A new initiative to boost small businesses on the West Side has been launched by a partnership of local organizations led by Prosper West San Antonio.

The program, called ESTAR West, aims to coordinate new services for small businesses and to help connect them with existing ones.

City and county leaders joined the program’s local partners in announcing its creation at a church on Buena Vista street, inside the city’s poorest zip code. The program, though open to all businesses on the West Side, was framed as a lift to Hispanic business owners in particular.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg praised the program as a potential boost to small businesses, whose job creation he said was “key to growth overall in our economy,” and in particular for focusing on the predominantly Hispanic West Side. He and other speakers said that only a quarter of businesses in the city have Hispanic owners.

“We need to make it easier for small business to be successful, so this effort represents a systems-based approach to small business development,” Nirenberg said.

Planning for the program has been in the works for the past six months, and implementation will take place over the next year, organizers said.

Prosper West San Antonio is in a coordinating role, or what the organization’s president and CEO Ramiro Gonzales called an “anchor” partner. The non-profit organization, which until this spring was called the Westside Development Corporation, receives its funding primarily from the city, as well as financial institutions, private foundations and individual donors.

Gonzales described ESTAR West as having a six-pronged approach. The first three focus on direct support, he said.

First, ESTAR West will reach out to businesses on the West Side to establish a communication line. The second effort will be to create a “round-table accelerator,” which will seek to connect businesses with services like those offered by LiftFund and by UTSA, among others. ESTAR West has a goal of assisting 30-50 businesses each year in making progress toward a 50% increase in revenue.

The third effort will be to help businesses integrate the internet more in their operations, and has a goal of providing equipment and training to 750 businesses in the next three years.

Gonzales said the last three efforts are meant to create a better business environment.

The fourth strategy is to raise capital to purchase properties on the West Side to remove “blight,” “slums”, and “vacancies” and to redevelop them. The fifth strategy is to market the West Side, and to “invite the rest of the San Antonio community to come and take part and participate in the West Side economy and support our small businesses.”

The sixth strategy is on neighborhood preservation. Gonzales said this marks an “acknowledgement that any kind of change in a low-income community has the potential to exert pressure on vulnerable families and businesses.” He said this could be funding an “anti-displacement fund” or an “accessory dwelling unit program,” or other strategies that could “balance the equation.”

Ramiro Gonzales, president and CEO at Prosper West San Antonio Ramiro Gonzales, president and CEO at Prosper West San Antonio
Ramiro Gonzales, president and CEO of Prosper West San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / Sa Antonio Report

ESTAR West will be part of a nationwide network of programs in collaboration with the Aspen Institute, a global nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to high-level social change.

San Antonio was chosen by the Aspen Institute as one of six Hispanic-majority cities where it would help create a program to help small businesses.

The steering committee for the initiative has seven executive members and 15 committee members representing different local organizations, such as the City of San Antonio, LiftFund, and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Henry Cisneros, a former Mayor of San Antonio and chairman of the new program’s executive committee, said the program could help smooth the road for more Hispanic entrepreneurship.

“It’s about creating net worth, something that you own, something you can then sell and send your children to college or start another business with,” Cisneros said. “It’s the American way.”

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Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.