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Mentoring initiative aims to grow Hispanic businesses: Applications available soon for three-year program

September 11, 2006

Leaders of the growing Hispanic community have high ambitions for a new business-mentoring program with a modest price tag.

In October, the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce's Hispanic Business Council will debut its volunteer "Mentor/Protégé" initiative, which will annually match three promising Hispanic companies to local professionals that can spur their growth.

Whether the Hispanic firms need help with accounting, legal counsel, supply chains or sales, the Chamber will leverage its network of contacts.

And if the threecompanies-per-year pace is maintained or accelerated, Hispanic business leaders believe the program could have an enormous impact on the whole city.

"The end result of the compounding effect is huge," said Hispanic Business Council President Charles Garcia. "It's really no different than what BioCrossroads is doing for a special area of need."

Garcia, whose day job is CEO of local contractor GM Construction Inc., has been informally managing his own Hispanic business mentoring program for the better part of a decade.

But when the former Indianapolis Hispanic Chamber of Commerce merged last year with the city Chamber, he finally had the chance to roll it out properly.

"This is really the first ambitious program that's come out of that merger," said council member Tom O'Neil, president of locally based OfficeWorks LLC. "Without the support and resources of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber, it wouldn't have been possible."

The Hispanic Business Council will begin accepting applications next month. In January, it will narrow the field to three high-potential Hispanic firms. Those firms will pay $1,500 annually for three years' worth of advice about their business plans. Every month, the protégés will meet with the Hispanic Business Council for review. They'll meet even more frequently with individual mentors.

And when the protégés "graduate" from the program in three years, they'll be required to serve as mentors themselves. Garcia said participants will be selected based on signs of strong "cash, credit and character."

The Hispanic Business Council aims to reach its growth objective by integrating Hispanic businesses more fully into the larger Indianapolis business community.

Butler University Associate Professor of Finance Roberto Curci, who also owns the business consultancy LatinUS Group, said Hispanic companies need to reach beyond their own demographic.

Some Hispanic or Latino firms still sell exclusively to their own ethnic communities, Curci said, perhaps conducting business only in Spanish. That limits their potential markets.

"We need to identify [Hispanic companies] that have the potential and the passion for growth, and to integrate them into providing products and services for the general population," Curci said.

"Hispanic business owners know quite well the technical aspects of their businesses. What they sometimes need is the general business background, the relationships and the opportunity to prove themselves in front of major companies."

The Hispanic Business Council would also like to introduce its protégés to potential clients, O'Neill said.

The government offers lots of minority business opportunities. So do many major companies. But only for vendors who know how to work through proper channels. The mentoring program will assist with registration as minority business enterprises, opening the potential for government work.

"You see a lot of people with good ideas and a good work ethic, but they're just not knowledgeable enough to know how to go after large corporate buyers," he said. "Corporate buyers are reluctant to do business with someone they don't know."


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