Ivan Jiménez will never forget the time he knocked on a door to ask the owners if they wanted to detail his car and a woman told him, “Go back to Mexico. You don’t belong here. What entitles you to knock on my door? “
Instead of rejecting an answer, he took it as inspiration.
“I said, ‘Okay, this won’t stop me.’ And I used it as motivation.”
Two years later, Jimenez no longer knocks on blind doors. He and his wife, Alison, have expanded their Sonoma Auto Spa business with mobile retail units and added customers in Marin County, too, washing all makes and models, from Hondas to Ferraris.
Beyond the unwanted motivation, what really consolidated the small business was a $ 25,000 loan last year from La Luz Center, the Sonoma Valley nonprofit, which provides family services, advance economic and other community resources. That microcredit allowed the couple to buy the equipment they needed to offer more services and hire two employees. Since 2014, La Luz has issued 32 microcredits for a total of $ 807,500, which increases car shops, restaurants, contractors, builders, landscapers and home cleaners in Sonoma Valley, creating more than 150 jobs.
“It’s the crudest and truest form of entrepreneurship,” said Brian Nicholson, a board member of La Luz who has served two years on the microcredit committee. As a New York private equity investor who now works as CEO of Sonoma Brands, overseeing lines like KRAVE jerky, Guayaki Yerba Mate and Smashmallow, he is used to working with entrepreneurs looking to start a business.
“But at La Luz we are not a venture capital fund or a fund focused on inspiring people to become entrepreneurs. Instead, we are helping to accelerate people who already have a business, ”he said.
“You have people who have already taken a lot of risks: they have already jumped off the dive board, so to speak, and they are swimming away from home. And we are not giving them as much a life jacket as we are giving them paddles, to move on. and get there faster. That’s really powerful. They already believe in themselves, but now they can see that others believe in them. “
Shark Tank Moment
To streamline the process, a La Luz microcredit coordinator walks applicants through each step, collecting bank statements and credit reports, while helping them create a business plan, chart projections, and describe exactly how they have the intention to use the loan proceeds. If they overcome the first hurdle, they have a chance to launch their business – it’s time for “Shark Tank,” though it’s not usually that dramatic.
At each presentation, Nicholson and the La Luz microcredit committee look for passion and commitment at the heart of the business, as well as the stories of the people who lead the narrative.
One of the most memorable plots, Nicholson recalled, was when Anibar Perez described how he began selling his wife’s tamales door to door in his neighborhood of El Verano, in the Sonoma Valley. They started with a batch of 100. They now sell about 3,000 tamals a month, filling party dishes from Santa Rosa and Petaluma to Vallejo.
But Perez’s dream was to have a food truck. He had saved $ 10,000 to buy a truck from a retired owner, but he needed a lot of work to be able to get back to work along with the permits needed to get off the road.
“There are things in body language that you can see and trust that it’s not someone trying to fake something or acting,” Nicholson said. “It simply came to our notice then. He felt on the pitch that this was his burning desire. He believed in himself. He saw that something was working. And he could see where he could go, and he was betting on himself. “
For Pérez, it was one more step towards his lifelong dream. Raised in Frontera Comalapa, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, he worked with his family growing corn, beans and coffee. At the age of 20, he emigrated to the United States after “seeing my father work hard and not making money,” he said. “So I said to my dad, ‘Give me a chance to go to the United States and I’ll help you more.’
After a while picking grapes, oranges and chillies in Irvine, he found a kitchen table to sleep in at a friend’s house in Sonoma. Over the years, he has worked at Zino’s, LaSalette and La Plaza restaurants. In addition to selling tamales, she now cooks at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.
“But my dream has always been to have a taco truck,” he said. Unfortunately, the truck he bought has had serious mechanical problems and is currently working on a Stockton car shop. He hopes to launch it this summer with La Luz’s $ 20,000 microcredit.