Federal money will help Latino startups expand in Tampa Bay

0 1 year ago

The LatinTech Accelerator will help fill the gap among Latino founders in tech. From left, Roberto Borrero, Cesar R. Hernandez, president of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber, and Mariah Ramos, manager of Accelerator Operations and Mentor Relations at Tampa Bay Wave, are pictured Thursday.

TAMPA — Roberto Borrero has always dreamed of launching his own mobile app to search and order food based on the most popular web sites, including Hispanic restaurants.

Now he feels that he may be closer to achieving his project.

New federal money of $500,000 could now offer him the opportunity as well as other Hispanic entrepreneurs to develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

The idea was one of 15 Community Projects submitted by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor to the House Appropriations Committee that is being funded for the 2023 fiscal year. The money will be used to launch the LatinTech Accelerator, a new business model and initiative for Latino tech founders.

“These community projects will help tackle the rising cost of living, educate the next generation, and create good-paying jobs that lift our community,” said Castor.

The initiative will be managed by Tampa Bay Wave, a local nonprofit tech incubator and accelerator, in coordination with the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce. To qualify for the LatinTech Accelerator, companies must be 51% owned, controlled and operated by Hispanics.

Linda Olson, founder and chief executive officer of Tampa Bay Wave, said the LatinTech Accelerator will make a meaningful difference to diversify and empower a Hispanic business sector that is linked to technology.

“This program will fill a critical gap in Florida’s startup ecosystem by helping a demographically important but underrepresented segment of tech entrepreneurs here and across the U.S.,” said Olson.

Accelerators for Hispanic entrepreneurs can provide opportunities to connect with other business leaders, investors and industry experts.

Startups with a Latino founder received just 2.1% of the nation’s venture capital in 2021, according to LatinxVC, a nonprofit focused on increasing venture capital investment.

Cesar R. Hernandez, president of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber, said the program will pave the way for empowering Latino businesses and entrepreneurs to reach their full potential. It will also serve as a beacon for inclusivity and progress in Tampa’s tech community, making it a model for the rest of the nation to follow, he said.

“This will help bridge the gap in access to capital and resources for these underrepresented groups, leading to a more inclusive and vibrant economy for all of Tampa Bay,” said Hernandez.

Tony Selvaggio is an entrepreneur who works in the community offering refurbished and low-cost computers.

Tony Selvaggio, 35, founder and president of eSmart Recycling, highlighted the program to encourage Latino entrepreneurs and empower their creativity.

Born in Venezuela, Selvaggio arrived in the United States in 2011. He worked a few years with a nationwide recycling business, then decided to open his own company in 2014.

In 2015, Selvaggio won $10,000 in a competition sponsored by the Hillsborough County Department of Economic Development that attracted dozens of entrepreneurs. The money helped Selvaggio place recycling bins in select schools and open computer workshops at Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Casa Chiapas in Tampa and the DreamCenter in Ybor City.

Selvaggio said his experience is proof that the development and expansion of business projects are possible.

“There are so many opportunities in an ecosystem as diverse as Tampa,” he said.