Economic Development and Small Business & Startups

Hispanic Chamber to host first business pitch night

Effort is part of a bilingual outreach to involve Spanish-speaking business owners.

April 29, 2016
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The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has a plan to encourage more Hispanic small business owners and entrepreneurs to enter local business pitch competitions.

That plan involves starting one of their own.

The chamber recently announced it will host its premiere Business Pitch Competition, which will give small business owners and entrepreneurs about five minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges in hopes of being awarded a monetary prize.

The event will take place at noon, May 26, at Rockford Construction Co.’s headquarters on Grand Rapids’ west side at 601 First St. NW.

Although the opportunity to be in the competition is being marketed toward Hispanic business owners and entrepreneurs, all are welcome to try out for and attend the free event, said Jorge Gonzales, executive director of the chamber. The applicants also do not have to be chamber members, he noted.

“We’re accepting applications for our first-ever business pitch competition. We have seen that a lot of Hispanic businesses are not entering the regular pitch competitions out there, so Fifth Third (Bank) partnered with us and provided some financial support to start the first Business Pitch Competition,” he said.

“Out of the applications we’ve received, we’re going to select a top 10, and then out of that top 10, five will be accepted to enter the pitch competition. And from those five, four of them will get financial awards. We’re hoping if we get more money, we’ll be able to (award) all five.”

Fifth Third donated $5,000 for the competition, Gonzales said. The first-place winner of the pitch competition will receive $2,500, second place will receive $1,500, and third place will receive $1,000. Fourth place will receive $500, which was donated by Lindo Mexico Restaurant, a Grand Rapids-based Mexican restaurant, he said.

Additionally, the five other finalists from the top 10 will receive a year’s worth of membership to the chamber.

Gonzales said the final pitch awards will not be given based on any industry-based criteria, such as the need to have digital or physical product.

“We haven’t been that specific. Most of our small Hispanic business owners in our memberships are lifestyle businesses,” he said. “Right now, it’s open to anything.”

Gonzales said judges haven’t been selected yet, but he expects there will be three to five judges for the pitch. Entrepreneurially focused groups such as GROW, Spring GR, Emerge and Start Garden — “most of which already have their own pitch competitions” — are all part of the committee helping with the event, he said.

The reason an event like this is necessary, Gonzales said, is the disconnect between Grand Rapids’ mainstream entrepreneurial culture and the Hispanic business community. It’s a combination of several factors, one of which is the language barrier.

“For us, some of the submissions have been in Spanish, and the pitch is, if you don’t speak English and need to pitch in Spanish, we’ll have interpreters,” he said.

“The other barrier has been that some of the current competitions to do not market to Spanish-speaking business owners, so they don’t hear about it. We are intentional so that, when we do the promotions, we sent it out (to them). We went out and knocked on doors and put out fliers.”

Gonzales said the chamber is very excited to host the event and hopes to make it even bigger next year.

“We’re thankful for Fifth Third and Lindo Mexico for making this possible. We’re doing this to support Hispanic businesses, which are part of the macro-economic system,” he said.

“Hispanic businesses are a major part of the economic system in West Michigan, so it’s a benefit to all of us.” 

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