Michael Peel

Local First Arizona Foundation’s Fuerza Local Business Accelerator, known as the Acelerador de Negocios de Fuerza Local to its participants, is the first entrepreneurial training program in the country to create a pathway into mainstream banking for Hispanic business owners by developing credit history among members of this largely underserved population using traditional money pool practices to strengthen their businesses. 

Over the past six years, nearly 700 micro-enterprises have graduated from the six-month program, creating 500 new jobs, and reducing average interest rates paid from 48 percent to 6 percent. The innovative statewide program is offered at no cost to participants, and is now running in its second year in its expansion to the Southern Arizona region with the support of Vib’n and the Sonoran Glass School, which generously donated its space for educational workshops and professional development seminars. 

During the program, entrepreneurs learn the essentials needed to launch or develop their business and make their business dreams a reality. Lessons for this program are taught completely in Spanish by professionals and experts in their respective industries and include diverse topics such as accounting, social media, human resources, marketing and business planning. The classes help provide participants with the opportunity to learn from some of the best in state in their native language. The rigorous program also emphasizes financial literacy where participants enroll in an online lending circle called eMoneyPool and make on-time payments during the duration of the program. These payments then report back to Experian, helping build a credit history and ultimately teaching participants the importance of saving and credit, along with shifting away from any predatory lending. Graduates gain access to credit at fair market rates, strengthening their businesses, sustaining their families, and rebuilding their neighborhoods.

The large part of the program’s success in southern Arizona is due the collaboration between Local First Arizona Foundation and Vib’n. Paul Mendoza and Hector Treto are the Co-Founders & Creators of Vib’n, a movement that focuses on entrepreneurial support services and fosters empowerment through providing mentorship for businesses. On Thursday, July 25th, 12 Hispanic entrepreneurs were recognized as the second generation of Fuerza Local graduates in Southern Arizona from the program at the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson. Having displayed competency in financial literacy and business development, the graduates created an interactive showcase for the region to display the hallmarks of their businesses, which range from culinary specialties, artistic endeavors, and a wide range of professional services. 

With former graduates of the program generating more than $6.2 million in net sales last year alone, Fuerza Local is proof that the power of education and building relationships generates socioeconomic change and greater cultural representation that is much needed in our communities. Fuerza Local is, undoubtedly, a “local strength” in which systems of inequity are directly challenged and entrepreneurs cultivate community and prosperity from the ground up. 

Fuerza Local Accelerator Program Second Cohort Graduates: Manuel Ruiz Photography; Hola Tucson Magazine, LLC; Pablos Leather Works, LLC; Tacos Delicia; Speed Clean AZ LLC; GCM AUTOPARTES; Sobee’s Home Cleaning Services LLC; Frozen Delight; Fabian Casillas Transportation LLC; Wildcat Cleaning Pros LLC; Grant Beauty Salon ; and Mis Manos Montessori School.  

Acelerador de Negocios de Fuerza Local is sponsored by Local First Arizona Foundation, Consulate of Mexico in Tucson, Community Investment Corporation, “The Heath Team” at NOVA Home Loans, Sonoran Glass School, and Vib’n. Local First Arizona Foundation (LFAF) is the sister organization to Local First Arizona, where both work hand-in-hand to strengthen Arizona’s economy. Find more information at localfirstazfoundation.org. 

This is a regular series of columns from Local First Arizona on local sustainable economy issues. Get involved as a member or volunteer of LFA by signing up at www.localfirstaz.com.