March 29, 2023
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Startup Weekend, en Español: Entrepreneurs pitch in Santa Maria



Schoolteacher Roqu Ballesteros, right, presents a prototype of his oversized chess set to patent lawyer Mark Goldstein. Ballesteros said chess is a way to teach important life skills such as reasoning and logic to children. (Austen Hufford / Business Times photo)


A design for a face-mask to protect farm laborers from dust, pesticides and sun damage took home the top spot at the first Spanish Startup Weekend in the U.S.

The event, held the weekend of Aug. 1-3 in Santa Maria, gathered four teams who spent 54 hours working on prototypes and presentations for their startup ideas. Presentations were completely in Spanish.

The event’s organizer, José Huitron, said the startup community in Santa Maria is still small, but has huge potential. “There are a lot of [Latino] people who have family-owned businesses,” Huitron said. “But in terms of startups, this is really ground zero for startups and the new wave of entrepreneurship.”

According to census data, 70.4 percent of Santa Maria’s population is Hispanic or Latino. That compares with 44.1 percent in Santa Barbara County as a whole.

Santa Maria Startup Weekend is part of a national movement in which entrepreneurs work for 54 hours straight to create a business idea and pitch it to a team of judges. The events have been held throughout the world and several have been held in the Tri-Counties over the past few years.

The Santa Maria event, however, was unique in that it catered to the Latino population and was mainly held in Spanish.

Participants were provided access to business advisers as well as Web designers, marketing experts, patent attorneys and serial entrepreneurs to help them get their ideas off the ground. The event was held at the newly opened MIYB Spaces, a Santa Maria co-working space, and winners were awarded free space in the business incubator.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with 15 initial ideas. By Sunday, those has been whittled down to four, with people working in teams on the most promising concepts.


Mario Alonso adjusts a face guard designed for farm workers. His team won first place at Santa Maria Startup Weekend, the first such event held primarily in Spanish in the U.S. (Austen Hufford / Business Times photo)

The winning team designed a face-mask called FieldShield to protect farm laborers from dust, pesticides and the sun. Currently, most field workers use a simple bandana, said team member Mario Alonso. The judges were impressed with the research that went into FieldShield and its market potential. When shown a prototype, some of the workers wanted to buy it right on the spot, Alonso said.

Much of the weekend’s consultations, planning and designing were done in Spanish, but people of all backgrounds were welcomed. English-speaking attendees were given headsets to hear translations of the final presentations.
Participants said this event was unique because many investors and entrepreneurs aren’t aware of the particular issues that Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs face in getting a business off the ground.

Some of the business ideas had a distinctive Latino flavor. One team pitched an idea to sell machaca, a spiced, dried beef or pork dish. While it is commonly eaten as a breakfast item in Mexico, it’s not available commercially in America.

The event also welcomed ideas for nonprofits. High school teacher Roqu Ballesteros runs a chess club. For his idea, he pitched an oversized chess board and a plan to implement chess programs at schools across his district and the nation. Ballesteros said chess can be a way to engage bright students who may otherwise feel alienated and drop out from school.

“Logic, reasoning, preparation, creativity,” he said. “Those are life skills that can help outside of this game.”

Claudia Palos started the weekend with a small business but no Web presence. By the end of it, she had a website, Twitter page and basic designs for a smartphone application. Palos owns Central Coast Maids, a house-cleaning service. A designer at the event helped her set up a functioning website to attract new clients.

Palos presented an idea for an application to connect house cleaners and homeowners, the way Uber connects drivers and riders. The application would make the home-cleaning business more efficient for all parties, she said. After creating the application, she would like to license it to other small cleaning services.

She said the weekend provided her many opportunities that have already transformed her business, regardless of the outcome of the competition. “Even if I don’t win, I’m winning already,” Palos said. “I’m going to take it forward.”


Mario Alonso pitches the FieldShield, the winning concept in Santa Maria Startup Weekend. (Austen Hufford / Business Times photo)

Mario Alonso pitches the FieldShield, the winning concept in Santa Maria Startup Weekend. (Austen Hufford / Business Times photo)