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Promoting Latino entrepreneurship

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Carmen Bolivar is shown at her shop in Albuquerque\’s South Valley, where she sells dresses and decorations for weddings, coming-of-age \”quinceañera\” birthday celebrations and other events. Bolivar attends the weekly Spanish-language \”Taza\” meetings at the South Valley Economic Development Center. (Kevin Robinson-Avila/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Every Thursday morning, about 40 aspiring businesspeople meet to sip coffee, share ideas and discuss business opportunities at Albuquerque’s South Valley Economic Development Center.

But unlike networking events elsewhere in the city, this gathering features an all-Spanish format. It’s mostly Latino participants drinking the freshly brewed coffee as they meet and greet one another and exchange tips and insights about starting or growing new businesses.

The weekly gathering began last November, inspired by the networking event “1 Million Cups,” which takes place every Wednesday at the Fatpipe ABQ business incubator Downtown. Such gatherings are now held in more than 70 cities nationwide as part of the national 1 Million Cups program created by the Kauffman Foundation to bring urban-based businesspeople together to support one another.  The foundation, based in Kansas City, Mo., promotes education and entrepreneurship to improve individual economic independence and self-sufficiency.

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Albuquerque, however, was the first city to launch it in Spanish. And the South Valley event remains the only one of its kind in the country, with the exception of a 1 Million Cups affiliate that recently launched in Puerto Rico, said Jonathon Robinson, a Kauffman Foundation senior program officer.

“One of the critical components of 1 Million Cups is to make the format as broad and welcoming as possible,” Robinson said. “Language can be an obstacle for some people, so to offer it in another language is a good, innovative way to build more participation.”

The event — dubbed “Taza,” or “cup” in Spanish — has steadily gained steam since last year, said Sarah Henderson, a special projects manager who helped create it.

“It’s gone way better than we initially anticipated,” Henderson said. “About 40 people come every week, and about 80 percent of them are monolingual Spanish speakers.”

Bilingual organizers translate all presentations into Spanish and English, allowing for a multicultural audience to mingle together.

“We’re seeing a lot of participants starting to work together, to team up on things,” said Trish Abbin, South Valley representative for the New Mexico Small Business Development Center.

Carmen Bolivar, who sells dresses and decorations for weddings and other events, now contracts a local photographer she met at Taza to create picture displays for her South Valley shop, Abbin said. Some restaurant owners buy coffee from a local distributor they met at Taza.

Mary Ford, owner of DineNM.com — an online promotional service for local restaurants — said the event offers opportunities to drum up more business. “It’s great for networking and making new contacts,” she said.

Taza is part of a broader initiative to draw more aspiring Latino entrepreneurs into Albuquerque’s startup movement.

The Hispano Chamber of Commerce and local education and advocacy organization Encuentro now offer free business training in Spanish. Since last year, nearly 130 Latinos have graduated, course instructor Ross Griego said.

In addition, three graduates have joined Central New Mexico Community College’s IGNITE business accelerator, including two cosmetics retail firms and a commercial cleaning business.

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