Entrepreneurs and grant winners from Pitch Latinx. Photo credit: Juan Kis
Recently, Ecotrust Events sponsored Pitch Latinx, held October 5 at The Redd on Salmon Street. The event, inspired by Pitch Black, honored seven Latinx businesses, and celebrated Latinx entrepreneurship in Oregon. In this interview, Pitch Latinx organizer and founder of Latino Founders, Juan Barraza, shares his hopes for Latinx entrepreneurship in the state and how Latinx-owned businesses are building intergenerational wealth.
Your organization is called Latino Founders. Can you describe your organization and your mission?
Latino Founders is an organization designed and created to support scalable Latinx ventures. Our goal is to support 100 Latinx founders to help them [each] reach $1 million in annual recurring revenue in the next five years. Just think about it: Five years, supporting 100 startups that will generate $100 million in annual recurring revenues? That’s very powerful. We want to bring high paying jobs, create generational wealth, and at the same time implement innovative technologies and services that will reshape what the Oregon economy or the national economy could look like in years to come.
I heard you say that part of your goal is around intergenerational wealth building, can you talk more about that?
Absolutely. That’s one of those things about entrepreneurship. When you are able to create a business, when you have high paying jobs, and you’re able to create wealth that you can transfer to your loved ones, or your employees, that sets the stage for the next generation. We know that housing is one of the ways to create generational wealth. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and entrepreneurship is that catalyst.
Many times, we might not have the capital to start a business, but we underestimate our social capital.
How many of the entrepreneurs that you work with are looking toward intergenerational wealth building as part of their business plan?
I think it’s unspoken; that’s the reason we do what we do. We want to create a better lifestyle for our families. Growing up around entrepreneurs, as I had done with my parents, affords you the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. And you might not go create a business, but you already have that innovation mindset. So wherever you work or endeavors you tackle in your adult life, and you’ve been around entrepreneurs, you have that mindset like, ‘Wait, I can improve this process. I can change the way I interact, the way my company interacts with the community, to be a better steward of the resources that we are taking and giving back.’ And you are only able to achieve that through the innovative entrepreneurial mindset that you eat, live, and breathe at every age.
My parents had distribution services, consumer goods, food businesses here [in Oregon] and in Mexico. And just being around those conversations, either in sales meetings, or being at home with my mom before she started her business, or spending a weekend on the delivery route with my dad for his wholesale business, that was game changing. We’d have boxes all over the living room when the new inventory came in, and that was our playground. That’s a unique experience. And like I said, it’s not for everybody. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you are able to experience that and share it with family and young ones, it’s mindset changing.
Coming back to Pitch Latinx, I’m imagining a roomful of entrepreneurs who have this diversity of ideas and different businesses in different sectors. Can you describe the feeling or the vibe of the event? What is that energy like?
Being able to see folks that you haven’t seen for a long time, it’s like walking into a big family party, where everybody knows each other. Or you start getting to know new people, and everybody’s happy to see you and willing to help without the quid pro quo of ‘What am I getting back?’ We’re willing to help because somebody helped us in the past get to where we are right now. And we want to help the next generation to be successful. Many times, we might not have the capital to start a business, but we underestimate our social capital. Just knowing somebody that has connection, to open the door for the next opportunity is equally as important as an institutional investment. Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to need capital at some point. But if you are able to have somebody open a door that would take you six months to open and get it done with an email or phone call? That is just amazing. And this is when the magic happens.
Anybody that ever thinks or dreams of building a company and they don’t think that they have the resources, what it takes to do it, we want them to attend.
This year we decided to change the format for the actual pitch competition. It’s difficult to measure apples to apples when you have somebody with consumer packaged goods, to clean energy, to sustainable footwear. So this year, we crowdsourced within our network seven entrepreneurs who will be presenting. We fundraised from sponsors and ticket sales to give each one of them a $2,500 development grant. That way we are helping them on their next milestone with no strings attached. We want them to enjoy that small token of our appreciation to tell them we believe in you, keep doing the good work.
That’s awesome. What does hosting the event at The Redd enable for you?
It’s a beautiful venue. It’s centrally located. It’s a venue that through the years has been known to open the doors to the community. And the fact that [Ecotrust Events] is sponsoring space at The Redd means we funnel the funding to the entrepreneurs. So we have a space where we can invite 100+ of our closest friends and our community members to come and see what is happening in the startup community, a place that has been known to open the space for community events. In a way, it’s like my uncle’s or my aunt’s home where everybody’s welcome and the doors are always open.
Apart from the group of entrepreneurs who will be there, who would you really like to see come to the event?
I would love to see the kids of those entrepreneurs, their families. It’s a way for them to see that all the hard work, sweat, and tears are being recognized. We want college students to come. Anybody that ever thinks or dreams of building a company and they don’t think that they have the resources, what it takes to do it, we want them to attend. The overarching Portland community, we want them to attend. Oftentimes I’ve been asked, ‘Where are the Latinx entrepreneurs?’ and my answer is just come to the party.
This leads me to my last question: What are your hopes for the future of Latinx entrepreneurship in Oregon?
There’s a recent report that got released in the last couple of days [that shows] entrepreneurship, despite the pandemic, has grown among Latinos by 43 percent. In Oregon, in the last decade, [there has been] 143 percent growth. We’re beating the national average. So if anybody wants to do business in the state and create a company, they need to look at the Latinx community.
Our vision for Latinx entrepreneurship is that Latinx entrepreneurs across the state, regardless of where they are, are able to create businesses and high paying jobs; that we are creating businesses with an ethos of being sustainable, partnering with the community, and giving back; that all our Latinx entrepreneurs will be open and willing to be mentors for the next generation of folks that are looking to get into business. When you look at the spirit of entrepreneurship across the state, across ZIP codes, it’s equally distributed across Oregon. Opportunity is not. If we’re able to create more opportunities for 100 entrepreneurs, those entrepreneurs will open opportunities for another 100. And that’s how we create multigenerational wealth, and economic development for our region.