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A majority of the Coachella Valley’s population — about 52% across its nine cities according to the latest census data — are Hispanic or Latino. More than 40% of these adults live below the federal poverty line, according to a 2016 study by Palm Desert-based research group Harc Inc., compared with about 15% for non-Hispanic adults.
One man believes entrepreneurship is the way to change that.
Armando Ehrenzweig, founder of the Palm Desert-based nonprofit Get in Motion Entrepreneurs, has been holding events and publishing Spanish-language content to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs establish and grow their small businesses for more than a decade. His organization recently won $2 million to fund training, technical assistance and microgrants for small businesses as part of a coalition of four nonprofits led by Palm Springs-based Caravanserai Project.
Ehrenzweig said his own journey from working odd jobs as a newly arrived immigrant to being a business consultant and entrepreneur left him a firm believer in the power of entrepreneurship to change lives — and of the need for more Spanish-language support for small business owners.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about it,” he said, “because I was one of them.”
Born and raised in Sonora, Mexico, Ehrenzweig said he immigrated to the U.S. in 2001 to be with his aunt in the Coachella Valley.
Now 47, Ehrenzweig said he did a variety of jobs when he first arrived in the valley. This included everything from drawing landscaping and pool blueprints to washing RVs.
“We usually do what we see around,” Ehrenzweig said. “That’s why you can see so many people, ladies doing housekeeping and so many boys doing construction, because that’s what we see around.”
Eventually, Ehrenzweig grew tired of working for others and decided to build something for himself.
“It was more like becoming a self employee and trying to make more money,” he said. “But then you realize you don’t know the culture, you don’t know how the system works.”
The aspiring entrepreneur said he was able to find help and support through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Center program, although he said his “super bad” English skills presented a constant obstacle in grasping the instructional content offered.
This process helped nudge Ehrenzweig toward the idea of holding informational and networking events in Spanish for local entrepreneurs. He created Get in Motion Entrepreneurs as a sole proprietorship — the simplest type of business structure owned and run by one individual — and held its first event in November 2011 at the Heritage Palms golf club in Indio.
Over the subsequent years, the organization’s events grew to include larger audiences and partnered events with organizations such as the Small Business Administration and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership.
‘Everything for me changed after taking those classes’
People also began hearing about Get in Motion through word-of-mouth: Alejandra Chavez, 54, said a friend of hers who is also an entrepreneur told her about the nonprofit in 2013. At the time, she was looking to learn how to properly pay her employees after her housekeeping business was audited by the Employment Development Department because she had accidentally been processing payroll incorrectly.
“We know how to do the work, but often we don’t know the legal terms and conditions that come with a business,” Chavez said, elaborating that she had been using 1099 forms, meant for subcontractors, to pay her full-time employees when she started her company in 2011.
“Once I found (Get in Motion), I started organizing my business and the payroll with all the correct government requirements,” she said.
Chavez is originally from Mexico City and she said finding the tools and resources she needed to be an entrepreneur in Spanish was key. “At this point, English is not a barrier for me, but understanding everything that I needed to was easier in my native language,” she said.
She also described having more confidence to ask questions in Spanish as opposed to English, which she did not know as well during the earlier years of her business. She said learning about entrepreneurship in Spanish eliminated the intimidating factor that may have made her “stay in doubt.”
As Chavez continued to attend workshops and classes offered by Get in Motion, she became aware of the benefits of establishing her business as a corporation, which she said included certain protections under the law as well as being taken more seriously by clients. It is registered under Ally Cleaning Services Inc. and operates as Alejandra’s Cleaning Service.
Chavez said she also learned about creating a website and growing her company’s social media presence through Get In Motion. “I began to work with a woman at one of the workshops to create my company logo. That’s another benefit, that you start meeting all types of entrepreneurs,” she added.
Though her initial intent was not to grow her business, Chavez said it was a side effect of her new business savvy. When she began Get in Motion courses, Chavez had two employees. She eventually expanded to 14, additionally hiring seasonal workers to clean short-term vacation rentals during busy festival months or to provide cleaning services following large outdoor events.
She noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, she lost half of her full-time staff, but that the business flow has been steadily recovering. “There is more work than employees right now,” she said.
“Everything for me changed after taking those classes,” Chavez said. “There comes a point where you ask yourself, ‘Did I really do all that?'”
COVID pivot and $2 million boost
Get in Motion Entrepreneurs incorporated as a nonprofit in 2017, recruited a board of directors and by 2019 was hosting events with hundreds of attendees. Ehrenzweig continued to work full time to pay his bills, although he was able to upgrade his job to something more aligned with his interests and Get in Motion’s mission.
“One of my facilitators that I had been collaborating (with) a lot, she invited me, ‘Armando, I have my agency. You’re amazing what you do with your nonprofit … Come, let’s work together. Let’s join forces,’” Ehrenzweig said.
The Get in Motion founder said he joined an agency focused on providing business consulting services to Hispanic and Latino business owners, aptly called Hispanic Business Group — a role he still holds today.
“It’s helping me to really shape the nonprofit better,” Ehrenzweig said. “Being in an agency where everything is paid, you realize Latinos have more money than they had in the past. But they need help. They need a lot of help.”
Ehrenzweig said the majority of the Latino businesses Get in Motion sees are service businesses in areas such as housekeeping, construction, or tax. “Concrete block, roofing, dry wall, landscaping, most of them are services,” he said.
That observation broadly aligns with national trends, according to a 2020 Stanford report on Latino entrepreneurship, which found that the number of Latino-owned employer businesses grew the most in the construction and finance industries between 2012 and 2017. Employer businesses, as the name suggests, refer to businesses that have employees beyond the single owner of the business. The report found that the number of such Latino-owned businesses grew by 14% between 2012 and 2017, more than twice the national average of 6% growth.
Latino-owned businesses that participate in formal business organizations — such as trade associations — are more than twice as likely get the funding they need to run and grow their businesses than those that don’t participate in networking activities, according to the Stanford report, suggesting a key role for groups like Get in Motion.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the long-running disruption to in-person events created an existential problem for Get in Motion Entrepreneurs.
“I was this close, this close, to closing,” said Ehrenzweig, holding his fingers closely together. “It was just hard times, but then, somehow we survived it.”
That survival centered on a pivot to digital platforms. After experimenting with video content, the organization landed on a podcast format, which Ehrenzweig said has “been a hit.” The podcast posts new episodes at least twice monthly on platforms such as Spotify and YouTube with interviews with experts on subjects ranging from how to maintain sales records and navigate small business insurance to how to get paid to clean a house.
Ehrenzweig said the new format has allowed Get in Motion to reach more listeners — roughly 10,000, according to his latest count — and provide a greater volume of business education content.
“We used to only have one event per month because live events take time and energy for your team,” he said. “With the podcast we’re able to produce two episodes per month, which is allowing us to deliver more information in Spanish.”
One area where Get in Motion continued to struggle was with technical assistance for businesses in the wake of the pandemic. Funding to pay the relevant consultants on topics such as business tax was a constant challenge, according to Ehrenzweig.
This changed in late May when Get in Motion received a $2 million grant from the Employment Training Panel of California as part of a coalition of nonprofits led by Palm Springs-based Caravanserai Project.
Founded in 2016, Caravanserai supports social entrepreneurship in the region through a training and accelerator program, technical assistance and classes. The exact definition of a social enterprise varies, but such ventures generally involve a for-profit business that includes promoting some social good as a core part of its model. Some, such as Caravanserai, take a broader look at the sector to include nonprofit entrepreneurial ventures. Get in Motion participated in the organization’s latest Social Entrepreneur Engagement and Development Lab, or SEED Lab, cohort, which graduated in May.
Caravanserai partnered with three other regional nonprofits focused on economic development and entrepreneurship to create a program focused on supporting Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs in the Inland Empire, regardless of their immigration status. These included Uplift San Bernardino/Make Hope Happen Foundation and Asociación de Emprendedor@s, alongside Get in Motion.
Mihai Patru, Caravanserai’s CEO, said his organization asked Get in Motion to join in the collaboration early this year both to provide an opportunity to access significant funding that a startup might not otherwise have and in light of Ehrenzweig’s specific experience with the program’s target group.
“We knew he would be an excellent fit because of his work with Spanish speaking entrepreneurs in the Coachella Valley region,” Patru wrote in an email.
He added that the collaboration would be an “opportunity to achieve the social impact both organizations are committed to: support social entrepreneurs from historically marginalized and underserved communities in the Inland Empire.”
The majority — $1.5 million — of the grant funding will be used to provide micro-grants of up to $7,500 for graduates of business training programs that the group plans to organize for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. The remainder of the money will be used to fund the training and other elements of the program administration.
Ehrenzweig said participants will be selected by a committee organized by the nonprofit coalition. He said details about this committee and the program were still being worked out, but that the coalition hoped to have more details available and open the program for applications sometime this summer.
Get in Motion will use its platform to channel entrepreneurs toward the program, according to Ehrenzweig, who said it was a natural fit with his organization’s focus on connecting Latino entrepreneurs with funding and resources to help their businesses succeed.
He said both Get in Motion and the new program’s ultimate goals were not to make anyone rich, but to build up Latino business leaders that can give back to their communities.
“If we can help someone to make a living of $50,000 to $60,000 per year, they will be super happy. They will be OK,” he said. “This is what I wanted.”
“So many people live in the minimum wage levels; so many family members (are) living under the same roof because they don’t have enough money to pay for a house,” he added. “They’re just looking for a way to make more money.”
When asked about the biggest challenges facing Latino and Hispanic entrepreneurs, Ehrenzweig said simply “trust.”
“We have a hard time trusting,” he said. “There is a reason why, you know, so many bad things happening,” adding that areas like putting financial information online could be particularly challenging.
“It’s better than it was 5-10 years ago, but still, even us, if people ask me what you have been doing for the past 10 years, I’ve been building trust,” he said.
He said followers of Get in Motion regularly ask him why he is doing what he is with the organization and what the “catch” is.
“It takes time,” he said. “I totally get it. I was there. I’m still there.”
James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at [email protected].
Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElianaPress.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Local nonprofit wins $2 million for Hispanic entrepreneurship