Latino businesses are on the rise. Taco Tuesdays are a thing and Goya not only has a shelf, but an entire aisle at most local supermarkets. Latino entrepreneurs own approximately 12% of all small businesses in the U.S. (~3.3 million businesses in 2012 according to the Census Bureau).
So, to celebrate our own, we present you with some of the most successful U.S. Latino entrepreneurs today. Guess what? Some started their empires with as little as $300 or a single store! Latinos start businesses at a higher rate than the average American…what is your next big business idea?
Beto Pérez, Zumba Fitness
This Colombian-born fitness instructor hit the jackpot when he blended Latin dances like merengue and cumbia with aerobic techniques. The result was Zumba Fitness, which has everyone- from children to retirees- dancing and getting fit to custom songs from artists like Pitbull and Wyclef Jean. According to Zumba’s website, there are 15 million students in 180 countries, at over 200,000 locations. Let us not forget the Zumba Wear athletic gear, mobile apps, video games and most recently a nutrition shake. The company was valued at $500 million in 2012. Not bad for a kid from Cali who couldn’t afford to take dance classes.
Marcelo Claure, BrightStar
Bolivian businessman Marcelo Claure may have started his career owning a single cell phone store in Massachusetts, but after 20 years he runs a telecomm empire with such skill it catapulted him to the coveted role as CEO of Sprint. Claure moved from Massachusetts to Miami and founded BrightStar in 1997, as a mobile distribution and service company focusing on Latin America. His business took off like wildfire. Nowadays it “delivers products and services to more than 90,000 customers in 125 countries on six continents.” BrightStar has become a global giant with $10 billion in revenue in 2013. Claure has spread his wealth and business knowledge to other pursuits including owning a Bolivian soccer team and sitting on the board of FIFA.
Nina Vaca, Pinnacle Group
The Ecuadorian immigrant and mother of four started her IT and staffing services firm (think business software, payroll services) Pinnacle Group, in 1996 with just $300. Following the example of her entrepreneurial parents, Vaca attended Texas State University while helping her family after her father’s death. The Dallas-based company has grown over the past 20 years despite the economic downturns of 9/11 and the 2008 recession. In fact, it expanded throughout North America into Canada. Vaca’s company made $2.1 billion in revenue in 2015. Her expertise and influence is felt worldwide as she serves as the Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.
Matias De Tezanos, People Fund
At 10 companies and counting, Matias De Tezanos a former dental student, is undoubtedly a successful digital and social entrepreneur. His first hand at merging tech and business came in 2000 when he launched Hoteles.com, the Spanish language counterpart of hotel reservation websites. It was so popular Expedia bought the company in 2002. Since then he has gotten his feet wet in various sectors: he started the largest Spanish language digital ad network (ClickDiario.com), an online healthcare site (Healthcare.com), auto insurance marketing network (Autoweb.com) and pre-paid solar energy company in South Africa and Guatemala (Kingo). Currently de Tezanos puts his efforts into the People Fund, a company dedicated to grow young technology companies with infrastructure and development services.
Maria Contreras-Sweet, ProAmerica Bank
Embracing both private business and public service, Maria Contreras- Sweet has made a name for herself as an entrepreneur and public servant. The Mexico native’s first company was Sweet-Contreras Enterprises, a market research firm that included high profile clients such as Coca-Cola Bottling Company and The Walt Disney Company. She went on to form a private equity company Fortius Holdings which focused on funding Latino and women-owned businesses. In 2006 she founded ProAmerica Bank, Los Angeles’s only commercial bank that focused on small and mid-sized businesses that has a market value of $4.5 million. After serving as California’s Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, as well as being the founding director of the California Endowment, Contreras-Sweet was chosen to lead the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2014.