As President Trump sends another 5,000 troops to the Southern border to help fend off a caravan of asylum seekers, you might think being Latino in America would be something of a handicap. But you'd be wrong.

"I use the fact that I'm Brazilian, that I'm [Latina] to my benefit," says  Junea Rocha, co-founder and CEO of Brazi Bites, a line of Brazilian cheese-bread snacks based in Portland, Oregon, and No. 219 on the Inc. 5000. For her, being a Latina woman gives her the ability to stand out from a sea of white males--a common sight when she goes to sales meetings--and has allowed her to grow her company's annual revenue from over half a million dollars in 2014 to more than $12.9 million last year. "Here I show up with all my energy and excitement--and on top of that, I have [sales] data to back me up," she adds. "That has benefited me, because it's different."

Rocha is just one of a handful of founders on this year's Inc. 5000--a tally of the fastest-growing private companies in America--who describe being Hispanic or Latino as an asset for business. Most of them, though, don't subscribe to labels.

Beyond Labels

"Although I embrace my heritage tremendously--and I embrace it in hiring people and being in that community--I don't necessarily go out and say 'I'm a Hispanic leader,'" says Joe Fernandez, the Cuban American co-founder and CEO of TBX Employee Benefits, a software platform that helps companies manage enrollment and employee benefits. "I just simply say, 'I'm a leader.' It really shouldn't be any different."

Indeed, says Ramiro Cavazos the CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: "We're just as American as everyone else... We don't think about ourselves as different from other businesses," he says.

Even so, business is booming among some members of this community--regardless of how they feel about labels. Latino entrepreneurs in this year's Inc. 5000 have founded businesses that collectively made over $5.6 billion in revenue in 2017. Over the past three years, they have also created more than 13,500 jobs. 

And while Fernandez might not readily link his success with his heritage, you'd be hard-pressed to not see the connection. His Dallas-based company, which landed at No. 348 on this year's list, booking more than $4.6 million in revenue last year, up 1,429 percent from $302,794 in 2014, in part, by translating his company's services to the Hispanic audience.

"One of the things that we wanted to capitalize--that not a lot of people in our space had done until we came along--was to provide an employee interface in both English and Spanish," says Fernandez, noting that his 30-person team includes a "fair share" of Hispanic and other minorities to make sure the software provides a quality experience.

Common Bonds

Hispanic-owned businesses on the Inc. 5000 are in the minority among minorities. Amid this year's honorees, annual 2017 revenue started at more than $2 million--a rarified benchmark. Although Latinos start up businesses at a faster rate than any other ethnicity in the U.S., only about 2 percent scale enough to reach $1 million in annual revenue. The U.S. Census Bureau uses the terms Hispanic and Latino to track data from people who were either born in or whose lineage comes from a country in Latin America or where the primary language is Spanish, like Spain.

What's more, that road to success is almost guaranteed to be bumpy. Minority founders are more likely to experience hardships than non-minority entrepreneurs, says Bianca Caban, director of partnership and business at Republic, a New York City-based crowd-investing platform for startups, with a focus on diversity. Rather than see it as a disadvantage, however, Caban argues that life experience helps these entrepreneurs thrive in business. It also lets them see opportunities that others might miss, she adds. "You're able to call upon that resourcefulness that you had to have growing up, because maybe you didn't come from means."

That's just what Michael Cordova did. The founder and CEO of Gold Financial Group, a precious-metal dealer based in Sherman Oaks, California, and No. 409 on the Inc. 5000, grew up as a farmer working in the fields of Washington State. He was the first member of his family to go to college, because he didn't want to "work that hard" for the rest of his life. After using his life savings to launch his company in 2013, Gold Financial Group has grown its revenue from $160,100 in 2014 to more than $2.1 million in 2017. Running a business "keeps me on my feet," Cordova says. "I haven't had a vacation in three years," he adds.

Similarly, Peter Maldonado--the co-founder and CEO of Naples, Florida-based dry meat snacks maker Chomps, No. 124 on the Inc. 5000--says working hard is in his DNA. He explains how his grandmother wound up taking three jobs to support her six kids--among them Maldonado's father--after immigrating to the U.S. from Colombia and becoming a widow shortly thereafter. She spoke only a small amount of English, but that didn't deter her, Maldonado says. "She did it all herself," he adds. As for his own strides, his company, which caught on with Crossfit communities after launching in 2012, grew to more than $8.7 million in 2017 revenue, up from $270,482 in 2014. 

Whether working hard is a defense against anti-immigrant attitudes or just a matter of DNA, James Gutierrez, would suggest it's neither. Instead, the founder and CEO of Insikt, a San Francisco, California-based lending startup that booked $25 million in 2017 revenue, and is No. 397 on the 2018 list, says it all boils down to tenacity. "We have ganas [Spanish word for drive]. We don't stop, we persevere."

Published on: Oct 30, 2018