The “How To Start Something” accelerator program to work with 300 minority-owned small business entrepreneurs in Miami-Dade

Opportunity Miami
Opportunity Miami
Published in
8 min readMar 6, 2023

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By Suzette Laboy

Diversity is one of our most significant assets in Miami-Dade. Yet, we see a need for more access to capital and other opportunities for minority-owned small businesses both here and across the country.

“The probabilities of opening a company for a minority and a woman are very low. And the valuations of that company are destined to be a fifth of the ones of a white man,” said Mexican-born business executive Leonel Azuela Berchelmann, a coach with the Entrepreneur Ready program and one of the first mentors of the local entrepreneur-support organization Endeavor Miami.

For Azuela, who grew up in the Mexican port city of Coatzacoalcos in the state of Veracruz, serving as a mentor is a chance to give back. His family worked regular jobs before becoming entrepreneurs. And being a coach with Entrepreneur Ready “is one of the biggest and most powerful public policy ways” to give back to the small business community.

To bridge the divide in small-business ownership, Entrepreneur Ready has been supported by JPMorgan Chase to implement the How to Start Something program in Miami-Dade County over the next six to nine months. The program will fund 300 small businesses here founded by minorities and women who want to start a new business or pivot their businesses. The program was previously launched in Westchester County outside New York City.

You can apply here for the free online program, which begins on April 3.

Azuela is the CEO & Data Strategist at Miami-based Quaxar, a marketing services company, and Co-Founder of Evolution Code, a software IT staffing factory. He has also worked for Deutsche Bank, McKinsey, and the Office of the Mexican President, among other entities. He explained to Opportunity Miami how the accelerator program could create a more diverse small-business ownership future. Here are excerpts of the conversation, edited for brevity.

You’re part of a group of business executives who are looking to help either new or existing minority entrepreneurs either kickstart or pivot on what they’re creating. Explain the goal of the program.

This is a very high intense accelerator, focused on big numbers, not like ten or 20 companies like traditional accelerators. This is like in the hundreds. It’s very high touch, high tech. You have a coach, and everything is done remotely at your own pace, but you have to be engaged for 45 minutes to an hour a day during six months so you can get the results you really want. And the program is free. We have seen that people that want to start a company under this program or pivot significantly, many entrepreneurs — Latino or women — already have their little companies or their little hobby, but they need to do something different if they want to consider it not a hobby, and be able to quit their second and third job, or probably their main job and dedicate to that.

You touched on some things that make it different from some of the other accelerator programs, especially the high volume you’re looking to reach in Miami-Dade County alone. How does that compare to the number of coaches?

Really the big difference is high-touch, high-tech. You’re with the entrepreneurs basically every day. You have an obligation as a coach to respond within four hours of latency. So imagine if they put a question at one o’clock in the morning, which they normally do because this is on extra time, you wake up as a coach, and oh my gosh, you have until 12 to respond. And you can have like 40 responses you have to give. I think that’s very different compared to other accelerators, where normally you’re at the mercy of the time of the coach or the mentor, and it’s a slow pace. The other point that I will say is the process. The process has seven phases. The first phase, you’re trying to find your soul and what you want to do with your life. And what is it you really want to do? What are you good at it?

The next phase is the rough idea that you have, you take it to the market and try it on a very experimental point of view, either the testing of a cake or the pilot of an app, and we ask you to test it with 20 people. And that really makes a big difference. Because the idea of Pam Hoelzle, the founder of the program, is to de-risk the model. You don’t want people to create a business plan or companies only to create a business plan or a company. You want to create companies that have a low risk or the lowest risk possible, and we have seen that the enterprise for this target and the probabilities of success are bigger. I think the last big advantage of this program is the network that you create among those participants and the network of coaches. You can have a good network of coaches — between five and ten.

Small businesses have been called the backbone of the American economy. You described a couple of them from the program in New York. What’s the variety of programs that you’re seeing so far from Miami-Dade County? And who are they run by?

It’s the same demography and industries that we have seen in other places. Westchester County [now in its third year of the program] is kind of similar to Miami-Dade. You have very disparate places, you’re outside of New York, and you have areas with a lot of wealth or other areas in more challenging situations, a lot of diversity. And here I think it’s the same. You can have the people that want to do a tech application, you have professional services, people that probably studied accounting somewhere else and want to deploy it here and stop being an employee. You can have food services or people that used to do manual stuff. The thing that we’re grateful for is we have all sorts of ages — between 18 and 70 plus — but the big majority of the participants are women and minorities, and that’s something we want to achieve.

The program is very diverse, which is how people describe Miami. How important is it then to continue pushing and encouraging this diverse community that we are to take part in a program such as this?

It’s extremely important. And I think it’s a need we need to do all across the country, and more in an area where you have a lot of minorities. Here, the minorities are the majorities. And so, with more importance, we have to do it here. And programs like this are a need. And it has been proven that you need to intervene closely with them, favoring education, follow-up, mentoring, and access to capital. And I think that it’s a need that we need to do to Miami-Dade to favor this diversity. And I’ve seen it. I’m one of these, but I had the luckiness to be in top schools [The Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, Harvard] and have a great network of friends. But there are many other ones that are first or second-generation Americans that came from abroad and are women, and if we don’t do this, they will be left behind.

And they can also obviously contribute not just to the economy but help spur job growth and bring in different talents, which is tapping into a lot of things that we need in Miami.

The potential of making this group participate actively in the economy, it’s a lot of economic and social wealth. And I can tell you, we have seen it when we did in Westchester, they have been very disciplined in getting audits about the program every year. And the results of the audits have been amazing. The returns of every dollar invested in the program comes back between 15 and 20 times in jobs, in the number of providers you’re hiring, and in sales. There’s a lot of metrics the program keeps very close track of to prove to the economic ecosystem that you’re favoring and helping entrepreneurs, but also it’s a great economic and social development initiative.

How would you describe Miami’s small business community?

From my experience and what we’ve seen right now with the program, compared to other areas, the embrace of the community has been amazing, and all the government institutions have jumped in. We have been talking to all types of nonprofits, even the consulates trying to target their own communities. Latinos are very much into creating their own networks of people and supporting each other. And I think that you can see that in Miami-Dade because once you get into a certain community, and they like the program, they recommend it to two or three more. And the good thing is that those four are going to be engaged and doing it together. And that’s something very special for Miami-Dade and really, I think, is the best way to implement it.

You’ve been part of this community now for a long time. Where do you see the future of Miami’s small business community?

If we do things right, we can have a very complete and exhaustive entrepreneurial ecosystem. I think right now, we have a very powerful ecosystem, but we have some holes. And when we say exhaustive, I mean to cover all these holes to make the ecosystem more solid. Programs like this for minorities and women can be a great feed to the ecosystem of high-value companies, who knows? You can probably have a female entrepreneur that makes tamales or purses, creating a multinational, multi-million-dollar company nationally. Or you simply create sustainable businesses that, for that person, instead of having three jobs and a hobby, they can have one job or potentially a business. And in that way, you can support the whole ecosystem.

You’re a mentor in this program and have your company here. I’m wondering what is your why?

For me, I think it’s one of my first ways to give back, and I think it’s my duty to create and support, to create and promote all the means to make people entrepreneurs. My family used to have normal jobs, and they became entrepreneurs, and I lived through the struggles and also the benefits. If you support people to be entrepreneurial, you’re not only creating all these potential new companies, you’re creating habits and a way of being in the population that creates a lot of new skills for life in the new century.

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