José Manuel Vasquez grew up in South Park, the son of entrepreneurs. His parents owned a video store and sandwich shop that served as a community hub for the neighborhood. As a child, José experienced firsthand how small business ownership can build family and community wealth. He saw how his parents kept a bulletin board with rooms for rent and job postings and were often a first stop for immigrants trying to get settled in Seattle. Now he’s piloting a small business incubator program through his new company Growing Contigo, in partnership with Villa Comunitaria, to help Latinx entrepreneurs in the creative industry establish themselves as entrepreneurs and build generational and community wealth.
This small business incubator is part of the Building Generational Wealth Initiative funded by the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods (DON). In 2023, DON is supporting BIPOC entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to pilot community wealth building strategies as part of a long-term effort to close the racial wealth gap in Seattle. The community wealth building strategies include:
- Broad-based Worker Ownership
- Community Controlled Capital
- Community Ownership of Real Estate
- Progressive Procurement
- Equitable Small Business Ecosystems
- Wealth Retention and Asset Protection Programs
Growing Contigo and Villa Comunitaria’s small business incubator represents the equitable small business ecosystem strategy and is the first pilot approved by DON. This strategy builds high-functioning local networks of allied organizations that generate the conditions and support entrepreneurs to thrive, launch, expand, and sustain their businesses. Within this strategy, these networks will actively identify and address structural barriers that curtail access and opportunity particularly for business owners of color, women entrepreneurs, people with low incomes, and businesses located in under-invested neighborhoods.
Over eight months, José and Villa Comunitaria staff member Nadia Melo will work with twelve entrepreneurs, leading a Spanish-language curriculum with monthly virtual and in-person meetings covering topics from business plan development, marketing and branding, financial planning and forecasting, ecommerce and digital presence, to business growth and expansion. The cohort will hear from guest speakers, including accountants, lawyers, City staff, and more, as well as receive one-on-one mentorship. Cohort participants will also have the opportunity to network and build relationships with one another, fostering a support system that will continue beyond the eight months of the incubator. José hopes the incubator will teach the business skills these entrepreneurs need and connect them to the right resources so they can turn their creative side hustles into full-time jobs.
Undocumented for most of his life, José sees entrepreneurship as an alternative path to financial stability. While undocumented immigrants don’t have access to Social Security, retirement savings plans, and other benefits, they can build wealth through small business ownership. José himself paid his way through college by running a cyber café out of his parent’s store, since he wasn’t eligible for financial aid. He believes others can create stability and prosperity for themselves in similar ways.
As consultants on DON’s generational wealth building research project, we at People’s Economy Lab are excited to see this pilot progressing! José hopes for his small business incubator to continue into the future with many more cohorts of entrepreneurs, and we’re thrilled to support him and Villa Comunitaria in this endeavor.