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Arturo A. Noriega

Founder and CEO, Centro Community Partners

“Whatever you choose to pursue as your mission in life, it has to align with your values. If not, you won’t stay the course and you won’t realize your goal.”

Close to 40 percent of the nation’s 30 million small-business owners are women and 6.4 million are women of color, yet women receive only 16 percent of conventional small-business loans and only 4.4 percent of all dollars lent. In 2010, I founded Centro Community Partners to provide low-income women of color and minorities from underserved communities with entrepreneurial education, training, access to capital and mentorship — everything they need to become successful business owners. Centro has served more than 4,500 entrepreneurs in four languages and facilitated access to more than $1.4 million in microloans. 

The problem I am trying to solve

African American and Latinx women have been among the fastest-growing entrepreneurial groups for the last several years. With Centro’s guidance, resources and emotional support, many of them are able to successfully start their own businesses.

The moment that sparked my passion

My parents, immigrants from Peru, tried to become entrepreneurs in California and were denied both credit and access. Their struggle inspired me to want to create change, which led me to study economics, get an MBA, and work and study in 30 countries all over the world. However, when the financial recession happened in 2008, I was laid off.

I volunteered at several nonprofit microenterprise development organizations in the Bay Area. At one, I partnered with a Mexican immigrant named Adela, who wanted to start a day care and needed a small loan. We completed her business plan and went to several community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which provide credit to underserved entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, they all turned her down — they wanted collateral and said she didn’t have enough credit history. We were both so disappointed.

I thought about it all night, and the next day, I told her that I would lend her the $10,000 she needed — but she had to take my business advice and coaching. She agreed, and a month later she was able to rent a house that she converted into a day care, with living space for her family. Once her business became stable, Adela thrived. She’s the major breadwinner for her family and a rock-solid part of her community. My teaching and coaching became the first Centro program.

What I wish other people knew

Entrepreneurship is one of best ways to build equity and wealth, and women and minorities are the fastest-growing segments leading the way to new business creation in our country. Yet I don’t think most people realize how wide the racial and economic equity gap is for minorities, immigrants and women entrepreneurs or how the economic development system in this country fails millions of them. This system needs change and innovation. I feel compelled to help promote gender and racial equality in the systems that provide access to capital, entrepreneurship education and business resources.

Advice to others who want to make a difference

Whatever you choose to pursue as your mission in life, it has to align with your values. If not, you won’t stay the course and you won’t realize your goal. When your mission does align with your values, you’ll feel confidence, focus and clarity, and your vision will become reality.

Why my approach is unique

I didn’t like the inconsistencies of how entrepreneurship was taught. I asked: How can we standardize the methods and allow for access to anyone at any time? We put the focus not on a teacher lecturing but on peer-to-peer learning. We use a tech-based curriculum through the Centro Business Planning App, which has brought down the cost of entrepreneurship education from $5,000 to less than $1,000 per student. Students have to come prepared because they are expected to give advice to their peers, not just write notes or listen. Everyone talks, bonds and is incredibly empowered. Most important, they leave the Centro program ready to start and grow their own business, realize their vision, and develop themselves into business owners who build community and thrive.