A group of regional mentors is trying to make more opportunities available to Hispanic entrepreneurs.
Formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives, the SCORE Association has 348 chapters throughout the U.S. Today, the Ventura County chapter has about 40 volunteers and two of them said not enough services are offered to Hispanic entrepreneurs for a variety of reasons.
They are trying to change that.
“People who need assistance, we connect them with the right person in order to help them,” said Jesus Mendoza Neri, the director of the Hispanic SCORE program, through a translator. “Whether it might be a legal issue, or financial issue, or marketing issue or just a basic startup issue, we’ll connect them with people in that area.”
Founded in 1964 with the backing of the Small Business Administration, SCORE has more than 13,000 volunteers throughout the U.S. who give entrepreneurs advice on things they need when starting a business, like how to write a business plan or how to manage cash flow.
Most workshops, counseling sessions and resources are free.
The Ventura County Chapter, founded in 1971, made a lasting legacy in the region decades ago. Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, who started Kinko’s in 1970 near the UCSB campus, was an early client of the Ventura County SCORE chapter.
Orfalea later moved Kinko’s headquarters to Ventura, where the company employed about 1,000 people until 2001.
Carlos Delgado, chair of one of the Hispanic committees in the chapter, said in 2013, Larry Willett, the local chapter’s president, directed him to start an Hispanic-focused group that reached out to regional entrepreneurs in the Hispanic communities.
“The first generation immigrant population that came over, primarily Spanish speaking, their initial intention was not to start a business,” Neri said through a translator. “Having stayed now and having children, that has kind of impulsed them to start a business and they need to know how to do it.”
Neri would know because he’s an immigrant himself. Neri spent 25 years working in Mexico City as an executive for Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission, the country’s state-owned electric utility. He’s now retired, lives in Camarillo and spends most of his time mentoring Hispanic entrepreneurs who need help.
Over coffee with Delgado in Thousand Oaks, Neri chose to speak through a translator because he’s still not completely comfortable with the English language.
Neri said that the language barrier is a real barrier for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. He said that’s simply because English-speaking entrepreneurs are generally more educated and prepared to be entrepreneurs.
Many entrepreneurial mentorship groups in the region, like 805 Startups and Softec, focus on tech startups in fast growing fields. Events held at places like the California Lutheran Center for Entrepreneurship focus on helping these fast-growing entrepreneurs see an opportunity and raise as much capital as possible.
“We’re working on a much more local level,” Delgado said. “Really with the sole-proprietor or family enterprise that already started, but they’re mom and pop shops. Some of them are cleaning businesses, some of them are restaurants.”
Delgado said once a couple from Simi Valley wanted to start a commercial fishing company, but the man didn’t speak English. So, the group helped them set up financing and looked over legal documents.
About 10 to 15 clients per month attend SCORE Ventura events.
Hector Pelayo is president of the Oxnard Mexican Cultural Center. His group is also active in helping provide services to Hispanic people looking to start businesses through the Ventura SCORE chapter. Pelayo said people from 14 Mexican states use SCORE’s services and the SCORE chapter routinely holds events at the cultural center.
“They have their monthly seminars here,” Pelayo said. “They come in and ask questions and they do their presentations like how to get permits or insurance.
The Hispanic SCORE chapter also works with the Mexican Consulate in Oxnard and routinely holds events there as well.
Neri said as the group slowly grows, it’s trying to refine its approach and improve its services for its clients. Delgado said eventually the goal is to integrate the Hispanic SCORE group into the English-speaking group and workshops.
“Our goal is to eventually do (sessions) bilingually, but we would need the interpreting equipment to facilitate that,” Delgado said.
• Contact Philip Joens at [email protected]