News Column

Program Helps Entrepreneurs Grow

September 24, 2013


Rick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Rick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Edgar Sotelo owns a packaging business in the Dallas area, but he was looking for ways to take the company to the next level.

Mr. Sotelo needed help establishing an HR department as well as improving his accounting skills. He considered getting an MBA, but the time and financial commitment didn't work with running the 4-year-old promotional and custom packaging business.

Then Mr. Sotelo learned about a program through the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GDHCC) for small businesses, an intensive seven-month program that teaches business owners everything from sales and marketing to finance. And the results have been nothing short of miraculous, Mr. Sotelo said.

"We are talking about doubling our business within six months," he said. "To me, that's huge. I don't think we would have been able to get there without the class."

The Executive Entrepreneur Program, which the GDHCC launched last year with the nonprofit Interise and is based on the award-winning "StreetWise MBA" curriculum. To participate in the program, the business had to be at least 3 years old, have at least $250,000 in annual revenue and one or more employees.

The entrepreneurs met every other week for three-hour classes, and in between classes they met in smaller groups to discuss business issues and homework with a CEO or high-level executive who served as a mentor. The class subjects included business development strategies, human resources, access to capital, government contracts, marketing and sales, financial management, and strategic planning.

By the time the program was completed, each entrepreneur had to complete a three-year growth plan outlining specific goals and how to reach them.

So far the results have been encouraging for the 13 small-business owners who have graduated. Already, 70 percent of the entrepreneurs reported an increase in revenue and two-thirds have added positions since they graduated in April, said Rick Ortiz, president and CEO of the GDHCC.

Just as important, the minority-owned businesses have secured $6.25 million in government contracts and another $1.2 million in institution contracts, according to a survey done by the chamber. The GDHCC will track the results for three years.

"We're not going to guarantee they're going to get a contract, but they should feel comfortable that after going through (this) program that at least they'll be considered," Mr. Ortiz said.

The GDHCC decided to start the Executive Entrepreneur Program a couple of years ago when it became clear many of its members needed help growing their small businesses. The chamber had programs aimed at startups and the self-employed but not specifically for small-business owners.

"There was an assumption that once they've been in business for a while, they had already passed those hurdles," Mr. Ortiz said. "However, a lot of times that doesn't necessarily mean you know how to operate the business once you get to a certain level."

Citi partnered with the GDHCC for the inaugural program, helping to offset much of the $3,500 tuition and material fees per business.

Partnering with the Executive Entrepreneur Program is a natural for companies such as Citi and executives who are looking to build relationships in the minority business community.

"A lot of our corporate partners want to do business with Hispanic-owned businesses," Mr. Ortiz said. "They are partners with the chamber because they want access to those businesses, whether it's through targeting them as a market or doing business with them through their supplier diversity division initiative."

The entrepreneur program, Mr. Ortiz said, helps put those small-business owners in a better position to win contracts from larger companies.

Mr. Sotelo of Southwest Packaging agrees with Mr. Ortiz's assessment of the program. He would encourage other chambers to launch similar entrepreneur programs and for small-business owners to participate.

"It expands your network tremendously," Mr. Sotelo said. "You learn how to talk to the right person, whether it's at the bank or a company. You know what to expect and how do it."

For Mr. Sotelo, the results are in the bottom line and so far he's a fan of the entrepreneur program.

"It's a very intense course, but you get out of it what you put into it," he said. "It's a great tool for businesses that want to get to the next level."

For more stories on small businesses and entrepreneurs, please see HispanicBusiness' Entrepreneur Channel

Source: (c) 2013. All rights reserved.

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