Bilingual entrepreneurs compete for $3,000 grants

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Vanessa Gonzalez (left) and Adelaida Alvarez of Nail It! salon present their business plan to a panel. (Photo by Edgar Mendez)

Prospective business owners Adelaida Alvarez and Vanessa Gonzalez sat anxiously at a cluttered table in the lobby of the Multicultural Entrepreneurial Institute (MEI), 612 W. National Ave., and reviewed their notes. Finally their names were called. They walked confidently into a boardroom to pitch their business plan for a family-friendly nail salon to three judges.

The women’s salon was among a group of 10 businesses that received three months of free business training provided by MEI, in partnership with the Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative (CSNI) and LISC Milwaukee. Alvarez and Gonzalez were vying for a $3,000 grant to improve or start up their companies.

The Nail It! salon was one of three businesses awarded a grant. The others were Mr. Sebass, a Peruvian restaurant at 3427 W. National Ave., and the Boriké Bakery, which, like the salon, has yet to finalize a location. The grants will be used to fund business products and services such as materials or accounting, rather than being disbursed as cash awards.

“The grant will give me a push and help me provide marketing, buy business cards and open my first retail store,” said Jocelyn Santos, of Boriké Bakery.

Santos, who currently works out of her home, specializes in making authentic Puerto Rican pastries such as quesitos, pastelitos de guayaba and besitos de coco. She said that what will set her bakery apart from others is the authentic ingredients she uses to give her sweets that Puerto Rico taste.

Santos, along with the other owners received training in business development, legal issues, marketing and finance plans, among other skills. The owners also earned a Bilingual Entrepreneurial Certificate.

The companies ranged from construction and copy centers to cleaners and retail businesses.

The pilot training program, now in its second year, is part of an initiative to support and create diverse businesses to serve the needs of residents in Clarke Square and other south side neighborhoods.

CSNI, the main funder of the program, has been working to promote economic development as part of the Quality of Life plan for Clarke Square.

“We’re trying to create a platform that cultivates the entrepreneurial drive and spirit of our neighborhood’s residents and to spur increased economic development,” said Manni Marquez, director of the CSNI.

Nelson Soler, president and founder of MEI, created the program in 2006 to help fill entrepreneurship gaps in minority communities. Since then, he has provided business training to more than 700 people.

In addition to training new business owners and prospective owners, MEI also provides workshops and seminars in finance and real estate, marketing, blueprint reading and social marketing, among other services.

Soler urges new entrepreneurs to make sure to start a business they are passionate about.

“If you choose to start a business only for the money you usually fail,” Soler said.

Adelaida Alvarez and Vanessa Gonzalez prepare to present their business plan. (Photo by Edgar Mendez)

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