For Latinos, Women, It’s Harder To Start A Small Business


Fabiola Giguere has run a cleaning business for the past 33 years. This is not an easy task for anyone, as the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that two-thirds of new businesses do not survive their 10th birthday.

However, the number is more impressive when you take into account that Guigere immigrated to East Haven in 1989 to escape the terrorism from the Peruvian militia group known as Sendero Luminoso. Three years later, she started Limpiex, a cleaning company in Hamden.

When that business prospered, Giguere started pursuing her passion through her own jewelry brand, Achiq Designs. Named after the Quechua word for “Bright,” Achiq Designs has been open for the past five years at 1081 South Main St.

Giguere plans on expanding her business to the former Wells Fargo branch in downtown Wallingford.

“It’s going to be an open concept,” she said. “I’m having fun.” 

However, Giguere’s success is the exception to the norm, as both women and Latinos are more likely to be workers than business owners.

In Connecticut, about 16% of workers are Hispanic, but only 9% of business owners are Hispanic, according to a SBA report. The report also found that about 22% of workers were racial minorities, but only 12% of business owners.

The SBA found a large gap for women, who made up 48% of the workforce, but only 41% of business owners.

This gap is particularly relevant to New Haven county, as small businesses account for a little more than half of the county’s employment: Higher than both the national and statewide average, according to an analysis of 2019 census data by the Record-Journal.

To address these disparities, the state announced two new programs this summer — the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund and the Connecticut Future Fund. Both are designed to provide resources for small businesses owned by women and racial minorities.

However, despite the new initiatives, many minorities do not have business backgrounds or access to the know-how required to start a business.

Colombian native Nelson Marchan has worked as an advisor at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center for the past nine years and has worked with many Latino-owned businesses. 

He explained that the center can provide free resources for those looking to start their own business, even if they don’t have a business degree.

“We want the client to make more money because that’s good for the economy,” he said. “If the family can make better decisions, that’s an amazing gift for our communities.”

Reflecting on his work, Marchan said that his three most successful clients were women. The common thread was that all three had experience in their industry and went through the paperwork required to get a loan  

Before a bank approves a business loan, Marchan explained, most lenders ask applicants for 20% of the funds needed to start their business. Marchan said banks also ask for technical documents like a business plan, financial projections and market research.

“The numbers have to be realistic because if they are not, then it’s a no-win situation,” he said.

Because of the strict requirements, Marchan said applicants might be tempted to approach a lender with more lenient requirements.

However, more lenient requirements often mean that the loan is seen as a riskier investment, which results in higher interest rates on the loan.

He also added that a low level of English, a low credit score, or lack of collateral might also prevent Latinos from getting a loan.

In addition to these issues, there are additional barriers for women seeking to start a business.

“Most of the people making decisions about who gets a loan are not women,” said JoAnn Gulbin at the Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut. “Access to capital remains the single largest obstacle for women who are starting, trying to start, or grow businesses,” she said in a phone interview.

The council provides a number of opportunities for female business owners, including advising, grants, loans, and networking. The council focuses on minority and low-income clients, as the council reports that 48% of their clients are minority-owned enterprises.

With a growing number of Latinos in Connecticut, Gulbin explained that the council hired Spanish-speaking business advisors and program managers, made their website available in Spanish, and offered bilingual workshops.

Gulbin also pointed to a new program that developed a series of business development services for home and center-based child care providers in partnership with the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood.

One of five childcare workers in Connecticut are Hispanic women, according to census estimates from 2018. The number is higher for Meriden, one in four childcare workers are Hispanic women.

“A pretty large portion of childcare providers are Spanish-speaking,” Gulbin said. “In order to really do our best to serve them, we needed to be offering more in Spanish.”

Gloria Montoya, of Meriden, recently became involved with the council. She applied and attended a number of workshops.

Montoya’s business, My Little World, is well … little. She is the only employee and takes care of six preschool kids. Montoya migrated from Peru in 1999 and started a home-based childcare service in 2009. She said the children are a mix of ages and ethnicities, but she talks to all of them in her native Spanish.

“Kids are like sponges that can learn several languages, even if they don’t speak them,” she said in Spanish. “Kids are going to decide what language they speak, or whether they want to speak both or not, but they already have the knowledge.”

Montoya holds a Child Development Associate’s degree from Middlesex Community College and is passionate about discussing early childhood education, but admits bookkeeping is not her strength.

“I knew a lot about what a business was and how to run it, but all the bookkeeping went to my accountant,” she said. “They [the council] have given me a lot of guidance.”

Montoya also received a technology grant during the pandemic and funding to change her carpet to a hardwood floor to provide better care for kids with allergies.

In addition to the lack of access to loans, many Latino-owned businesses struggle with staying in business for long periods of time.

“I think that sometimes the lack of planning forces companies, Latino companies, to fail,” Marchan said.

For long-term success, Marchan stressed the importance of creating a sound business plan — especially when the new business owner doesn’t have to apply for a loan. He said many first-time business owners get wrapped up in their ideas and don’t know how their project will work in the future. “Dreams are beautiful, but sometimes reality takes over dreams,” he said. “If the business doesn’t grow and you still want to continue spending money, that’s no good.”

“You have to do your research”

When Giguere first opened Limpiex, she remembers being advised by SCORE, a nonprofit organization powered by the SBA that matches business mentors with prospective business owners. “Every time you open something, you have to do your research,” she said.

Giguere holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Albertus Magnus College. However, despite her business background, Giguere recalls that the SBA helped Limpiex become an 8(a) certified company.

According to the administration, 8(a) certifications are a nine-year program created to help firms owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. For Guiguiere, that meant Limpiex could compete with bigger firms on contracts set aside specifically for 8(a) businesses.

Guigiere encourages other business owners to take advantage of programs like SCORE and 8(a). A few years ago, Gugiere said she returned to SCORE to teach a workshop on how to start a cleaning business.  

“Opening a business could be kind of scary. But once you have the blueprint, it will definitely get easier,” she said.

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