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Young Latino Business Owners Getting Helping Hand

Gaby M. Rojas

What started out as two socially-minded entrepreneur’s idea to foster, promote, and highlight the beauty, power and diversity of young Latino entrepreneurs has blossomed into a bona fide movement—one that’s capturing the hearts and minds of some of the world’s leading multinational brands. 

When best friends Michael Watson and Pablo Segarra, both of Puerto Rican descent, were growing up together in the Bronx, New York, they never envisioned spearheading an organization helping Latino Gen X and Gen Z professionals establish closer ties with each other…and their origins through travel, tech, music, and other cultural platforms. This is exactly what Watson, a former Global Director of a Fortune 500 company, and Segarra, a retired New York City police officer, have accomplished amid long-standing careers advocating for the Latin American and Caribbean community and culture and, more specifically, going over and above to advance young Latino entrepreneurship. This lamenting that, despite representing a significant sector of the U.S. population, this group of professionals disproportionally represents less than 5 percent of the U.S. population although the majority of Hispanics in the nation—a full 61 percent—are Millennials according to the Pew Research Center. 

Case in point is Watson’s current endeavor as CEO of Ventyour Inc.—the holdings company of the LatinX Travel Club young Latino entrepreneurship advocacy organization that he co-founded with Segarra. Despite their strength in numbers, it has been well-reported that Hispanic Millennial small business owners face unfortunate challenges that are “unique to their age and cultural demographic groups” like staffing, scaling, accessing capital, and lack of opportunity-creating personal contacts or relationships. 

Also underscoring the disparities for this group is a Guidant Financial Millennials in Business study finding that only a quarter of Millennial small business owners are Hispanic—18 percent of which represented by Gen X specifically—which further fractionalizes down those owned by the Gen Z set, Hispanic women and other sub-groups therein. Also revealing from The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey is that a full 20 percent––one in five Millennials overall—feel discriminated against all the time, or frequently, because of an aspect of their background. Further to that point, this survey also exposed that a majority of Millennials and Gen Zs believe we are at a tipping point on key societal issues to include inequality and discrimination.

This well aligns with a “Diversity in Innovation” Working Paper by the Harvard Business School (HBS) that documents the patterns of labor market participation by gender and various ethnic minorities in venture capital firms and as founders of venture capital-backed startups. It found that, from 1990-2016, Hispanics had been around a mere 2 percent of the entrepreneurial and venture capital labor pool, even though the group had much higher representation in education programs that lead to careers in the sector. The HBS survey documented a systematic and persistent lack of Hispanic American labor market participation in the innovation sector—through both entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists that fund them. In addition to documenting this empirical regularity, it found this is not driven by a lack of supply of highly trained Hispanics having cited that the representation of Hispanics in MBA programs has been substantially higher than their representation in the venture capital and entrepreneurial sectors for the past two decades.

Overtly sensitive to the extent to which Gen X and Gen Z Latino entrepreneurs have felt marginalized—and amid a glaring lack of formal advocacy and representation despite this group’s collective size, scale, and contribution to the U.S. economic picture—Watson and Segarra launched the LatinX Travel Club as a way to connect and promote both cultural immersion travel and general interaction among this unique group of aspirationals…one one of the youngest, most diverse, and fastest-growing populations of the Western Hemisphere.

Given its moniker, the LatinX Travel Club does certainly help facilitate and spotlight meaningful and memorable travel experiences among its members, but the club’s services extend far beyond the tourism realm as driven and scaled by Watson’s Ventyour, Inc. venture, which develops software allowing users and businesses to network and communicate in real-time via location services, marketplace, and unified messaging. Other Ventyour brands designed to directly benefit the Latino small business community include its LatinX TechX & Entrepreneur platform that not only facilitates awareness and discussion around the latest trends in technology and innovation, but also provides entrepreneurs with information to empower them as small business owners. Ventyour’s arts and culture-focused LatinX Múxica & Films platform highlights new artists, promotes representation in films, and keeps the music vibe flowing, while its ‍LatinX FitX & Wellness platform promotes healthy lifestyle choices and self-care. 

As one key aspect of the LatinX community, photos and videos of member travel and other consequential experiences are shared throughout the organization’s social media platforms boasting over 200,000 collective followers worldwide. The @LatinXTravelClub Instagram itself boasts 156,000 followers, which is one of many clear indicators that Watson’s approach—and mindset—is resonating. “It’s not that we don’t belong in either world, but rather we belong in both worlds…there is a biculturalism to us that we need to be able to fully celebrate and be proud of…the love of travel can really help push forward our culture,” Pablo Segarra, CEO of Latinx Travel Club states publicly.

Also noteworthy is Ventyour’s first annual October 2021 LatinX Travel Summit during Hispanic Heritage Month—a multi-day event in Miami, Florida. The summit, which represents the culmination of the organization’s efforts in the realms of tech, travel, and media, is both a celebration and a means to bring the Gen X and Gen Z Latino entrepreneur community together, face-to-face, to gain insights, network, connect with brands, be inspired and grow professionally together as a unit. The event features business showcases, entertainment and performances, access to LatinX community thought leaders and both media visibility and business funding opportunities. At the summit, Ventyour also debuted a new tech app to showcase underrepresented entrepreneurs and businesses. 

The event’s size, scale, and purpose attracted an array of industry-leading Latin American tourism purveyors and strategic partnerships with world-leading multinational brands like Latam Airlines, the largest airline in Latin America; Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record label; and Diageo, the world’s third largest spirits company.

“We are cultivating a community that empowers and recognizes LatinX entrepreneurs and celebrates their ingenuity, innovation, and significance to the national economy—and brands are now taking notice and better appreciating the fiscal power of this population,” says Watson. “This summit galvanized our members further on both a personal and professional level while serving as a platform for connecting them with other businesses, organizations, and thought-leaders that focus on, and advocate for Millennial and Generation Z audiences.”

“Somewhat stylized as the cultural SXSW of Miami, we intend each annual LatinX Travel Summit to be a conglomeration of travel; film; interactive media; music; entertainment; entrepreneurial, start-up, and tech talks; and an expo—all in a single, comprehensive yearly affair held in one of America’s premier Latin American-oriented cities,” Watson continues.

Relative to the choice of Miami as the summit’s location, Watson notes the city was selected due to its large Latin American and Caribbean population and for the city’s growing reputation as “the next tech hub.” “More entrepreneurs and investors are relocating from traditional tech cities to the emerging startup ecosystem in Miami,” he says. “The city also has a vibrant LGBTQ community and a non-Spanish-speaking LatinX diaspora community that includes Haitians, Brazilians, and Jamaicans. We relish having all of them represented at the summit.”

Also, philanthropy-minded, portions of the proceeds from summit ticket sales will go toward funding local charities and the allied Nexus LatinX 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which provides scholarships allowing LatinX college students to travel on cultural immersion trips. 

All told, Watson and Segarra’s vision of creating a holistic platform that connects entrepreneurs, organizations, and thought leaders focused on Millennial and Generation Z audiences has come to fruition, all courtesy of the LatinX Travel Club that’s dutifully filling a glaring gap. By aptly facilitating business collaborations, exploring diversity, enhancing connections, celebrating Latino culture through the arts, and supporting LatinX youth, this membership organization is making a meaningful mark.

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