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3 Latina Entrepreneurs Share Their Success Stories

All tapped into their Hispanic heritage to launch successful businesses


spinner image a triptych showing latina entrepreneurs mayna nevarez, ingrid tejeda and carolyn aronson
A caption: From left, Mayna Nevarez, CEO of Nevarez Communications; Ingrid Tejeda, owner of Ingrid tu Variedad, Boutique; and Carolyn Aronson, creator of hair product company It’s a 10.
AARP

The United States has nearly 5 million Hispanic-owned businesses that inject $800 billion into the country’s economy each year. One of every four new businesses is started by a Latino or Latina entrepreneur, as revealed recently by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Of these, more than 300,000 Hispanic-led businesses have at least one employee in addition to the owner. In all, they employ 3 million workers with $100 billion in annual payroll.

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The trend indicates Latino-owned businesses will continue to grow at an explosive pace. A 2021 report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee noted that the number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew 34 percent in the 10 years before the pandemic, compared with a growth of 1 percent in the same time frame for businesses owned by non-Latinos. SBA data shows that, of the total 33.2 million small businesses in the country in 2022, 43.2 percent were owned by women, and 13.8 percent were owned by Latinos.

To put a face on these statistics, we profile three Latina entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles to rank among the best in their respective professions. Here are their stories:

Ingrid Tejeda: A 360-degree view of the fashion world

Ingrid Tejeda, 56, is known on social media as the mother of influencer, comedian and content creator LeJuan James. But in her day-to-day life, she plays roles ranging from business owner to fashion designer, communicator, influencer and educator.

This Dominican entrepreneur grew up behind the counter. Her mother was a seamstress by trade who ran multiple fashion-related businesses in her native Dominican Republic. So, from the time she was a girl, Tejeda learned how to deal with customers, how to handle garments and how to manage the books. At 18, she completed an associate degree in accounting and decided to move to Puerto Rico to start her own business.

“I ran a business for 16 years in Puerto Rico. My business with the public was always about clothing, covering many areas of the fashion world and on an independent basis,” Tejeda says.

“I never stopped studying. I completed a bilingual administrative assistant program to improve my English while I continued to run my business. I looked after my business mainly in the afternoons. I would work in the Department of Education in the morning, then at the boutique in the afternoon, and I would go to school at night. I was like a locomotive engine,” she remembers, underscoring she is not afraid to work hard.

She also studied cosmetology, which led her to work for González Padín, the first department store chain in Puerto Rico. She did similar work in Boston, where she lived when her son LeJuan was born.

In 1996, Tejeda and her husband, Juan Atiles, decided to move to Orlando, Florida, to provide a better future for their three children. It’s been 19 years since she opened Ingrid Tu Variedad, Boutique in Kissimmee, Florida, where she sells clothing for all occasions but specializes in quinceañera and wedding dresses. Four years after opening her boutique, Tejeda founded Images Development, a modeling school that she manages, which has given her the opportunity to work with young people — some as young as 5 — and their families.

The two businesses go hand in hand. The modeling school arose from a need to find models for the dresses she sold in her boutique. The boutique caters primarily to the Latino community, where the tradition of throwing a large formal celebration for a girl’s 15th birthday is alive and well.

Tejeda also steps behind the microphone for her show “Ingrid Tejeda Te Informa,” and she is the founder of the Miss Images International beauty pageant. Under the handle @lemomjames, she is an active social media influencer.

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Tejeda is pleased to see more and more Latina entrepreneurs in the United States.

“I’ve noticed that Latinas have become very independent in business in recent years. Latinas want to make a name for themselves, be upwardly mobile and not be so dependent on men. Hopefully that will continue,” she says. “When you go to Europe, you see this development more in women than in men. … I think Latinas are starting to learn that you can be a mother first, if you have children, as well as a wife and a businesswoman.

“Many people buy a business because they have the money, but they don’t know how to run it because they don’t know the company’s core business,” Tejeda says. “I have employees, but I can handle all aspects of the business.” She emphasizes, “In the fashion world, there is nothing that I’m not knowledgeable about.”

Carolyn Aronson: Filling a need and taking it to market

The beauty industry features many popular high-end brands of hair products. One such product, called It’s a 10, was created by Carolyn Aronson, 56.

In her 20 years as a hairstylist in Southfield, Michigan, Aronson had a hard time finding products that worked well with the diverse hair types of her salon clientele and also could be used at home. To fill this void in the market, she founded It’s a 10 in 2005. One year later, she launched her signature product, a hair cream called Miracle Leave-In. Today, 10 million bottles of Miracle Leave-In are sold each year in 74 countries. 

“As a Latina, I broke down barriers in the beauty industry as a founder and CEO of my own company — and that dash of Latin flavor didn’t hurt!” Aronson says. “When I was a girl, I had drive and determination. It’s really part of who I am every day, and those qualities have driven me to expand It’s a 10 and my other beauty businesses.”

Aronson, of Puerto Rican ancestry, admits to experiencing some frustration in the early years of her business, when the industry wouldn’t take her products seriously. Before It’s a 10, she tried to launch a product line called LINQ Haircare. Today, her business, among the few brands started by women, brings in millions of dollars in annual sales.

“Although most beauty products are consumed by women, the beauty industry is still very male-dominated,” she notes.

Her passion for breaking down barriers is not limited to the business world. Two years ago, at age 54, she had her fifth child, a baby girl. Her business is constantly evolving, and she has added a line of hair care tools — such as brushes and hair dryers — as well as hair extensions and cosmetics. In 2024, she hopes to launch a product line for men, also geared to a diverse population, for which she will partner with rapper Fat Joe. 

Mayna Nevarez: The figure behind the Latin sound

“Passionate about communication. Passionate about art and her artists.” That is how Colombian singer Carlos Vives describes Puerto Rican publicist Mayna Nevarez.

The 48-year-old public relations specialist arrived in Miami at age 23 in 1998 carrying two suitcases and a load of dreams. Little did she imagine that in just a few years, she would be working with the biggest stars in Latin music. At the time, she had limited experience as a publicist. She had started as a reporter and editor in chief of “En Punto,” the college student section of El Nuevo Día, the most widely circulated newspaper in her native Puerto Rico.

BMG US Latin transferred her to Miami to serve as press coordinator for the record label. Five years later, she became one of the first independent Latina publicists in Florida when she opened her agency, Nevarez Communications.

Since then, her accomplishments have been notable, working with artists such as Gloria Trevi, Carlos Vives and Daddy Yankee. She has been Daddy Yankee’s publicist for nearly 20 years.

“Recently I was very proud to work with my team to help the group Eslabon Armado become the first Mexican music group to sing on Good Morning America. Another first was (about) 20 years ago when we got Daddy Yankee to sing ‘Gasolina’ at the Premios Lo Nuestro awards ceremony, where he stepped out of a red Lamborghini. And when we got salsa singer Jonathan Moly to sing with the band Hoobastank at the Premios Juventud ceremony and brought two cultures together in one evening,” Nevarez tells AARP.

Nevarez cites her ability to reinvent herself as key to remaining relevant for more than 20 years.

Not all her accomplishments have been behind the scenes. In 2022, for example, Ocean Drive magazine named her one of Miami’s “7 Music Power Players,” and Billboard included her among the “PR Women Behind the Latin Superstars.”

Her husband, Rene Rodriguez, and her children — Oscar, 19, and Avril, 17 — are her rock.

“My husband is my best partner. He has always encouraged me, and one of the reasons I founded Nevarez Communications was so I could have greater freedom to set my own schedule, make a business plan to grow the agency over the short and long term. My children’s activities and family events have always been on my schedule, and I make it a priority to be there. My children have grown up that way, and they see it as part of their life. And they’ve given me lots of advice and brilliant ideas that I’ve been able to incorporate,” Nevarez says.

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