Fabiola Giguere has run a cleaning business for 33 years. That’s no easy task for anyone, as the US Small Business Administration estimates that two-thirds of new businesses don’t survive their 10th birthday.
However, the number is more impressive when you consider that Guigere immigrated to East Haven in 1989 to escape terrorism from the Peruvian militia group known as Sendero Luminoso. Three years later, he founded Limpiex, a cleaning company in Hamden.
As this business prospered, Giguere began to pursue her passion through her own jewelry brand, Achiq Designs. Named after the Quechua word for “Brilliant,” Achiq Designs has been open for the past five years at 1081 South Main St.
Giguere plans to expand his business at the former Wells Fargo branch in downtown Wallingford.
“It’s going to be open concept,” he said. “I’m having fun.”
However, Giguere’s success is the exception to the rule, as both women and Latinos are more likely to be workers than entrepreneurs.
In Connecticut, about 16 percent of workers are Hispanic, but only 9 percent of employers are Hispanic, according to an SBA report. The report also found that about 22 percent of workers were racial minorities, but only 12 percent of business owners.
The SBA found a large gap for women, who made up 48 percent of the workforce but only 41 percent of employers.
That gap is particularly relevant to New Haven County, as small businesses account for just over half of the county’s employment — higher than the national and state averages, according to an analysis of 2019 census data by by Record-Diary.
To address these disparities, the state announced two new programs this summer: the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund and the Connecticut Future Fund. Both are designed to provide resources to small businesses owned by women and racial minorities.
However, despite new initiatives, many minorities do not have business training or access to the knowledge needed to start a business.
Colombian Nelson Marchan has worked as an advisor at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center for the past nine years and has worked with many Latino-owned businesses.
He explained that the center can offer free resources for those who want to start their own business, even if they don’t have a business degree.
“We want the customer to make more money because that’s good for the economy,” he said. “If the family can make better choices, that’s an incredible gift to our communities.”
Reflecting on her work, Marchan said her three most successful clients were women. The common thread was that all three had experience in their industry and went through the necessary procedures to obtain a loan
Before a bank approves a business loan, Marchan explained, most lenders ask applicants for 20 percent of the funds needed to start their business. Marchan said banks also ask for technical documents such as a business plan, financial projections and market studies.
“The numbers have to be realistic because if they’re not, it’s a no-win situation,” he said.
Because of the strict requirements, Marchan said applicants might be tempted to approach a lender with more lenient requirements.
However, more lenient requirements often mean that the loan is considered a riskier investment, leading to higher loan interest rates.
He also added that a low level of English, a low credit score or a lack of collateral could also prevent Latinos from getting a loan.
In addition to these problems, there are additional barriers for women who want to start a business.
“Most of the people who make decisions about who gets a loan are not women,” JoAnn Gulbin told the Connecticut Women’s Business Development Council. “Access to capital remains the biggest obstacle for women who are starting out, trying to start or grow businesses,” she said in a phone interview.
The council offers a range of opportunities for women entrepreneurs, including mentoring, grants, loans and networking. The council focuses on minority and low-income clients, as the council reports that 48% of its clients are minority-owned businesses.
With a growing number of Latinos in Connecticut, Gulbin said the council hired Spanish-speaking business advisors and program managers, made its website available in Spanish and offered bilingual workshops.
Gulbin also pointed to a new program that developed a series of business development services for home and center child care providers in partnership with the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood.
According to 2018 Census estimates, one in five childcare workers in Connecticut are Hispanic women. The number is higher for Meriden, where one in four day care workers are Hispanic women.
“A fairly large portion of daycare providers are Spanish-speaking,” Gulbin said. “In order to do our best to serve them, we had to offer more in Spanish.”
Gloria Montoya of Meriden has recently become involved with the council. He applied and attended several workshops.
Montoya’s business, My Little World, is doing well… not so much. She is the only employee and takes care of six preschool children. Montoya immigrated from Peru in 1999 and started a home daycare service in 2009. She said the children are a mix of ages and ethnicities, but she speaks to all of them in their native Spanish.
“Children are like sponges that can learn several languages, even if they don’t speak them,” he said in Spanish. “The children will decide which language they speak, or whether they want to speak both or not, but they already have the knowledge.”
Montoya has an associate’s degree in child development from Middlesex Community College and is passionate about early childhood education, but admits that accounting is not her forte.
“I knew a lot about what a business was and how to run it, but all the accounting went to my accountant,” he said. “They [the council] they guided me a lot.”
Montoya also received a technology grant during the pandemic and funding to replace her carpet with a hardwood floor to provide better care for children with allergies.
In addition to a lack of access to loans, many Latino-owned businesses struggle to stay in business for long periods of time.
“I think sometimes the lack of planning forces businesses, Latino businesses, to fail,” Marchan said.
For long-term success, Marchan stressed the importance of creating a solid business plan, especially when the new business owner doesn’t have to apply for a loan. He said many first-time business owners get wrapped up in their ideas and don’t know how their project will work in the future. “Dreams are beautiful, but sometimes reality overtakes dreams,” he said. “If the business isn’t growing and you still want to keep spending money, that’s not good.”
“You have to do your research”
When Giguere opened Limpiex, she remembers being mentored by SCORE, an SBA-powered nonprofit that matches business mentors with potential business owners. “Any time you open something, you have to do your research,” he said.
Giguere holds a degree in Business Administration from Albertus Magnus College. However, despite his business background, Giguere recalls that the SBA helped Limpiex become an 8(a) certified company.
According to the administration, 8(a) certifications are a nine-year program created to help businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged people. For Guiguiere, this meant that Limpiex could compete with larger companies on contracts specifically reserved for 8(a) companies.
Guigiere encourages other employers to take advantage of programs like SCORE and 8(a). A few years ago, Gugiere said he returned to SCORE to teach a workshop on how to start a cleaning business.
“Opening a business can be a little scary. But once you have the plan, it’s definitely easier,” he said.