Marta Michelle Colón is the Co-Founder of Access Latina, a business accelerator for Latina-owned firms. Colón is also the Founder of Buena Gente, a platform that enables competitive advantage and drives performance through their emotional intelligence. Prior to starting her business, Colón worked in private sector for more than a decade, specializing on multi-sector program planning and development, leading multi-market change initiatives, and identifying new business and investment opportunities. In the non-profit sector, Colón has developed hundreds of social innovation programs in low-resource communities, as well as capital campaigns and funding strategies, raising more than $50 million. Her passion is to serve as an advisor and “connector” for businesses in the incubator and startup phase. She is also a Mentor in The Stanford Latino Entrepreneurs Initiative.
1. How would you describe the small business landscape in America today?
The small business landscape is enormous - and it’s just starting. The scaling opportunities for small businesses are endless. Small businesses are still largely untapped, and they hold great potential in creating new jobs and generating economic development. They also play an integral role in finding solutions to problems that need to be fixed.
2. As a successful female entrepreneur, what does being a woman in business mean to you? What drove you to become an entrepreneur in the first place?
When I decided to found Buena Gente, my status as a woman was never something that I thought much about.
Becoming an entrepreneur came along naturally for me. I was focused on fixing a problem that I was seeing in the professional arena, namely how individuals’ and organizations’ return on investment and competitive advantage were negatively impacted by systemic business issues, such as a lack of interpersonal skills, ineffective internal and external communication styles, poor time management, and a lack of emotional intelligence. Recognizing this need and feeling that I was uniquely positoned to propose a solution is what led to the creation of Buena Gente.
3. What are the biggest challenges and threats that Hispanic women business owners face?
Access to capital is the number one challenge. Latinas are three times as likely than the general population to start their own businesses, however, a lack of access to capital has hampered the growth of their businesses. Despite the limitations to accessing capital, the number of businesses owned by Hispanic women grew 206 percent between 1997 and 2014, according to a report by American Express.
My take on these challenges is to always focus on the forest and not the trees. To block out the noise and to go out knocking on many doors as possible - to learn to listen to ten No’s, before one receiving Yes, to make financial proposals attractive and sustainable, to be in the lookout for opportunities... This means listening, always connecting the dots, and most importantly, feeling free to speak up and ask.
4. What role do you think access to capital plays when it comes to entrepreneurs and small businesses?
Capital can turn a profitable business with potential into an established, million-dollar scalable one. When we invest in small businesses, we invest in the economy and drive growth and job creation. Capital provides small businesses with traction to move from surviving to thriving.
5. We are seeing more women stepping into the CEO role today; do you believe this is a trend? What do you attribute to this growing tendency?
I am strong believer that more women will be stepping into CEO roles. In fact, data has validated that female-led companies drive three times the returns of companies predominantly led by men, and women CEOs are drivers for inclusive leadership, creating sustainable organizations that can thrive and drive innovation.
Talent is just the beginning to becoming a women CEO - we are great at identifying new opportunities, keeping up gracefully with the accelerating pace of change in the business, creating systematic approaches to encourage and support each other and building extremely agile organizations.
6. When you look at the small business landscape, it is said that minority-owned businesses are going to comprise the majority of US businesses in the next 5 to 10 years. What do you think is driving this increase?
As minorities, we are seeking opportunities. We have understood that the pie is big enough, and if it runs out of slices, we can always bake another one and create more opportunities. We have learned to be connectors and support each other’s endeavors as a means to drive our success and enable our community’s potential.
7. What specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become entrepreneurs?
They need to have lots of grit, resilience, empathy, patience, self-awareness and an unequivocal commitment to their business. They must recognize that success is never final and that failure is never fatal. The road is long, and they will need to work very hard, leave behind the insatiable need of recognition, and be laser focused towards the end goal. I also recommend finding a “sounding board” or a mirror, not a pillow – as entrepreneurs, we always want to be surrounded by people that tell us things as they are, instead of “cheerleaders” or “soft talkers” that only communicate what we want to hear.