The Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber  is a non-profit organization that focuses economic advancement for the Latino and Hispanic community in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Based in Portland, the Chamber is one of the few that does actual technical assistance work: they offer one-to-one technical assistance for small business owners, host monthly luncheons for networking, conduct business seminars, offer and facilitate scholarships, and increase involvement and awareness amongst the Latino community and the broader community in the Northwest.
A couple of weeks ago, I took some time out to touch base with Jonath Colon , one of the Chamber’s Business Development Coordinators. Jonath is probably the most enthusiastic person I’ve spoken to in this industry – you’ll soon read all about why he loves his job, and I’ll ask that when you read it, you imagine the enthusiasm in his voice.
Here’s our Q and A!
1.What brought you to the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber?
I’ve worked with small businesses for a long time. The opportunity came for the Development Technical Assistant at the Chamber because I knew the work of the Hispanic Chamber (working with all members of the community to increase the economic advancement of Latinos in Oregon and SW Washington) and its Executive Director from my work at the State -it was a perfect fit. I’ve now been with the Chamber for a decade. It’s one of those things that when you find it, it’s a perfect fit – it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.
We don’t often see the direct impact of our work – working with people who are trying to better themselves, their family and community, to create something – to be a part of that energy in every step of the process is not something that many people get a chance to do – I feel very humble by being able to share in that process and those lives.
2.What do you do, day to day?
Our organization has helped about 3000 small businesses. That’s 1:1 technical assistance. That’s sitting face to face with small businesses owners. That does not take into account the workshops we do, or counseling over the phone.
We have a set of metrics we like to track; it’s nice to see someone in 2003 and then in 2004 and see where they were then and where they are now.
Our technical assistance program is designed to be very specific to what a client does. We have an open door policy; it gives us the ability to grow with a business and then help a business go through the business stages.
For example, we essentially ended up incorporating business systems as the business grows. One of our small businesses that came to us in 2003 returned a few years later, ready to hire employees but did not know how to go about that. We designed a program, catered to them, an industry specific HR program, including the development of an employee handbook- a first for both of us.
The way I see it, if you’re going to be supporting a business, you support them for the long haul. You become a strategic partner to their business.
In some cases, I’m actually now working with the children of the owners of the original business (I’ve shown my age now, haven’t I?).
3.What’s your favorite part about your day?
I think my favorite part of the day is those moments where I realize that a client and I have found a solution to their inquiry. If only I could ring a bell every time we solved a problem together, and they’re excited and I’m excited! Those are your treasure moments, and they happen every day.
4.Have you seen tangible impact as a result of your work?
Sure. We’ve been able to access about $8 million in financial transactions for small businesses. We’ve supported businesses that have been nationally recognized for their contributions and leading the way.
Under our micro businesses program, we took 15 businesses and tracked them over 3 years. They went from combined growth revenue of $120,000 to $1.3 million in three years. 9 years later, 12 of those 15 are still in business. And again, we’re talking MICRO businesses.
5.What do you hope will come out of your partnership with Kiva Zip as a Trustee?
What Kiva has done for us is it has allowed us to bring people together. You know, small businesses reach out to us and do amazing work here, and they leave here and go out in the world to knock on doors of opportunity. Kiva allows us to share our internal experience with these clients with a huge wonderful community, to say “this person is doing amazing work and I’m sharing this with you,” rather than having that person go out to knock on doors of opportunity by themselves. It allows other people to show the same support to our clients. It’s amazing what 100 people can say with a small gesture (a $25 loan): “we’re backing you up.” This is probably the only time you’ve had so many people rooting for you. Being a small business owner, you often work in isolation, and now you have a community saying “We believe. We believe with our dollar.”
6.Tell us about your three borrowers fundraising right now.**
We have three borrowers – our first borrowers – we are super excited about them. They’re pretty amazing individuals with some amazing obstacles that they’ve overcome. They all have a core value of supporting not only themselves but their families, the next generation. They have a commitment to contribute back to their community with their work. I think its one of those easy things where you think “yes, I want to invest in someone creating opportunity for themselves and each other.”
Fernando and his wife have three boys. They’re all working on this as an entire family. There’s great communication about what they’re doing and why. It’s an amazing learning experience for the kids – Fernando and his wife bring the kids in to their business sessions so they can learn why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Luis is a really hardworking individual who migrated up to Oregon with his wife and two kids. Again, it’s the same scenario. The family is really involved, and they all understand. We actually hosted a trade show recently and Luis’ two daughters were there, marketing their father’s business. One daughter reads the blueprints and manages the social media components of the business. We don’t always realize that when we’re giving a loan, we’re impacting an entire family. In Oregon, you’re impacting an entire community.
I love Adolfo because he’s doing what we do here in Oregon. We work with the environment. We take extreme care of what we grow. Adolfo has respect for the plant and the plant material he uses to create these incredible works of art. It’s the same approach he has for this business he’s building: he’s growing and caring for it just like we would a plant.
These are three amazing individuals. What’s exciting is that Kiva is going to allow all those amazing people who come into our office to have similar success. Fernando, Adolfo, and Luis are just the tip of the iceberg. The Kiva platform is going to be able to share these and more great ideas. It’s an amazing thing.
If you’re a local Oregonian, there are two ways you can choose to support these Kiva Zip Borrowers! 1. Go visit Fernando’s  truck, El Pilon , in downtown Portland, get your Christmas wreaths from Adolfo , and hire Luis  to pressure wash your home or business while the weather is still cooperating. Or 2. Go to kiva.org/oregon and help Luis finish up his fundraising!**
If you’d like to learn more about the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber, visit http://www.hmccoregon.com 
** At the time of this interview, all three borrowers were fundraising. At the time of blog posting, only Luis is left! Thanks to all the lenders that helped make this happen so quickly.