For a number of U.S. immigrants, the “American Dream” includes starting a business one day. That's true for many in Latin American communities, and increasingly women are starting those businesses.
States like California, Texas and Florida all have strong markets for business-minded Latinas. But no state has seen more growth in its number of Latina-owned firms than Georgia, according to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Survey.
Maria Azuri teaches a class to Latin American women interested in starting their own businesses. One recent morning, she talks to her students about the importance of branding products. She asks what comes to mind when they hear the name of a well-known brand.
“When we think of Apple, what do we think of?” she asks.
“Technology,” someone says.
“Revolutionary,” another student answers.
“Very good,” Azuri says. “It’s cool, super-cool if you have an Apple product, right?”
Each student has a business plan. Here, they learn how to transform those plans into actual ventures, Azuri says.
“You can’t provide just a class because entrepreneurship is so much more than the class material,” she says. “So we really provide an ecosystem of support.”
That ecosystem includes networking opportunities, a closed Facebook group and weekly tutorial sessions.
Atlanta’s Latin American Association started offering the courses last spring. The program started with 40 students. Since March, about 170 women, like Rubby Porras, have completed the course.
Porras owns a small gift wrapping store, but wants to expand it so she can offer more products.
Another student, Rosa Degran, wants to sell handmade scarves and purses with her mother-in-law.
These women represent some of the many Latinas living in Georgia who have started their own businesses. In 2015, American Express commissioned a survey of women-owned small businesses in the U.S. It found that the number of Latina-owned firms in Georgia has grown by 364.9 percent since 1997.
Andrea Rivera, founder of H3 Media and winner of Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 2015 Small Business of the Year, says many Latin Americans looking to start businesses come to Atlanta.
“[Atlanta has a] different shading ... from Miami, New York, L.A. and Chicago, which are much larger markets and more established,” Rivera says. “Atlanta is a lot newer, and so people know that when they’re moving to the U.S. and looking for options.”
And it seems to be working out well for many of them. According to the 2015 women-owned businesses survey, revenues for Georgia’s Latina-owned businesses are also growing at a faster rate than other states.
The economy may also explain why women are going into business.
"Low-income Latina mothers have been affected by the construction industry recession,” says Carolina Ramon, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center at the University of Georgia. “Their husbands, brothers and fathers have lost their jobs. And they have to start doing something to support their families."
Ramon says running a small business provides flexibility for Latinas who are also stay-at-home moms.
At the end of their eight-week course at the Latin American Association, the women present their business plans.
Rubby Porras shows slides of the different ways she wraps gifts – some are in balloons, others are in decorated cans of all sizes.
Rosa Degran has brought a variety of scarves she made to show everyone.
Each student is asked to make a personal statement as part of her presentation. As Degran explains hers, she says she’s a positive person who believes she can achieve. She also wants to set an example for her children, so they will strive to be successful too.