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Thanks to a new collaborative partnership between the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Maestro Leadership Foundation, small business owners will now have access to another valuable resource to help jumpstart their growth during their start-up period: the Maestro Entrepreneur Center.
The Maestro Center, a private, nonprofit business incubator, will provide services and support for startups and young entrepreneurs. While there are other similar programs in the city, like Geekdom, Café Commerce, and the San Antonio Entrepreneur Center, the Maestro Center will place a more specific focus on the accelerated development of existing small, minority, woman, and veteran-owned businesses in the city.
The overall goal for the Center, which will be funded by the Hispanic Chamber, is to help take those businesses to the next level of sustainable growth.
“Our city is a city of small businesses, 90% of our jobs in our community are created by small business owners,” said the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos at the Maestro Center’s grand opening on Friday. The Maestro Center will be “a place where (entrepreneurs) can be nurtured, and then allowed to flourish.”
According to the International Business Incubation Association (INBIA), approximately 40 to 50% of startups in the U.S. fail within the first five years of operation. Some of the leading causes of a business’ failure is the inability to build sufficient capital or to maintain and build growth, Cavazos said. That’s where the Maestro Center comes in.
“The reality is we know how to help (small businesses) get started, we know how to help them get certified, but we don’t know how to help them get to the next level,” said Julissa Carielo, owner of Tejas Premier Building Contractor, Inc. and chair of the Hispanic Chamber’s small business committee. “This program is going to concentrate on just that. It’s focusing on existing businesses and how to get them what they need, and customize what they need.”
The Maestro Center, located on the city’s near-Westside at 1811 S. Laredo., provides 24,000 sq. ft. of incubation space for its tenants for up to two years, including offices, conference rooms, a warehouse, and an industrial space. The center will assist between 40 and 50 companies at a given time. So far, the Maestro Center is home to tenants in the engineering, real estate, electric, and upholstery fields. As of Friday, two tenants had already moved into the space, and three more will be moving in next week, Carielo said.
The facility was previously the Johnson Center, a testing facility for students, owned by the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD). It is now undergoing renovations to accommodate Maestro Center tenants in a wide range of industries, Carielo said. Soon, there will be a commercial kitchen space that can be utilized for business’ catering and packaging needs, as well as a banquet space and community events center.
But one of the key resources offered to Maestro Center incubators is the opportunity for free, one-on-one mentoring and classes by “Maestros,” who are local, experienced business leaders with various backgrounds. Willie Ng, owner of Blue Armor Security, Chris Martinez, president of Central Electric Enterprises & Co., and Hector Carrillo, president and CTO of Visage Collaborative, have already committed five years to act as “Maestros” for the program, Carielo said.
“I think we can pull (ideas) from so many (mentors), instead of just one,” she said. The Maestro Center will host a “Maestro Speaker Series” where the mentors will share their experiences, successes, and failures as seasoned business owners.
“All of those things are things that we can learn from and be inspired by as small business owners,” Carielo said.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) shared her experience starting out as a small business owner on the Westside without resources like the Maestro Center, and commended the partners of the Center for bringing such a viable resource to the area has historically been an underutilized business zone.
“I couldn’t get the financing, in large part because of the way that the Westside is … I heard from so many bankers saying ‘Don’t invest too much in the Westside,’ but I’ve come to find out how wrong the bankers were,” she said. Since then, she’s been motivated “to make it easier for small businesses to grow where they were, in their existing spaces, especially in the Westside.”
“I’m so proud of all of you for recognizing the struggle of small business owners and for actually wanting to do something about it,” she said.
The Maestro Center will provide office spaces at manageable and flexible rates for qualifying entrepreneurs and their businesses. Selecting companies for the facility involves an application and selection process, and interview. Ideal candidates have been in operation for at least two years, will have a completed business plan in their first 90 days at the Maestro Center, will create new jobs in the community, have a Federal Employee Identification Number, and have the ability to be certified by the South Central Texas Regional Certification Agency.
PeopleFund, a nonprofit, small business bridge lending company, has already committed $1 million in small business lending to entrepreneurs who incubate the the Maestro Center. They’ve moved their San Antonio office space to the Maestro Center to be a more hands-on resource to the incubators. PeopleFund CEO Gary Lindner said he decided to partner with the Maestro Center since it appeared to be “a perfect model.”
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“I’ve (given) 6,000 loans in the last 11 years to small businesses, and one thing we know is that (startups) have to have two things: they have to have somebody that guides them … and they have to have capital, and those two components have to work together,” he said. “In isolation it’s always interesting but it doesn’t advance the causes of the small businesses.”
LiftFund has also committed to providing smaller business loans and to offer financial literacy classes for entrepreneurs, Carielo added.
The Maestro Entrepreneur Center is unique, Carielo said, because it will take a more specialized approach to ensuring the sustainable growth of each of its incubators, without duplicating any other services already being offered in the city.
“We’re not saying there’s a one track way to do this. We’re going to meet with each individual company and figure out what they need, where they’re at, and target specific things and match them up with the right people,” she said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly referenced Visage Collaborative as “Visage Collaboration.”
*Top image: Office space in the Tejas Premier Building Contractor building. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone