When Teresa Hernandez walks the aisles of her Mexican party supply store, she doesn’t just see shelves filled with goods like piñatas, traditional Mexican candies, and ceramic figurines. She sees what years of determination and courage can bring you, even in the face of a tumultuous global pandemic.
Hernandez’s East San Jose store, Fiesta Mexxikana, closed in March 2020 when Bay Area health officials issued the country’s first stay-at-home order. And within months, Hernandez had racked up $ 20,000 in debt due to event cancellations she had already booked.
To get out of this hole, Hernandez bought a portable cart and began to tour the neighborhood selling fruit while her husband came down to Fresno to work in the fields.
“I cried a lot at the beginning,” she said through a translator. “But it’s a long-held dream for us. It took forever to open it, so I wasn’t ready to give up.
In the first six months of the pandemic, 40,000 small businesses have closed across California, half of which have closed permanently, according to a report from Yelp. In Texas, the second most populous state in the country behind California, about 14,000 have closed.
Determined not to appear as another number on this list, Hernandez enlisted the help of advisers at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, which she now calls her “guardian angels.” And finally, when public health orders allowed it, she reopened her store to shop in person and started using the internet for the first time to generate more interest in her business.
For the past 30 years, the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center has strived to provide small business owners and entrepreneurs in underserved and underfunded Bay Area communities with the tools they need to build healthy businesses. and sustainable, not just to help them improve their own financial situation. but the economic landscape of their entire community.
The Center’s San Jose program, which primarily caters to low-to-middle-income Latin American business owners and immigrants like Hernandez, was launched in 2017 and is run in partnership with another nonprofit, Prosperity Lab.
The organization’s mission, according to program director Timothy Russell, is to help people turn their passion into profit.
“We’ve always been focused on transforming lives through entrepreneurship,” said Russell. “We want to empower people and also create excitement and dynamism in a community that may not have been here before.”
Last year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center served more than 3,000 Bay Area people – a 50% increase from 2019 – through individual counseling, online courses and workshops and support applications for pandemic-related loans. and grant programs.
As COVID-19 public health orders forced businesses to shut down for months, Renaissance quickly pivoted and began providing free distance learning courses aimed at teaching business owners like Hernandez how to move their businesses. online operations, including setting up websites and demonstrating how to use social media to market their offerings.
Now, Renaissance hopes to raise $ 8,000 in Wish Book donations to continue providing all classes and workshops for free and to offer a Start Smart training program to those interested in starting a business in the San Jose area by helping them develop a business strategy, connecting with available resources, and assessing their skills and the potential viability of their business plans.
Hernandez, who immigrated from Mexico more than two decades ago, has never had any formal training or education on entrepreneurship or running his own business. She and her husband opened Fiesta Mexxikana in October 2018 at a small mall on Alum Rock Avenue in San Jose, learning about the city’s clearance process and other essentials on the fly.
They never set up a website or social media accounts, relying solely on word of mouth between community members and passers-by to keep them going.
It worked for a while. Hernandez stocked her store with imported party supplies from Mexico that were hard to find in most of the Bay Area and she threw parties for the people on the side.
But the pandemic changed everything. She had no parties to throw, and people felt less comfortable wandering the stores.
Cue Renaissance Center and Prosperity Lab. Consultants from the organizations created a company logo for her, created a website for her, and taught her how to use Facebook and Instagram to market the unique supplies she had available.
According to Hernandez, his profits quickly skyrocketed.
“Now I still dance, I play music every day. I feel really satisfied, ”she said through a translator. “These organizations have helped me achieve my initial dreams and goals, but there is still a long way to go. “
Tito Leal, CFO of Prosperity Labs, can’t help but smile as he watches Teresa laugh as she tells her story and looks to the future.
“I tell them ‘If you’re doing good with your business, so am I,'” he said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
If people learn from organizations, Leal said, he hopes opening a business is easy, provided you have the right support.
“If you have an idea and if you want to open a business, you can,” he said. “No matter your immigration status, you can do it if you have the courage.”
As for Hernandez, she wants to see more Latino immigrants – especially women – informed about the help, both financial and educational, available to get them started on the path to starting their own businesses, which, according to she, is the embodiment of “the American Dream.”
“Although it is not easy, in the future I see myself growing as a businesswoman,” she said, “and I would like to see many more Latin American companies do the same. : grow and be an active part of this economy. “
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual series of The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.
The Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center is seeking donations to provide Start Smart training to eight additional clients interested in starting a business in the San Jose area. The training program helps clients develop a business strategy, connects them with available resources, and assesses their skills and the potential viability of their business plans. Objective: $ 8,000.
HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or send the coupon by mail.
Read more Wish Book stories, view photos and videos at wishbook.mercurynews.com.