Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center adviser wins North Bay Latino business leadership award
Bringing information in Spanish to entrepreneurs is a major goal for Mariana Gomez Almaraz of Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center, a 2020 winner of the Business Journal’s Latino Business Leadership Awards.
Professional background: Payroll and human resources specialist, and business adviser
Education: Graduated from the University of Guadalajara with a bachelor’s degree in business administration
Tell us your story and that of your organization: The Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a nonprofit organization that provides expert no-cost advising and low cost workshops in English and Spanish to guide small businesses to success and accomplishment.
As part of the Northern California SBDC network, the Napa-Sonoma SBDC serves all of Napa and Sonoma counties and is hosted by the Napa Valley College. We work hands-on with entrepreneurs and business owners to address challenges, seize opportunities, and grow our client’s bottom line.
I have been a part of the Napa-Sonoma SBDC since 2016. I wanted to join this organization because I saw that Latino-owned businesses were not being advised on how to properly run a business.
I wanted to offer workshops and trainings in Spanish because they were not offered through the SBDC. Although there had been many successful Latino-owned businesses, there were no other types of organizations that guided entrepreneurs in the correct path to create a successful business. I am honored to be part of an organization with a purpose to create successful business owners and strengthen our local economy.
Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?
My biggest accomplishment was completing my certification to officially receive my Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of Guadalajara in Jalisco, Mexico.
I graduated in 1997 but did not complete my certification. Right after my graduation, I came to the U.S. to study English with the intention of returning to Mexico and continuing my career.
I got established in the U.S., I got married, had kids and the idea of getting back to Mexico was replaced by the idea of starting a career in the U.S.
I studied ESL, QuickBooks and math because I was passionate about numbers. Finally, I dedicated all 2019 to complete all my certification process and 22 years after my graduation, I obtained my bachelor’s degree.
I am proud of implementing all this resources and trainings such as: How to start a business, record keeping, marketing, next level, food handler’s certification, safety manager’s certification, how to serve alcohol responsibly and QuickBooks.
Because of all these training and resources, I am incredibly happy that I was able to help entrepreneurs open, and/or expand their business.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
In 2020, I became part of a partnership with Hector Velazques, CEO of Nexo Media, and Hugo Mata, principal of Soluna Outreach Solutions, and created the LatinX-HUB to provide a one-stop to connect the community, specifically the Latino community, to services and resources provided by organizations in Sonoma County.
Our goal is to expand this HUB to other counties soon. The HUB is also part of LatinX-Radio and Poder de Saber, which were created out of the necessity to provide information to the Latino community when the COVID-19 started affecting the community.
What is your biggest challenge today?
The biggest challenge I am currently facing is creating the very first all-Spanish NEXT level, 8 week course for entrepreneurs provided by the SBDC.
The challenge is bringing in 15 – 20 Latino owned businesses and up to three Spanish speaking business advisors, which will lead to the expansion of the Spanish advising program.
What are you most proud of regarding the achievements of the area Latino business community and what are the greatest challenges faced by that community?
I am proud to have brought classes in Spanish for business owners and to create partnerships with organizations whose sole mission is to help launch thriving businesses.
Language has been a barrier for many businesses and the lack of information in Spanish has halted their expansion. When the pandemic hit Sonoma County, many businesses did not seek any financial assistance from government programs because they were skeptical about the requirements needed to meet to qualify for such programs.
Words that best describe you: Dedicated, supportive, assertive, detailed and most importantly, humble.
As a successful professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?:
Learning English was a big obstacle. I had to learn the language quickly in order to translate documents into Spanish, and at times it was difficult because I had to interpret before translating in order for these documents to be understandable by the target audience.
How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?
I see my career changing sooner because I am determined to expand the Spanish advising program and training advisers from different areas in the county to provide advising to a larger group.
Who was your most important mentor?
Mary Cervantes has not only been a mentor, she has also been an inspiration to continue my career growth. She has trusted me with the program and giving me all the tools needed to become the successful adviser I am today.
Tell us about your community involvement: I have partnerships with organizations and provide volunteer work with the first bilingual radio station in the country, KBBF. I also provide information in Spanish live on social media through Poder de Saber.
What advice would you give to a young person today?
My advice to a young person is to always follow their dream, and work hard to achieve them. I would also advise them to become involved their community, and learn their true needs in order understand how to better serve others.
It’s a challenging time for all but the COVID-19 virus has been especially tough on the Latino community. Tell us your experience either personally or with the group or company you work with in dealing with the economic impact of the virus.
Latino businesses did not take full advantage of all programs created by the SBA for several reasons, such as: language barrier, lack of information, or immigration status.
What are the lessons of this difficult year – including the COVID-19 virus, the economic downturn and the fires – for you and how has it changed your outlook for the future?
This year has been night and day, where day means more preparation, more education, more effort, business pivoting, and more community relations.