EVERETT — Last year, Suly Altamirano took a road trip with Patty Zavala to explore the arts and crafts of Mexico. Each of the country’s 32 states are known for unique handicrafts. Puebla is famous for hand-embroidered items, from brightly-patterned blouses to table runners. “Guerrero is renowned for its silver jewelry,” Zavala said.
By the time Altamirano, a Mountlake Terrace resident, and Zavala, who lives in Lynnwood, arrived home, they’d resolved to start a business selling handcrafted Mexican jewelry and clothing.
They named their e-commerce company Queen De Mi Corazon, which means “queen of my heart,” a reminder for women to cherish themselves, Zavala said.
Now they had to do a deep dive into the business part of business — from bookkeeping basics to marketing, pricing and licensing.
On a friend’s advice, Altamirano enrolled in a virtual business-basics course offered by Ventures, a King County-based nonprofit.
Ventures offers business training, loans and coaching for women, immigrants, people of color and low-income entrepreneurs seeking to start or enhance a business, said Beto Yarce, the group’s executive director. It’s also a certified Small Business Administration lender, which allows it to extend micro loans of $1,000 to $5,000 to eligible businesses and larger loans from $5,000 to $35,000 to established firms.
“We want to offer opportunities for entrepreneurship to communities that are under-served or people who’ve been left out because of poverty or race,” Yarce said. “With access to education and financial leaders, you can create your own business and, hopefully, start creating generational wealth for these communities.”
In early 2020, Connect Casino Road partnered with Ventures to teach the eight-week course to Snohomish County residents.
“For years, community members have been asking for help developing their small businesses,” said Sara Boyle, director of Connect Casino Road, a collaboration of more than 15 community partners, including schools, nonprofits and grassroots groups that serve the area’s low-income and immigrant communities.
“There is already a strong entrepreneurial bent in the community, whether it’s selling cakes or tamales,” Boyle said. What was needed was a program to explain the startup process and offer support. “We just needed to find the right partner,” Boyle said.
Nationally, immigrants who make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, operate about 28% of “main street” businesses, defined as small businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, clothing boutiques, beauty salons and barber shops, and car washes, according to a recent Fiscal Policy Institute study.
Ventures was that partner, providing low-cost training to immigrants and people of of color with “dreams of starting their own business,” Boyle said.
“As it turned out, Ventures had been talking about expanding to Snohomish County — they already had clients coming from Snohomish County to King County, and they wanted to establish a permanent presence here,” Boyle said.
The owner of Taco-Book Taqueria in north Everett, Rigoberto Bastida, took the Ventures course five years ago in King County.
“I had a dream of making tacos and selling tacos and they made me aware of the marketing and research I had to to do,” Bastida said. “And they explained how to get every permit and license I needed. I wasn’t aware there were so many taxes! It made me feel enthusiastic — sometimes you’re insecure because you don’t know what to do. They help with so much.”
“It’s the first step I highly recommend for anyone thinking about starting a business,” Bastida said.
Ventures’ first Snohomish County classes were to begin in March 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the course was moved online. The silver lining there, said Boyle, was that people who might otherwise have struggled with transportation, were able to attend virtually.
Since then, Ventures has offered three sessions, which alternate between English and Spanish, and graduated 40 people from Snohomish County, including 14 Everett residents.
Of the 14 from Everett, a half-dozen have opened new businesses, including Altamirano, who completed the most recent session this March. Her business partner, Zavala, plans to take an upcoming class.
Altamirano and Zavala opened for business May 5.
Zavala, who has two children, views the new business as a way to work from home and care for the kids.
“Ventures introduced us to a community that can support us,” Altamirano said.
“In class we learned about taxes, cost, how to set the right prices,” Altamirano said. “They helped us with our business plan. We have some background and experience in marketing and sales in e-commerce, but U.S. laws and regulations are different than the Mexican market. I think we were struggling a little — this kind of tied it all up and was really helpful.”
On a recent afternoon in Lynnwood, the two women were arranging their line of silver jewelry, embroidered shirts and T-shirts for a table display.
They plan to open some local pop-up stores and sell their wares at area farmers markets this summer.
We’ve seen a lot of businesses come from this — food businesses, food trucks, handyman, roofing, landscaping and home improvement businesses,” Boyle said.
“We’re seeing them beating the odds during what has arguably been one of the most difficult times in history to open a business.”
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods
For information about Ventures, go to venturesnonprofit.org.