“We’re a One-Stop Shop to Help Latinos Achieve the American Dream.”
With more than 1 million Hispanic people estimated to live in Georgia, DeKalb County is lucky to be home to one of the leading organizations serving Latinos in the state – the Latin American Association.
Founded more than 50 years ago, LAA’s main office is on Buford Highway. The organization serves 48,000 people a year, with services such as teaching English, helping people find jobs, supporting families in a crisis, helping people start businesses and more.
“We’re a one-stop shop to help Latinos achieve the American dream,” said Laura Estefenn Diazgranados, LAA’s marketing and communications manager. “Our programs are aimed at breaking the economic barriers that Latinos face when coming to the United States.”
One way people can achieve the American dream is by owning their own business, and LAA has programs geared at women who want to become entrepreneurs through the ACCIONA Business Center.
“The curriculum helps women take the kernel of an idea and grow it into a full-fledged business”, said Ernesto Gonzalez, ACCIONA’s director of entrepreneurship.
Starting in the incubator stage, the program teaches budding entrepreneurs to define their business concept, understand the needs of the market and fill out the concept. Next, they spend two months on market analyses, creating a business plan, and understanding their target demographics.
“We empower them as much as we can in many ways. These small businesses they trust us and we support them,” he said.
The program brings in a business startup lawyer to teach the legal implications of an LLC vs. a corporation and others teach finances, cash flow and P&L statements, digital marketing and how to use AI to create content for social posts.
The program is available to women at any stage of business – from idea to startup to a more mature business that needs help scaling. “For someone looking to organize and upscale their businesses, little by little they start to understand their needs and see things they didn’t see before,” Gonzalez said.
LAA also offers a 1-year accelerator program for businesses ready to scale and includes pricing, procurement, going to market, getting certifications, how to apply for contracts with cities, counties, corporations, and more. Rounding out ACCIONA’s offerings are summer business camps, conferences and events, programs for men and family-run businesses and programs with the Small Business Administration to help entrepreneurs get access to capital.
“Loans, grants, trainings, pricing and especially digital marketing are key to developing those businesses,” he says. “We want to create an ecosystem to support the development of businesses. We’re one of the oldest Latino organizations in Georgia, so we’re very well connected. We share our vendors with our connections – for example the Braves, Univision, Telemundo and others all need vendors and we’re happy to connect people.”
Gonzalez, a native of Chile, has a background as a policy advisor for countries at the United Nations in New York, where he worked for 10 years. He advised on sustainable development, tech and disaster reduction.
He moved to Atlanta after getting married and started out volunteering at LAA. After six months, it turned into a job and now, he’s director of entrepreneurship.
Last year, ACCIONA served more than 5,000 women with the entrepreneur program and events and more than 10,000 since 2014.
“We also provide microloans for women – $130,000 since 2017,” Gonzalez said, adding they are looking to become a Community Development Financial Institution, or CDFI because “we see a lack of access to capital. Our main goal is asset building – giving people the chance to have fair rates, have access to credit and loans, buy their own businesses, homes, and cars with good interest rates.”
Estefenn Diazgranados added, “It’s super important that the Latino community knows that we are their home. We’re a service hub to use as a resource. We’re here. It’s a matter of coming to us and taking the reins of your own life, using those services we’re offering to move your life forward.”
She added that LAA doesn’t turn anyone away. “Anyone who comes through our doors, if we have the resources we’ll help.”
Added Gonzalez: “I really love the organization, what we do and how we impact the community.”
If you’re interested in learning more about LAA, including volunteering, donating or participating in programs, visit thelaa.org.