Conexión de Negocios Latinos will serve Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs in its new Springdale office.
Irma Chávez became an entrepreneur at the age of 12. She bought oranges and avocados to sell for a profit in order to generate income for her family while growing up in El Salvador.
“I needed the money to support my family, we didn’t have any money to eat sometimes,” she says.
Chávez now supports other entrepreneurs as the founder and executive director of Conexión de Negocios Latinos, a nonprofit that supports Hispanic businesses. The group celebrated the grand opening of its first office in Springdale Friday and Chávez says she can’t believe how much the organization has grown.
“I’m still processing the reality that what’s happening is true, and I’m happy though for my community,” she says.
Chávez launched a networking group called Café de la Tarde (Afternoon Coffee) in 2016 because she noticed there were no other Spanish-speaking groups for local entrepreneurs. The group restructured in 2017 to become Conexión de Negocios Latinos. Initially they focused on networking, but Chávez realized many entrepreneurs didn’t understand the meaning or importance of networking so she added an education component.
“It’s not only that you see the same people, but you create the relationship with the same people and that helps in business,” she says. “That’s a big thing in business because you can know somebody, but when you create a relationship with somebody who owns a business, it’s different.”
The next step was finding ways to support businesses with specific needs like how to promote themselves on social media. Finally, CNL started connecting Hispanic entrepreneurs with resources that could support their businesses.
“There is a lot of information, there is a lot of resources, there is a lot of organizations that help business owners or entrepreneurs for free, and they don’t know that the help is there,” Chávez says.
The organization began serving more people when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Arkansas in 2020. Hispanic businesses needed assistance finding information about personal protective equipment and applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans. Having access to that information in Spanish was important for immigrants who, while they may speak English, are more comfortable navigating some of these programs and systems in their native language, says Chávez who tried to fill that gap by visiting more than 100 businesses to provide help.
CNL later applied to become a nonprofit and eventually received support from the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. CNL has a membership model where businesses can pay an annual fee to receive certain services such as access to the office, which provides a co-working space and a classroom area for seminars or workshops. There’s also a space where businesses can display their products.
While CNL’s office is located in Northwest Arkansas, the nonprofit also has a staff member in Central Arkansas. In terms of expansion, the organization’s goal is to work with businesses in Conway, Little Rock, Fort Smith and Siloam Springs. CNL hopes to fill a need in the Spanish-speaking community, not replace any currently existing organizations, Chávez says.
“We’re not here to take the place of the chambers [of commerce], we’re not here to take the place of any other networkings, we’re here to help specifically our small businesses that are Latinos and that need the help in Spanish,” she says.
Looking back at how the organization has transformed and grown over the last few years, Chávez says she can’t believe what’s happened because it was never her intention to create something of this magnitude.
“I always think of the things I do, I do it with my heart to help others and I never think I’m going to make this big,” she says. “I don’t do it to make it big, it just happens and I can’t describe the feeling I have to see how big this is growing.”
The new Conexión de Negocios Latinos office is located at 2250 W. Sunset Ave. Ste. #8 in Springdale. More information about the nonprofit and its services is available at www.conexiondenegocioslatinos.com.