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Concepción Jiménez makes a living cleaning valley homes, a profession she perfected after 20 years in Phoenix. Decades of experience in the cleaning industry has allowed her to build her client base.
But it was not until 2022 that she officially established her own cleaning company. According to Jimenez, 47, she was able to do so thanks to Fuerza Local’s Latino business accelerator program, offered by Local First Arizona.
She was one of 45 Silicon Valley entrepreneurs celebrated Wednesday night at the Versailles Events Center in Maryvale. Jiménez joined other Maryvale, South Phoenix and Mesa business owners to graduate from the six-month incubator program.
The Fuerza Local Accelerator provides free training and resources for Latino small business owners in Arizona, taught in Spanish. It aligns with the mission of Local First Arizona, a non-profit organization that boosts the local economy by supporting local entrepreneurs.
“We’re very happy—all these entrepreneurs have six months to prepare and we help them get ready to grow their businesses,” said Mónica García, senior manager of small business development for Local First Arizona. “We have entrepreneurs from all walks of life, like food, decorations, construction, bakers — well, all walks of life graduating from the program. Imagine what we’re doing for the state of Arizona.”
During the program, participants learn the basics of running a business and slowly develop advanced skills to grow the business, building a solid foundation for achieving short- and long-term goals. All courses are taught by professionals and subject matter experts.
More than 800 graduates
Since 2013, Local First Arizona has educated more than 800 Latino entrepreneurs in Arizona through the Fuerza Local program. A similar incubator called We Rise, which focuses on elevating Black business owners, launched in 2020 and has since graduated more than 40 leaders.
The goal is to build an inclusive and sustainable economy in Arizona that supports entrepreneurs of color. These programs aim to end long-standing racial wealth disparities and unfair banking and lending practices by connecting Latino and Black business owners with mentors, clients, communities and sources of funding.
“I am incredibly proud of these graduates. Their hard work and dedication inspires everyone,” said Local First Arizona CEO Kimber Lanning. “[The program]is helping shape the future of Arizona, both in our rural and urban areas. Our heartfelt congratulations to all of these incredible business owners.”
The second Fuerza Local graduation ceremony is scheduled for Sedona, and Latino entrepreneurs from Sedona and Cottonwood will celebrate Friday at the Sedona Performing Arts Center.
According to the most recent US Census report, Arizona has a population of 7,359,197, 32.3 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino.
In 2018, there were more than 610,000 businesses in Arizona, more than 112,000 of which were Latino-owned. These companies employ more than 101,000 people, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Enterprise Development Agency.
Get the tools to help them grow
When the opportunity presented her, Jiménez hadn’t decided whether to take part in the project. She asked herself: “‘If I clean the house, why do I have to go to class? What am I going to learn?'”
Phoenix-based Conce’s Cleaning LLC was born during the accelerator program.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the coaches I got. I’m grateful to him because he was patient with me. They really helped me a lot with things I didn’t even know I needed for my company,” Jiménez Say.
Luis Antonio Fuentes Olmos is the owner of Tacos Monkey in Phoenix, near 22nd Avenue and Campbell Avenue. Through his tacos, he shares his Mexican family’s recipe—a fusion of Guerrero, Baja California, and Sonora cuisine.
He dreamed of taking his small business to the next level and decided to enroll in the Fuerza Local program.
“I’m selling something original, something we’ve made ourselves, and here they’re telling us there’s a Latino community that we can work with, that we can do great things with if we put our minds to it,” Fuentes said.
Another graduate, Luz Murillo, has lived in Peoria for more than two decades after immigrating to Arizona from San Luis Rio Colorado in Sonora, Mexico. She sells homemade sweets and has also started throwing catering parties through her business, DessertsLu.
“The concern about continuing to grow drove me to sign up,” she said. “I had projects, proposals, but I limited myself because I needed permits, licenses.” Murillo, 37, said her mentor on the program helped her figure it all out.
In 2023 she will celebrate two years of owning and growing her Peoria business.