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'These Are Businesses That Enrich the Community’

October 5, 2021
EforAll brings inclusive entrepreneurship training to Northwest Arkansas’ Hispanic community

On a late September evening, the community space at Springdale’s INTERFORM was buzzing with activity.

From across the region, eight finalists, all Hispanic entrepreneurs, were preparing for Entrepreneurship For All’s inaugural Spanish-speaking pitch contest. Paula Delgado of Bentonville, Arkansas, was ready to make her case for expanding her translation business to serve the rapidly growing Hispanic community. Agustin Becerra of Rogers, Arkansas, wants to open a nursery for plants, trees and flowers tailored to thrive in the region.

Rodrigo Salas, executive director of Entrepreneurship For All (EforAll) in Northwest Arkansas, is helping underrepresented entrepreneurs successfully start and grow their businesses.

“We like to call it a ‘Shark Tank’ without the bite,” jokes Rodrigo Salas, a member of the judging panel and executive director of the Northwest Arkansas chapter of EforAll, a national nonprofit which helps underrepresented entrepreneurs successfully start and grow their businesses through training, mentorship and professional support.

Each finalist exemplifies what Rodrigo calls the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit of the Hispanic community across Northwest Arkansas. “They are driven by much more than just making a living. They are driven by improving the lives of everyone in our community.”

EforAll recently hosted a pitch session for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas. Executive director Rodrigo Salsas described the event as "Shark Tank without the bite."

An entrepreneur himself, Rodrigo was born and raised in Mexico City. After moving to Austin, Texas, for business school, he worked in consulting. At home, he and his wife Leticia were cooking up a side business, Molli Sauces, a line of jarred salsas and sauces that could bring the flavors of their home country into kitchens across America. When Rodrigo’s wife was offered a new career opportunity in Northwest Arkansas, the family brought Molli with them, and continue to expand.

Rodrigo understands the challenges of starting a business and the additional barriers that exist when you are an entrepreneur of color.

“Oftentimes in the community we work with, folks already own a small business, but in their minds, they don’t consider it a business, it’s just work. Food production, house cleaning, landscaping, the list goes on. Whatever you choose to call it, they each offer services that enrich the community.”

Carlos Diaz (right) discusses his business, Suelo, which uses cutting-edge technology such as sensors, data analysis and artificial intelligence to communicate the status of agricultural crops for farmers. He was the winner of EforAll's recent Spanish-speaking pitch contest.

In Northwest Arkansas, Rodrigo sees the potential to change this narrative, especially in communities like Rogers and Springdale, where the Hispanic population is around 30% and growing.

“The entrepreneurial landscape here is amazing, with a huge amount of resources and tools available,” says Rodrigo. “But right now, these resources are tailored to certain industries.”

Barriers like language, access to capital and education are preventing the Hispanic community from starting and growing more businesses. “These are incredibly hardworking people with great ideas, but if you don’t have great credit, it’s tough to ask the bank for a loan and tougher still if the loan officer doesn’t speak your language.”

With support from the Walton Family Foundation, EforAll is running two of the organization’s signature programs simultaneously in the region. The first is the pitch contest, run in both English and Spanish. “This is for entrepreneurs who have a passion, but they need help tightening up their idea, whether that means figuring out who their core customer is or what problem they are solving for in the community,” says Rodrigo.

Rodrigos Salas talks with Mirna Ordonez of Arkansas Latinas en Bici, runner up in EforAll's Spanish-speaking pitch contest. Arkansas Latinas en Bici is a nonprofit that works with the region's Hispanic community to get active and bike.

Most who participate in the pitch contest go on to apply for the year-long accelerator program, which focuses on intensive learning – from legal, to accounting to sales – resulting in a finely-tuned business plan. Participants are also paired with a number of local mentors who act as a sounding board as they bring their businesses to life.

Increasing access to entrepreneurial programming in the region is a core focus of the foundation’s 2025 strategy, bringing a diversity of ideas and lived experience to an already-thriving innovation ecosystem.

Rodrigo and his team have spent months meeting the local Hispanic community where they are spreading the word about the program and recruiting program participants and volunteer mentors. “Meeting people face-to-face and hearing their stories has been the most helpful,” says Rodrigo. “We’ve spread out to local farmers markets, weekly Latin music concerts and worked with groups like the Downtown Springdale Alliance, local chambers of commerce and Spanish-speaking media.”

As for the volunteer mentors, Rodrigo says their excitement is palpable. “Many of our volunteers are entrepreneurs themselves and when they were starting out, there weren’t resources like this available to them. They know how valuable EforAll is to their community and are ready to help lift others up to their full potential."

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