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ABQ first with Spanish-language 1 Million Cups


Alma Martinez and Luis Angel Mendez talk about their South Valley restaurant, Ninas Foods, which offers diverse Mexican dishes. They spoke at a 1 Million Cups networking event on Wednesday. (PHOTO BY KEVIN ROBINSON-AVILA)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque broke new ground Wednesday morning by organizing a “1 Million Cups” networking event for entrepreneurs in Spanish at the South Valley Economic Development Center.

The event – created by the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation to bring aspiring and veteran businesspeople together in urban areas to discuss local startup initiatives, share ideas and support one another – is currently held on a weekly basis in 60 cities nationwide. Albuquerque became the 50th city last August to organize the weekly gathering for local entrepreneurs at the FatPipe ABQ startup incubator Downtown.

But the Wednesday gathering was the first time any city has done it in Spanish with Latino entrepreneurs discussing their business endeavors, said Jonathan Robinson, a Kauffman representative who attended the South Valley event.

“This is the first-ever Spanish-language 1 Million Cups,” Robinson told participants through a translator. “Many other cities already heard that Albuquerque was going to do this and now they want to replicate it, making Albuquerque a leader in the 1 Million Cups community nationwide.”

Mayor Richard Berry said reaching out to Latino entrepreneurs in Spanish is important, because it reflects who we are as a community.

“We’re proud of our diversity and our cultural gems,” Berry said. “This is about showing that you can succeed regardless of your background, culture or language.”

About 50 people attended the event, where two Latino-owned businesses presented what they are doing and discussed some of the challenges they face. That included one entrepreneur, Rafael Alvarez, who launched Pop Fizz in the South Valley with his two sons as an all-natural maker of Mexican refreshments, such as soda floats and Mexican-style fruit popsicles known as paletas.

A Mexican couple, Alma Martinez and Luis Angel Mendez, also spoke about their South Valley food restaurant, Nina’s Foods, which offers diverse Mexican dishes that reflect southern Mexico cuisine, such as quesadillas with mushrooms and meats.

“Our mission is for people to leave our restaurant with a great taste in their mouth,” Martinez told event participants. “Rather than just eat something at McDonalds, we want people to try something new that they don’t know and wouldn’t normally eat.”

The goal of 1 Million Cups is for entrepreneurs to share challenges they face in building businesses, allowing participants to learn from one another while offering event presenters helpful feedback and support to resolve issues.

The South Valley event was no exception.

Alvarez, for example, said customer demand for Pop Fizz products has grown so fast that he and his sons need to markedly expand their production capacity, but they lack funds to do it. In response, some event participants offered to help explore financing options.

Martinez and Mendez, meanwhile, said they need to expand their customer base beyond other Mexican immigrants. Participants offered suggestions about broadening their promotion, while Mayor Berry said he and other city officials would take up the challenge of trying something new by having lunch at Nina’s Wednesday afternoon.

The 1 Million Cups gathering is part of a week-long series of events that began in Albuquerque last Saturday to offer workshops, networking opportunities, presentations and more for entrepreneurs and business professionals to learn, share, and celebrate a newfound groundswell of local startup activity. It’s part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, with similar events taking place in cities throughout the U.S. and other countries.