Maria Sanchez, right, stands with characters from her business, La Guera's Party Time. Courtesy West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
A local chamber has hosted its first Latina Business Pitch Competition, sharing $10,000 in prize money and legal services among three winners.
The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosted the event at Grand Valley State University’s L. William Seidman Center at the Pew Campus on May 3.
Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the chamber since March, said the women brought “exciting” ideas to the table.
“We had a great turnout, and the room was full of energy from the participants and the attendees,” he said.
Last spring, the chamber held its first Latino Business Pitch Competition and decided after that event the second event would feature Latinas.
The chamber received seven submissions and chose five finalists to share their business idea (or back-story, if they had already started the business) in front of four judges: Raquel Salas, Avanti Law Group; Veronica Ramirez, Coldwell Banker; Paola Mendivil, El Granjero Mexican Grill; and Elizabeth Rosario, Grand Rapids Law Group.
As part of each finalist’s pitch, they were required to share how they would use their winnings.
Luis Avila, president of the chamber’s board of directors, said the pitch competition was held entirely in Spanish.
“We found that some Latino-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs held back from participating in other competitions because they didn’t feel confident enough in their command of the English language to share their business story,” he said.
“In an effort to help break this barrier, the Hispanic chamber decided to hold this competition in their native language, allowing the competitors to feel at ease to share the wonderful ideas they had or businesses they had started.”
The chamber’s education and empowerment committee in collaboration with the Michigan Small Business Development Center (MI-SBDC) organized the business pitch competition.
Fifth Third Bank and Chemical Bank paid for the cash prizes and Varnum Law paid for the legal services.
In addition to the above three sponsors, Grand Valley State University and the MI-SBDC sponsored the event.
Maria Sanchez, La Guera’s Party Time — first place, $2,500 in cash and $5,000 in legal advice from Varnum
Sanchez has 10 years of experience working with animation and events. She is founder of La Guera’s Party Time, offering entertainment for child and family parties. Sanchez brings to the events staff dressed as cartoon or movie characters for the kids to interact with, as well as activities for the whole family.
Maria Zavala, Cocina Economica — second place, $1,500
Zavala’s business idea is to create a healthy food delivery service throughout the city. She came up with the idea based on her own lifestyle needs; she often comes home and either prepares something quick to eat or buys fast food. Zavala hopes to serve the community by creating healthy prepared meals delivered to customers’ homes.
Clarissa Mata, Clar’s Cupcakes — third place, $1,000
Mata’s idea is to bring Latin flavors to West Michigan through a cupcake bakery business that uses flavors familiar in Latin America. She plans to sell them at restaurants in town and then eventually start her own shop.