Program grows business in the Latino community

Blanca Muñoz (right) gets some help from her husband, Benjamin, an engineer.
Blanca Muñoz (right) gets some help from her husband, Benjamin, an engineer. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 19, 2014

Blanca Muñoz was ready to convert the room into a mint-green paradise for 500 partygoers, but she confronted several obstacles: washing machines, assorted appliances, power tools.

She had to wait hours for all of it to be hauled away so she could drape and decorate.

"I'm tired. It's a lot of work," the Avondale businesswoman said in Spanish. "But that doesn't matter."

This is just what Muñoz has long wanted, to turn her party-planning and craft-making talents into a business. On Friday, she prepared for her biggest job yet, a quinceañera - 15th birthday party - with hundreds expected to attend.

The guest of honor's family had rented an auction warehouse that doubles as a banquet hall. No one said this would be easy.

The preparations were another step on Muñoz's path to mogul status that began when she stepped into a Kennett Square classroom for a program designed to encourage business development in the Latino community.

"How to Succeed as a Latino Entrepreneur" is a bilingual course offered by Kutztown University's Latino Business Resource Center. The eight-week seminar teaches aspiring business people the intricacies of business plans, marketing, finance, loans, insurance, and legal issues.

The program, which began in Chester County in the fall, is a partnership among the resource center; National Penn Bank; Chester County SCORE, an entrepreneurship counseling group; and La Comunidad Hispaña, a Kennett Square social-service agency where the classes are held.

Noting the growth in the Latino population in the region, "the second generation comes along, people have ambition and want to start businesses," said Horace Scherer, a project coordinator and bilingual business counselor for SCORE, who is helping to coordinate the program.

A new session scheduled to begin in Kennett Square on Thursday.

The program was founded in 2007 as part of an effort by Kutztown to offer increased services to the Latino community and bolster the region's economic health, said Carolina Martinez, director of the school's Latino Business Resource Center. Kutztown University, in Berks County, is in an area with a large Hispanic population.

About 200 students have participated in the program, and 45 percent have started businesses within two years, Martinez said. The university has not tracked how many of the businesses are still in operation.

Since the initiative began, program officials frequently have been called on to advise others seeking to start similar efforts. SCORE contacted the center in hope of expanding the program to southern Chester County, which also has a large Latino community, Martinez said. Plans to start the Kennett Square operation began soon after.

The first Chester County session started with 16 students. Eleven graduated with plans to open businesses, including a restaurant, an auto-detailing shop, and a Mexican handicraft business.

Muñoz sat in class each week preparing for the launch of her Be Original Events.

The married mother of an 18-month-old daughter had long been the party organizer in the family.

"Ever since we lived in Mexico, she's organized things for Mexican Independence Day or her teachers' birthdays," Muñoz's mother, Maria Vazquez, said in Spanish.

Muñoz, 29, grew up in Union de Tula and moved to Fullerton, Calif., in 2005. She settled in Avondale three years ago when her husband, Benjamin, an engineer, changed jobs. Benjamin Muñoz, 30, translates for his mother-in-law and his wife, who understands English but feels more comfortable speaking in Spanish.

"I didn't even know what an L.L.C. was. I don't like math, so the accounting portion and making projections was the most challenging," Blanca Muñoz said.

She did so well in class that she won the business plan competition. Architect Jose Sanabria of West Whiteland won second place. Sanabria and Muñoz are the only two participants from the fall class who Scherer says he knows are in business.

Sanabria, 55, recently left his longtime job at an architectural firm to continue his career as a self-employed architect.

"Professional degree programs don't teach you the ins and outs of business, and I wanted a little help," Sanabria said.

He moved to New York City from Central America in 1972. His father then started a house-painting business.

"He did well enough, but I remember feeling that if he had just a little bit more insight [about business], he might have done better," Sanabria said. So the architect sought that insight for himself.

He is now deciding whether to continue being self-employed or to explore job opportunities that recently have come his way.

Muñoz is seeking to go only one way in business: up. Be Original Events is only phase one of her business plan. Step two: a network of Be Original Events banquet halls.


kholmes@phillynews.com610-313-8211

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