the small business she founded and serves as CEO.
Unquestionably, Silva's journey to fame and fashion started because of her parents' belief in her. At school, she learned the effects of color and texture in makeup. However, her desire to supplement her income by selling perfume in a West Hollywood department store introduced her to the business side of cosmetics. When she started working at the cosmetics counter, it gave her a chance to use her skills as a makeup artist on film stages in Los Angeles.
As a single mother and a first-generation entrepreneur, she faced challenges working within the white beauty industry. She realized that her ethnic background prevented some directors from choosing to work with her. However, she turned the obstacles to her advantage by doing makeup for entertainers of color.
From a pinnacle of success, Silva celebrates her Hispanic heritage and the work ethic that her parents instilled in her.
Matias de Tezanos
An indomitable spirit and the creative energy of an entrepreneur determined to excel in business provided the impetus that inspired Matias de Tezanos to achieve remarkable success. Drawn to the internet as a source of revenue, he focused on funding media and technology companies. With an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school, the Guatemala native put his youthful energies to work.
In the year after Tezanos graduated, he founded a Spanish-language hotel reservation website, Hoteles.com. It sold one year later to the largest company in the business. A string of successes rapidly followed as he founded 11 businesses and serves on the board of 21 others.
With the co-founding of ClickDiario.com Network where he served as CEO, he targeted internet advertisers in Latin America. After selling the company, he founded health care.com to offer health insurance coverages to 4 million searchers every month.
With Startup Network, his website lets investors and startups meet online. As an entrepreneur and longtime member of EOnetwork.org, he realized the value of reliable contacts. As a result, his company provided access to funding for investment projects, loans and existing small businesses.
Matias de Tezanos’ laser focus on using the internet to propel his businesses has allowed him to enjoy incredible successes throughout his career.
An ability to see the potential that others do not can create a visionary leader, and Belinda Guadarrama uses that rare talent as a motivational force. Facing challenges from businessmen who doubted her ability to succeed in a highly competitive marketplace, she looked beyond the obstacles. Her determination led to the founding of GC Micro and the thriving business that it has become.
Since its founding 35 years ago, GC Micro serves the Fortune 1,000 clients with 40 business-partner-employees and earns annual revenues in the range of $80 million. With expertise provided to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and NASA, GC Micro complies with AS9120 and ISO 9001, the highest standards in the aerospace industry. Among the many honors that she treasures as a successful entrepreneur, Guadarrama has said she prizes most NASA's Public Service Medal, the agency's highest civilian honor.
By considering her employees her valued business partners, she empowers everyone around her to aspire to greatness. Still an entirely minority-woman-owned small business, GC Micro provides a platform for Belinda Guadarrama's community involvement.
Belinda Guadarrama gives back to her community by her involvement in multiple civic groups, and always being willing to provide motivational presentations encouraging young Latinos to stay in school, viewing education as the way to help people achieve their goals.
Each of these five entrepreneurs exemplifies what it takes to succeed. We see the combination of vision, passion, focus, determination and contribution in each of their stories. Together, we can learn so much.
Francine E. Love is the Founder & Managing Attorney at LOVE LAW FIRM, PLLC which dedicates its practice to serving entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. The opinions expressed are those of the author. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.