Small Business

Not Just Tacos Here

December 1, 2017  • Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program OLD

Nation Waste President and CEO Maria Rios

Maria Rios owns a thriving waste-management company: Nation Waste. Starting with a business plan, a bank loan, and a truck, she built a multimillion-dollar business from the garbage heap up. Rios’s road to the top hasn’t been without bumps though. She once walked onto a jobsite to pitch her business, only to be turned away; the superintendent said he didn’t need any tacos. Rios handed him her card and informed him his dumpsters were overflowing. A week later, she got a call, an apology, and a loyal client.

Rios’s experience illustrates how Latino Americans are challenged by stereotypes that make it difficult for them to grow businesses. And yet Latinos have started businesses at three times the rate of the general population, and the number of Latino-owned businesses has more than doubled over the last 13 years. If small businesses are the lifeblood of the US economy, Latinos are its heart.

Still, a majority of Latino businesses stay small. The unmet potential of Latino business growth leaves a lot of economic opportunity on the table. That’s why the Institute’s Latinos and Society Program examined why these businesses have trouble scaling up and growing. The program partnered with the Surdna Foundation and the Latino Business Action Network at Stanford University and met with a high-powered group of business leaders. The partners found a commonality among Latino businesses: for banks to see their obvious potential, they need to be recast from a deficit community to the asset community they are. That way more Marias (and Miguels) can keep the economy humming.