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Startup strives to build pride in Chicano culture

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Michelle Sena and Emma Jones are using creatively decorated apparel and personal accessories to build pride in Chicano culture and self expression.

The two Albuquerque natives recently launched All Chola, which sells everything from T-shirts, tank tops and hats to bandannas, wallets and even bibs for babies stamped with Chicano slang. It’s a clothing and lifestyle brand aimed at uplifting Latino culture, community and identity.

“Expressions like ‘cholo’ or ‘chola’ reflect the Chicano subculture from our Latino barrios that over time was stigmatized, shamed and even made fun of,” Sena said. “Being ‘All Chola’ or ‘All Cholo’ is a way of reclaiming it to something positive that is part of our history, culture and our personal story.”

Albuquerquean Audrey Monique models an All Chola T-shirt. The firm is mentored by the Creative Startups accelerator. (Courtesy of All Chola)

The company is now selling its goods in a few New Mexico stores, online, and through “pop-up” sales at breweries and street markets. But Sena and Jones want to broaden their reach and grow, so they enrolled in the Creative Startups business accelerator to get the mentoring, coaching and professional assistance needed to build a thriving Albuquerque-based business.

All Chola is now one of nine companies participating in the accelerator’s latest cohort, which launched on Sept. 5. It’s the fourth group of creative startups to enter the eight-week program since the accelerator began operating in 2014.

Apart from All Chola, the new cohort includes two other Albuquerque startups. The rest are from other states, including three from Colorado, two from New York, and one from South Carolina.

All are building businesses that offer creative products and services with things like artistic apparel, online marketing platforms for artists, new apps to rapidly fact check news or improve travel experiences, and unique educational technology and programs.

The accelerator targets those types of companies to help existing and aspiring entrepreneurs in the creative fields learn new ways to build and grow their enterprises. The creative industries include everything from design, games, software and film to music, publishing and performance and visual arts.

The accelerator seeks startups that have progressed beyond the idea stage, such as building a customer base, developing prototypes for new products, or even generating revenue, said Creative Startups program manager Julia Youngs. It chose the new cohort from nearly 60 companies that applied from around the country.

“We look for creative, passionate individuals who really know their customers and market and who have shown that there are market opportunities out there they can pursue,” Youngs said.

This year’s group includes a number of companies focused on education and social issues.

The New York startup Grapple News, for example, is marketing software for online users to track original sources for news stories to rapidly distinguish fact-based information from “fake news,” Youngs said. Alt Ethos of Colorado is using 3-D animation, graphics and digital media to help clients create landscapes and design that inspire local communities, address social and environmental issues, and bring people together.

All Chola, meanwhile, wants to bust stereotypes. “We want to give a positive spin on cultural identity,” Sena said.

The other two Albuquerque startups, Calindo Creative and artAttendant, are building online services for artists, and for businesses that deal in art. Calindo is offering a full slate of services.

“It’s a one-stop shop for online marketing,” said Jamie Rushad Gros, one of three company co-founders. “Artists want to remain focused on their art and often don’t have time or money to market themselves. We can help them build their businesses with their own brands and websites and drive traffic to them.”

artAttendant has created an online platform to function as a marketplace for original artists, and for art collectors and sellers, to both show and sell their products. It includes a cloud-based archive system to store their work, said company co-founder Viviette Hunt.

The company wants to provide an affordable, easy-to-use platform.

“Our business model is designed for us to make money only when sales actually occur,” Hunt said. “That means users can make art visible online without spending any money.”

To date, Creative Startups has graduated 37 companies from its Albuquerque-based accelerator. But the program has expanded to other states and countries.

Last year, the Center for Creative Economy in Winston-Salem, N.C., licensed the curriculum and managed its first cohort of 10 companies. It just started a second 10-member cohort in August.

Private equity firm Messilah ventures licensed the program early this year. Its first cohort for Mideast companies will start in October.

The Maryland Institute College of Art also licensed it with plans for a first cohort in November. And the government-run Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Center, together with the local nonprofit Thiscene, just signed a license agreement this month. Their first cohort is targeted for January in Malaysia.

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