Every Tuesday, Maria Azuri teaches a class to Latin American women in Atlanta interested in starting their own businesses. On a recent morning, she lectured about the importance of branding products. Each student has a business plan. The program teaches them how to transform those plans into actual ventures.
“You can’t provide just a class because entrepreneurship is so much more than the class material,” Azuri said. “So, we really provide an ecosystem of support.”
That ecosystem includes networking opportunities, a closed Facebook group and weekly tutorial sessions.
Figures show that more and more Latinas are starting their own businesses in the U.S. States like California, Texas and Florida all have strong markets for Latina-owned firms. But, according to the 2015 Women-Owned Business Survey, Georgia has seen the most growth in that area.
An Atlanta nonprofit, called the Latin American Association, started offering the courses last spring. It’s funded with a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation. The program started with 40 students. Since March, about 170 women, including Ruby Porras and Marisol Melendez, have completed the course.
“My business idea is to expand my business,” Porras said. “I have a small gift wrapping store, and I want Latinas to be able to buy things for every occasion.”
Melendez is planning to start her business from the ground up. “I want to create a line of soaps,” she said. “My daughter is in chiropractic school, and we want to open a spa together.”
In 2015, American Express commissioned a survey of women-owned small businesses in the U.S. It found there are four times as many Latina-owned firms in Georgia now as in 1997.
Julie Weeks authored the State of Women-Owned Businesses report. She said some larger places, with well-established Latino markets, can be hard for newcomers to break into. Georgia's market is fairly new, Weeks said.
“One of the reasons why you would see faster [business] growth is if there’s demographic growth,” Weeks said. Georgia’s Latino population has almost doubled in the last 15 years.
The economy may also explain why women are going into business.
"Low-income Latina mothers have been affected by the construction industry recession,” said Carolina Ramon, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center at the University of Georgia." Their husbands, brothers, and fathers have lost their jobs, and they have to start doing something to support their families."
During a weekly tutoring session at the Latin American Association, Azuri reviewed some basics with her students. She went over the fine points of running a business — from filing taxes to filling out balance sheets.
Ligia Borge is taking the class for a number of reasons. She’s a single mother and an accountant who wants to start an import/export business selling Honduran products. Borge said she’s grateful for the opportunity this program provides. Borge said she hopes launching her own business will help keep those doors open for her children and generations to come.
“The best thing for a human being to develop is support, to have resources,” she said. “We have the willingness to do something, but if the doors are not open, we don’t have any place to go.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Rosa Degran’s last name. The text has been corrected.