Entrepreneurship is intrinsic to the fabric of Latino culture in the U.S.
To mark National Hispanic Heritage Month, "Good Morning America" is spotlighting the vibrant community of Latina entrepreneurs and business owners, from companies big and small, who make up the fabric of our country.
Latino-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. small business ecosystem, according to Stanford University's 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship report, and women are driving much of that growth, representing 40% of all Latino business owners.
Latino-owned businesses have grown 34% in the last decade compared to just 1% for all other small businesses, the report found. Latinos also have the highest rate of entrepreneurship when compared to other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S., starting more businesses and having higher rates of intergenerational mobility than other groups, according to a 2021 report by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
But across the board, barriers and gaps still exist for Latino-owned businesses when it comes to securing financing and scaling their business. And twice as many women-led companies closed due to the pandemic as those run by men.
These Latina entrepreneurs and small business owners -- across different fields and at different stages of their careers -- are all leaders who highlight the importance of representation and the embodiment of the "American Dream," pursuing their goals against the odds.
Meet eight Latina entrepreneurs who are pushing boundaries and putting representation front and center for a new generation.
Woman launches sugar-free Mexican chamoy line after dad's diabetes diagnosis
Annie Leal said she bonded with her father over a shared sweet tooth. So when her dad was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and the two couldn’t share their favorite Mexican sauces and candies, Leal decided to take things into her own hands.
She launched I Love Chamoy, a company that makes sugar- and carb-free chamoy -- a Mexican sauce made of pickled fruits and seasoned with chili powder for spice -- so her father could still enjoy his favorite sweets, without the added sugar.
"It really started as me just wanting to help my dad with his cravings. And in the process, I discovered there were a lot of people in our similar situations. So we've been able to create a product and a company that serves [the Hispanic] community," said Leal.
Leal said she loves getting messages from people about her chamoy, especially if they’ve never had it before.
"It's a very traditional Mexican snack, and is often made with a lot of sugar and a lot of sodium, which is delicious, but it's not something everybody can eat," said Leal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Type 2 diabetes disproportionately affects Hispanic and Latino populations over non-Hispanic people.
Leal said bringing healthier alternatives to Hispanic food is what drives her business.
"I've always thought representation is so incredibly important. It's so incredible to tell our stories, to see ourselves represented in media -- but also when we're walking down the grocery aisle," said Leal. "Just because we have to change certain things about our diet, it doesn't mean that we cannot continue to celebrate the flavors of our culture."
I Love Chamoy ships across the United States and has plans to launch in select grocery stores soon. Leal, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, but now lives in McAllen, Texas, said that her business has expanded quickly because of social media. She’s excited to bring more flavors to more pantries, including a new line of low-sugar Mexican candy.
"Through this feedback loop with our customers, we've been able to identify other areas of authentic flavors and authentic snacks from our culture that people have missed or are not able to enjoy," she said. "So I'm happy to say that we're venturing into exploring those and hopefully creating more products for our community."
Hause of Curls founder wants to change the narrative on the definition of beauty
Growing up, Sherly Tavarez thought she had "bad hair."
At just 3 years old, Tavarez moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic with her single mom and two older brothers.
Tavarez told "GMA" that her mom started relaxing her natural hair when Tavarez was 6 years old.
"She didn’t really know how to deal with my hair because she would always blow dry her [own] hair ever since she was little," she said. "It’s all she ever knew."
Because of this, Tavarez said that she never really knew what her natural hair looked like.
"I knew that for me to feel beautiful, or to go to a special occasion … I had to blow dry my hair. It was not even an option to let my natural hair out," she said.
When she was 23, Tavarez’s friend, who was also Dominican with curly hair, persuaded Tavarez to style her hair naturally. After some time adjusting, Tavarez said she finally started feeling more like herself.
"I felt really beautiful," she said. "And I felt like the natural hair community was really building and growing."
Tavarez eventually channeled that newfound confidence and in 2018 launched Hause of Curls, a "fashion brand influenced by the Latinx and mixed-race cultures," according to its website. The company sells products with "the new age woman in mind, who [has] embarked on their natural hair journey."
Her new company took the negative words often associated with natural hair and turned them into "empowerment statements" on t-shirts, including, "Please don’t touch my hair," and "Pelo malo where?" ("Pelo malo" means "bad hair" in Spanish and has historically been directed at hair that is naturally curly or textured.)
"I really want to make the curly girls’ life fun and easy," Tavarez said of the brand’s mission.
The company took off, fulfilling orders from customers around the world and expanding into other products, including bodysuits, bike shorts, swimsuits, bags and accessories.
Tavarez said that her main goal -- aside from providing fun, smart clothing and accessories for curly haired women -- is to inspire women to be themselves and to teach those same ideals to a younger audience. She says she loves hearing that her brand has empowered others to go on their own natural hair journeys.
"If I had a brand like this and representation like this to look up to when I was growing up, I would’ve felt much differently about myself and my hair," she said.
Things finally came full circle for Tavarez in 2019, when she went home to visit her mom -- and styled her hair naturally. To this day, she said, her mom is still "rocking her natural hair" as well.
Beautyblender CEO builds multi-million dollar beauty business
Beautyblender founder and CEO Rea Ann Silva didn’t know 20 years ago when she created the egg-shaped makeup sponge that it would become one of the most coveted makeup tools on the market.
Before becoming the highly acclaimed business owner that she is today, Silva was a makeup artist. She came up with the idea for the Beautyblender while leading makeup direction for the 2000-2008 hit comedy series "Girlfriends."
"Girlfriends" was one of the first shows Silva had worked on that was shot and broadcast in high definition, which was different from traditional film and caused the makeup she generally applied to actors to show up differently on screen. The Beautyblender was her solution.
"It was a tool that allowed me to create very natural but corrective makeup looks, without looking like you were wearing makeup," she said.
Born in Southern California, Silva identifies as Latinx, as her mother was Mexican and Native American and her father was Portuguese and Irish. However, the Mexican side of her family was the only side she really knew growing up and served as her early introduction to what beauty looked like within her culture, which wasn’t heavily represented in mainstream media at the time.
"I had beautiful aunts, my mother, my cousins, my grandmother, you know, all of the Mexican women in my family were the women that I identified with because we looked like each other."
The early beauty influences found within her own family inspired her to become a makeup artist. She was mainly asked to work with women of color in her early years, which she enjoyed but also found "strange," as she was perfectly qualified to work on women of all different skin tones. Still, she didn’t let that slow her down.
"You never know where your blessings come from," she said. "I was really making a good name for myself."
Fast forward to the present day, and Silva's Beautyblender company boasts retail sales between $150 and 200 million annually. She said that she hopes that her trials and success are inspiring to women of color.
"There are no boundaries for us in what we can do, but speaking specifically to my Latinx women, it's the same message, to not allow people to define who you are," she said.
Paying it forward is also important to Silva, who consistently supports other entrepreneurial women through her business as well as through charities that support Latina women.
Her advice for future Latinx beauty-preneurs? "Passion, consistency, and focus are the three big things that you need to keep in your mind …even when life gets chaotic," she said.
'Dinero Diva' aims to close the racial wealth gap
Five years ago, Ramona Ortega, or "Dinero Diva" as she’s known on social media, launched My Money My Future in 2017 to teach financial literacy to other women and Latinas like her -- and in the process, work to close the racial wealth gap.
"My Money My Future started because I really wanted to teach people and share knowledge that I had learned on Wall Street," Ortega, a former corporate attorney, told "Good Morning America."
"There wasn't any company in the fintech space, talking about personal finance, in the context of, one, closing the racial wealth gap, and two, [geared toward] communities of color."
My Money My Future started as a newsletter and has since evolved into an educational platform. The company’s new Thrive Campaign, which launched this year in partnership with the nonprofit Black & Brown Founders, and with support from the Nasdaq Foundation, aims to educate 1 million Black and Latino investors through community organizations, universities and various companies.
"The numbers are clear. The racial wealth gap is growing. It is more important than ever to take meaningful action and move the needle," Ortega states on the campaign’s website. "The Thrive campaign is designed to empower Black and Latino communities to build wealth with actionable tools and resources."
According to a 2021 analysis from the Federal Reserve Board, Latino and Black families earn on average half of what White families make and only 15% to 20% of them hold the same amount of net wealth as their White counterparts.
In addition to My Money My Future, Ortega is also the founder of a new venture, WealthBuild.ai, a financial chatbot which channels artificial intelligence to promote wealth building.
Ortega said she fell into entrepreneurship because she wanted to solve a problem. Now, she’s excited to help others along their own entrepreneurship journey by making financial education more accessible.
For others looking to start their own businesses, Ortega said, "My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is that you need to be very laser-focused on the problem, and then the market and the solution. … The other thing that's important is to know that there will be failures along the way and you have to see them as lessons learned."
The Plant Chica wants to bring 'magic of plants' to her community
Sandra Mejia grew her side hustle into a business that blossomed over the pandemic, but she credits her success to her own roots.
Mejia’s family, staff and community are at the core of her business, The Plant Chica, a community greenhouse in Jefferson Park, Los Angeles, that specializes in locally-sourced plants not typically found in stores.
"[The Plant Chica] is specifically located in the same neighborhood I grew up in, which is why this space is so important to me … This neighborhood was pretty much a green desert," she told "Good Morning America."
"The Plant Chica is a greenhouse, but we're so much more than that. We are a community space."
In order to widen plant accessibility, The Plant Chica hosts "Adopt-a-Plant" events nearly every month. The business aims to give out nearly 1,500 plants to South Los Angeles community members.
Mejia and her husband co-founded The Plant Chica in 2018, but her connection to plants started long before then. Her parents, who immigrated from El Salvador in the ‘80s, believed that flowers and plants could be a reminder of home in a new country.
"In El Salvador, there's a ton of plants that are very, very tropical. So I think, for the most part, a lot of people try to recreate what they had in the area [that they came from]," she said.
Mejia said that she and her two siblings would help their mother choose flowers and plants for the church where their father worked as a pastor.
"I love plants because of my mom. So I call her the ‘OG Plant Chica,’ " she said.
Mejia added that the hard work it takes to start a business was instilled in her and her husband, who is also first-generation Ethiopian, because of what their parents had to go through to make a life in the U.S.
"Representation is everything and I'm so happy that I get to represent our culture and especially immigrants," she said. "We can do anything."
Now, she sources many of her plants from the very same places her mother would take her as a child and has expanded the business to ship those plants across the country. Mejia said her favorite plant is a Hoya, because they are sun-loving, resilient and can produce flowers in very good conditions.
"So I feel like that's kind of like me, I love the sun. I feel like I'm resilient," she said. "And I like to bloom and thrive in situations where I know that I'm happy."
Dollmaker creates handmade dolls inspired by Latin culture
When Yamile Meza made her first doll seven years ago, she did not know that her talent would lead to a thriving handcrafted doll-making business that celebrates her Mexican heritage, and her mother as well.
Meza told "Good Morning America" that she always wanted to be self-employed, and as a graphic designer, she was always driven by a sense of creativity and her love for her culture, sentiments that were nurtured at an early age by her mother, who died when Meza was only 16 years old.
"I attribute my craftiness to [my mother], the use of materials and making something out of a pile of things that you wouldn't imagine could be made," Meza said.
Meza decided to make her first doll for a client as part of a marketing project. It took her three days, and when she delivered the doll, the client expressed disbelief that Meza had made it herself and told Meza that her daughters would love it.
At the time, Meza thought the dolls would "make wonderful gifts," so she began buying materials and making dolls to give to friends and family. But soon she realized that people were interested in buying her dolls and were even asking for custom orders for holidays like Christmas and Halloween, as well as special occasions such as graduations and baby showers.
Meza said that, as a child, she never saw herself represented in dolls. Now she makes special, customized dolls for children across the U.S. and beyond through her company, Alfie Doll.
"A child needs to see themselves in what they're holding," she said.
Meza said that she strives to celebrate her Mexican American heritage through the dolls as well -- from Catrina dolls (or skeleton dolls with traditional "sugar skull" faces) to celebrate Día de los Muertos, to Frida Kahlo dolls and Mexican-themed mermaids, a fascination of hers as a child.
Meza said that Alfie Doll is "a celebration of both my parents," but especially her mother.
"I remember that she was just so proud of her roots," Meza said. "When I get to make those dolls, those Mexican dolls, I’m celebrating her in a way."
Afro-Latina designer champions queer voices in fashion, community
The future of inclusive and sustainable fashion is rooted in Miami, Florida.
Kalani + Wolf founder Joanis Duran has been unapologetically cutting through inequalities facing the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, immigrant and Afro-Latinx communities since launching the clothing company in 2017.
Duran is originally from the neighborhood Hatillo San Lorenzo in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, but grew up in South Florida.
To empower diverse entrepreneurs, Duran is developing the only queer and Afro-Latina-owned retail space in Miami designated for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and allied brands to flourish alongside her own company, which also promotes sustainability and eco-friendly practices.
"After extensive research, we found that local retailers lacked authenticity, values, and knowledge of our communities’ needs," Duran wrote on a crowdfunding site for the space, which will also provide sustainable community resources and wellness opportunities.
"These retailers had zero desire to provide sustainable curated services to our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ families. That’s why our mission is to share our space with authentic BIPOC and Queer designers who can substantially contribute to our movement and educate retailers who aren’t on our same wavelength, yet."
Through those crowdfunding efforts and grants, Duran and her team have already raised $9,165 dollars out of their overall $25,000-dollar goal.
"At the end of the day, it takes a village to make change," she told "Good Morning America." "We don’t sit back and wait for others outside of the community to make change. No, we’re 100% unapologetic."
Duran is also using her clothing company to empower her diverse customer base. The Kalani + Wolf mantra, "never apologizing, never conforming," encourages consumers to fall in love with authenticity. Each handmade creation is a unique and bold statement.
Her latest release pays homage to her grandmother, "Mama Negrita." The tagline "Negra y Bendecida," printed on new crewnecks and streetwear, draws inspiration from features like the vibrant copper skin and curls she proudly inherited from her grandmother.
"That makes me so proud," she said. "At the end of the day it’s a blessing to have our skin color. You try to use our skin color against us, it’s not going to happen."
Sisters supercharge parents' quinceañera dress shop using TikTok
Sister Gipsy and Gelssy Rodriquez of Anaheim, California, have been around their parents’ quinceañera dress shop, Moda2000, for as long as they can remember.
Gelssy Rodriguez, 23, recalled helping out around the store from as early as 8 years old, ringing up customers and even submitting a "sales report" to her parents at the end of the day.
Gina Rodriguez and her husband Jorge originally founded Moda2000 as a women's casual clothing boutique in 1990 after immigrating to the U.S. from Guerrero, Mexico. The shop shifted towards quinceañera fashion 15 years ago, when Gina Rodriguez wanted to make the process of shopping for a quince dress more personal. In Latino culture, a quinceañera is the celebration of a girl's 15th birthday, which traditionally marks the transition from girlhood to womanhood.
Rebranding the store posed a financial risk for the Rodriquez family, as they essentially needed to rebuild Moda2000’s inventory and clientele from scratch. In 2015, they said they sold their home and moved into the store, where they lived for three years.
The sisters also ended up taking on more responsibility, including building out Moda2000’s social media presence.
They taught themselves about social media strategy by "trial and error," Gipsy Rodriguez said, posting clips of their gowns first to YouTube and Instagram, and eventually to TikTok.
"We kind of just posted a video not knowing what was going to happen," Gipsy Rodriguez said. "TikTok was new at the time ... and we posted and we went to dinner that night and our phones were just blowing up, like buzzing and buzzing."
Their first TikTok -- which now has 1.4 million likes -- drove 10,000 followers to their newly-created account overnight, they said.
Currently, the store boasts more than 3.3 million followers on TikTok, 245,000 followers on Instagram, and even has its own YouTube show, "Quince Empire."
Going viral changed the business in ways the Rodriguez family could never have imagined, and in 2018, the sisters, who now serve as the brand’s creative director and store’s operations director, were able to surprise their family with an apartment and help them move out of the store.
Today, quinceañeras -- the term for a girl celebrating a quince -- travel from all over to be fitted in one of Moda2000's designs, they said. For the whole family, Moda2000's growth has felt representative of the "American Dream."
"My parents literally started with $0 from anybody else, and to this day, we haven't taken any outside capital or anything like that," Gelssy Rodriguez said. "And not only did they make such a successful business, but they also made an impact within the industry that we are in and we've become industry leaders."
Above all else, she said, their success reinforces a positive message about Latino-owned businesses.
"That's something that we're very proud of," she said.
Reporting, Production and Editorial by ABC News' Briana Alvarado, Caterina Andreano, Faith Bernstein, Sabina Ghebremedhin, Caroline Kucera, Will Linendoll, Joel Lyons, Asher May-Corsini, Shannon Mclellan, Claire Peltier, Kendall Ross, Lauren Sher, Melanie Schmitz, Nidhi Singh, Elisa Tang, Haley Yamada, Jacqueline Laurean Yates, Yi-Jin Yu, Deena Zaru.
Design and Graphics by Luis Yordan, Suzanne Dacunto, Dani Grandison, Donald Pearsall, Katrina Stapleton and Andrew Van Wickler.