Lawrence-based business program has far-reaching impact
Nonprofit organization EParaTodos recently selected a cohort of 14 budding entrepreneurs for its 14-week accelerator program, including a Puerto Rican former business owner who was displaced by Hurricane Maria.
EParaTodos is the Spanish-language version of Entrepreneurship for All (EForAll), a nonprofit program dedicated to advancing economic and social impact through entrepreneurship in small cities throughout Massachusetts.
With headquarters in Lawrence and Lynn, EParaTodos operates the nation’s first Spanish-language business accelerator and mainly serves Latino immigrant communities.
“We have graduated 68 entrepreneurs already who have created about 110 jobs and are contributing to the economy of Lawrence,” said Janin Duran, executive director.
EParaTodos launched in 2013 to “help the community become more financially independent and reach the American Dream,” said Duran.
There are two main programs: the “Negocios Exitosos” or “Successful Businesses” accelerator program and the “Lanza Tu Idea” or “Launch Your Idea” pitch contest.
“Negocios Exitosos” is a 14-week program where participants can develop their businesses through technical assistance, mentorship, access to a co-working space and the opportunity to compete for $20,000 of seed money.
“The mentors are all volunteers, people in the community, business owners, business professionals who donate their time,” said Andres Silva, program manager.
Anybody with a business idea is encouraged to apply. Applicants are then interviewed by the EParaTodos team to be chosen as finalists.
“Lanza Tu Idea” is a chance for eight to 10 entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges — “Shark Tank”-style — in front of an audience. Cash prizes are then awarded to the best pitches.
Summer 2018 cohort
This summer’s cohort, due to begin the accelerator program on July 11, is a diverse set of local innovators.
According to Silva, the group includes an app developer, a home improvement worker, a jewelry designer, a leader of a dance academy in Lawrence, a 71-year-old who makes homemade jam from vegetables and a tow truck business.
“They come from different parts of Massachusetts, different countries and different life paths,” said Silva. “There are some participants who weren’t able to finish elementary school and then there are others who were professors with master’s degrees in their home countries.”
He continued, “The beauty of it is that they create a family as a cohort, they’re not just struggling by themselves.”
Roanny Colon is originally from Carolina, Puerto Rico, but with the destruction of Hurricane Maria this past fall, she abruptly lost her home and tow truck business.
“I decided to come to Massachusetts because I have three daughters and there was no food, water or power on the island,” Colon told the Banner in Spanish. “The schools were closed.”
The family moved to the mainland in late October, just a month after the hurricane, to join Colon’s mother who lives in Massachusetts.
In Puerto Rico, Colon had worked for a truck driving company for several years, until she decided to start her own business, La Patrona Towing Services, just three months before the hurricane.
According to Colon, she served 150 clients in road assistance, mechanics and personal and commercial transportation services. Back home, people would call her “la patrona,” or the boss.
Unfortunately, she lost her towing truck in the natural disaster, but just recently bought another one.
After months living out of a hotel and facing possible homelessness, Colon got a job as a school bus driver for a company that provides transportation for homeless teens. Now she has an apartment in Lowell, and her three daughters are currently enrolled in school in Lawrence.
However, Colon hopes to revive La Patrona Towing Services through the EParaTodos accelerator. Her social worker told her about the program and suggested she apply.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity because it’s so hard to arrive somewhere new where you don’t know anyone and you don’t have business connections,” said Colon.
“I’m excited to learn all that I can and work towards my dream of restarting my business.”