By Dr. Kelly Hunt
They come bringing talents and passionate hopes of betterment; their unbridled enthusiasm and work ethic marred only by a lack of understanding of U.S. business and financial systems.
For years, Spanish-speaking immigrants have taken Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) entrepreneurship courses presented in their native language by counselor Brent Rondon. The Peruvian native and engineer, who came to Pennsylvania 22 years ago, volunteered to create and nurture this program. Its mission and time commitment fully embraced by center director Dr. Mary McKinney.
“There really was no business resource for Pittsburgh’s small Latino population,” Rondon explained. “I also provide one-on-one counseling and guide them through the process of starting and running a business, but, it’s hard because we’re 25 years ahead of their native countries, in terms of institutional frameworks.”
Alongside Rondon are other Spanish-speaking Pittsburgh professionals all lending their expertise assisting entrepreneurs like Gabriela Riedel, 52, who came to America years ago for a better future. “I wanted to find a better job and live a better life with my family,” she explained.
“It’s a different business culture in Latino countries,” Rondon added. “Forming that trusting personal relationship over dinner with landlords, lawyers and bankers is imperative to doing business. I can’t tell you the number of landlords I’ve met working with my clients. Soccer, the most popular sport in the world, seems to be that natural icebreaker.”
Daily, Rondon finds himself explaining the new realities of a serious U.S. business climate to immigrants who did most dealings with a just a handshake. Often, reiterating the need to leave those homeland ideas behind and begin adjusting to the U.S. business environment.
“I explain our sophisticated legal and financial systems and that once something is signed, it’s done,” he added. “They are amazed that it doesn’t take forever to get financing and open a business; and that really changes their entrepreneurial attitude.”
And Riedel, who spent more than 17 years working in restaurants and making her famous empanadas for Latino fairs, is now a proud small business owner thanks to Rondon and Duquesne University’s SBDC grassroots community effort. “I wanted to open a restaurant, but it just didn’t work out; not enough money and too big of a project,” she explained. “But when the opportunity to get a food truck came up, we thought it was a good sign and it was one of the best decisions we made.”
Today, the Tango Food Truck, focusing on fresh-cooked Argentinean foods, serves anywhere from 30-150 patrons daily. “She’s worked so hard to open a small business,” said Regina Abel, SBA Pittsburgh deputy district director, who attended the grand opening.
“Riedel’s dreams are coming true,” Rondon echoed. “She’s active and trying to meet with all of the food truck and restaurant owners in the area; she’s actually creating a system where they all help each other out when needed.”
Riedel not only is sharing her culture with Pittsburgh, she’s relishing entrepreneurship. “The thing about owning a food truck is I enjoy it a lot. I like being my own boss and choosing where to go and sell,” she says.
Dr. Hunt’s business column appears quarterly. For more information or to suggest a topic, contact the SBA Pittsburgh District Office at: firstname.lastname@example.org