Entrepreneurship is difficult enough. Underrepresented populations face additional barriers, not the least of which, in many cases, is language.
As Madison began to see an increase in the diversity of business owners, some in the Latinx community saw a need to band together.
“The idea of forming a Latino chamber of commerce dates back at least 15 to 20 years. Many Latino entrepreneurs had a variety of needs that were largely not being met by existing organizations,” says Latino Chamber of Commerce (LCC) co-founder and Board member Mario Mendoza.
In 2003, Mendoza, then an aide to Mayor Dave Ciezlewicz, and other entrepreneurs and public leaders developed a vision to create a Latino chamber geared to meet those needs, resulting in the birth of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, which will host its annual gala fundraiser on Saturday.
Nearly 14 years after its founding, the LCC continues to help local entrepreneurs get ahead.
“I look back in amazement at how our Latino Chamber has thrived, even during the challenging recession that started in late 2007. The organization’s ability to serve our members has continued to grow,” Mendoza says.
Many LCC members have become established businesses, some with more than one location. In their work, the LCC is nurturing the Latino middle class in Dane County.
The LCC provides educational sessions – in English and Spanish – often collaborating with other local organizations that offer such training. On top of the one-on-one assistance staff and volunteers provide their members, the LCC also fosters business-to-business connections through monthly networking events, which bring Latinx and non-Latinx business owners together.
In late 2016, the LCC opened its Emerging Business Development Center—a one-stop-shop to provide focused assistance to Latino entrepreneurs. The Chamber has become an important voice in economic development in Dane County. The launch of the Emerging Business Development Center in 2016 marks a turning point for the LCC. With the help of their staff, volunteers and partner organizations, training the next batch of business leaders in the community will be no difficult task.
Over the next several years Mendoza hopes to see even more growth within the organization.
“I see our Chamber continuing to be a hub for entrepreneurial activity,” he says. “In the coming years, I would like the Chamber to connect our members with larger businesses and other organizations. Such an effort would better integrate our members into the fabric of our overall local economy.”