The newly formed Hispanic Network of Entrepreneurs hopes to create more of its own kind in Silicon Valley.
Hispanic entrepreneurs now have an influential friend in the highly competitive and lucrative world known as Silicon Valley.
The Hispanic Network of Entrepreneurs (Hispanic-Net), formed earlier this year, is the brainchild of three high-level Hispanic executives, all entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley veterans who have blazed trails in the high-tech, Internet, and software industries. They hope to tap the collective wisdom of Hispanic executives throughout Silicon Valley to ease the way for a new generation of Hispanic entrepreneurs entering the field.
“We’re not geared toward finding jobs for people. We’re geared toward putting Hispanics in the mainstream of the high-tech business world,” says Richard L. Leza, president of Hispanic-Net and president and chief executive officer of AI Research Corp., a Palo Alto, California, venture capital firm.
“We’re forming an organization of highly experienced, highly qualified Hispanics involved in the high-tech, Internet, and software industry. There are a lot of Hispanics in the mom-and-pop kind of stores, but that’s not where the high growth is.”
High-growth companies are abundant in Silicon Valley, an entrepreneurial hotbed with a highly educated, culturally diverse, and, in many cases, outrageously wealthy populace that seems to take pleasure in helping businesses succeed.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy for an entrepreneur to turn an idea into a successful product, however. Competition is fierce, says Reynaldo Gil, chairman and chief technology officer for WorldChain Inc., a software company based in Fremont, California. He says that getting a foot in the door has more to do with who you know than what you know.
“Trying to break into the venture capital world is tough unless you have connections,” he says. “Trying to get WorldChain funded was tough. I had to overcome a lot of barriers.
“What we lack in the Hispanic high-tech industry is a network for business development and getting venture capital financing, but also recruiting and exchanging ideas and nurturing entrepreneurship. Our goal is to nurture the high-tech Hispanic entrepreneurial community,” he says. “We believe we can foster success by mentoring and using our network to push people up the ladder.”
That also happens to be the governing principle of the Silicon Valley Project, which was organized two years ago by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Similarly geared toward increasing minority participation in the digital economy, that group held its second annual conference in San Jose, California, in April (see “Working to Close the Digital Divide,” Market Watch, June).
Mr. Leza points out that while Hispanic-Net and the Silicon Valley Project share ideals, they differ in two fundamental ways. Hispanic-Net has a business orientation, as opposed to a political one, and its focus is helping entrepreneurs make business deals rather than securing jobs and increasing contracts for minority-owned firms, he says.
According to Mr. Leza, Hispanic participation in venture capital firms has changed little since he graduated from college in 1978. At that time, almost all general partners in the upper-tier venture capital firms were Anglo males. Now, more than 20 years later, Anglo women account for 15 percent of such partners, Asians 5 percent, African Americans 1 percent, and – regrettably, to Mr. Leza and others – Hispanics just one-half of 1 percent, according a widely quoted San Francisco Chronicle survey.
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