Eric Zuniga with members of the Junior Latino Chamber of Commerce

Tonight at Nuestro Mundo School, young Latino entrepreneurs will pitch their creative business ideas to local Madison-area business people in the style of the popular ABC TV show “Shark Tank.” The First annual Junior Latino Chamber of Commerce “Fish Tank” event promises to be an interesting evening. And a lucrative one for the young people who win, who will receive $500.

“I’m pretty excited about the presentations. I’m curious about what they are going to present and what they are going to say,” says Jessica Cavazos, president and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County. “It is exciting. This is our first year trying to plan something. We really want to impact the way that our kids and communities with high Latino populations are able to study economics and economic development.”

The event starts at 4 p.m. Nuestro Mundo is located at 902 Nichols Rd. in Monona.

“The kids are very excited. They have a lot of creative stuff planned,” says Eric Zuñiga, a Latino Chamber of Commerce member who has been working with the young people for the past five months. “There will be five groups with 3 to 4 young people in each group making presentations. I’m interested to see everything that they have learned and how they actually put that into a concept.”

“Eric has been the mastermind behind the whole program,” adds Cavazos. “For us, it’s exciting because we know it’s an opportunity for us to plant the seed early. The kids are so excited about this program every time they would see Eric on Monday. Their entrepreneurial spirit shone through. They knew they were going to go on a field trip to a business.”

The Junior Latino Chamber of Commerce, which officially launched on Jan. 29, seeks to educate young Latino/Latina children in learning business sense including finance, margins, and how to promote themselves and their brand.

Junior Latino Chamber students visit La Rosita Grocery Store, located on Monona Drive.

“Part of the program we started at Nuestro Mundo with the relationship we had with the Madison School Foundation where they have different organizations adopt a school,” Cavazos says. “Prior to me coming to the Chamber, we had adopted Nuestro Mundo as a school that we would partner with. At that time, one of the things that I saw is that it would be very impacting – as far as how our children see businesses and businesses owners, and for meeting a need in the future – for them to be entrepreneurs.”

Students in the Puma Scholars after-school program have worked directly with Latino business leaders in the community to create a business plan of their own. The students learn about small businesses, and have visited several Latino-owned businesses in the area, and have developed literacy and math skills along the way.

“We have all of these role models in our daily lives. How do we put them out there and make them accessible to the young people? How do we create that cohesion between the business community and our children?” Cavazos asks. “We want young people to have access to economic information and resources so that they can have a better life. It’s exciting when you can do it at a young age.”

“It’s important for the young people to see all of the possibilities of what they can be,” Zuniga adds.

Eric Zuniga with members of the Junior Latino Chamber of Commerce

The students met different business owners and leaders from the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County. They had various field trips to different business locations throughout the area. They participated in learning about profit and loss and how to put together a miniature business plan. “We have young people where this is the first time that they ever really understood that there are human beings behind the ownership of the business and that this could actually be a career choice for them. That’s pretty powerful,” Cavazos says. “We encourage education, but we also want young people to know that there are other options as well and can be entrepreneurs and business owners.

“Sometimes we put our children in these silos that may not be the best for them – you have to be a doctor or a lawyer,” she adds. “No, you have to be something that you love to be and this is the way to do it by exposing them to so many different businesses and so many different people.”

Tonight’s first annual “Fish Tank” event is a culmination of five months of work. Students will hone their entrepreneurial skills in a Shark Tank-like sales pitch event by providing their own unique business ideas to a panel of local professionals.

“They will be presenting to our three judges – Eugenia Podesta of Synergy Co-Working, Corina Cunningham, a business owner and channel 57 television host, and Justice Castañeda from Commonwealth,” Cavazos says. “All of them do some form of coaching and know quite a bit about entrepreneurship. They will be judging the individuals on creativity, on their concept, and on their overall ability to work together as a team.”

Junior Latino Chamber students visit La Rosita Grocery Store

Three cash prizes will be awarded to the lucky winners, courtesy of Summit Credit Union. “We will have $500 for the first prize, $250 for the second prize and $100 for third place,” Cavazos says. “All of these awards are being sponsored by local business owners and the Chamber and are being underwritten by Summit Credit Union.”

Cavazos says that the whole brand-new experience with the Junior Chamber has truly been a learning experience for the Latino Chamber.

“We learned how we can be impactful to these young human beings but we also showed our local business owners that they can be impactful to our youth and can give back in this way,” she says. “I think the kids learned from business leaders in our community about all the hard work it takes to be a business owner but also how rewarding it can be.”

Cavazos says that their goal is to host the “Fish Tank” event every year.

“This is pretty much self-funded through the Chamber. We really need to have that continued community support for this to be successful,” she says. “We do have the interest from the schools – we’ve had more than one school approach us. Verona High School, for instance, is interested in the Junior Chamber model.

“These type of programs impact communities and teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship. We’re teaching our future leaders what entrepreneurial opportunities there are … and that is extremely important,” Cavazos adds.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.