Latino startup founders strut their stuff

With only one percent of venture capital funds going to Latinos, it would seem the deck is stacked against them to succeed as founders of startups, but a conference in New York City brought together entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in hopes of beginning to change that.

The Latino2 tech conference included a pitch competition where young founders presented their businesses. There was Lenard Fishman, a graduate of Wharton Business School of Venezuelan and Peruvian descent, who started Pledge4Good.com, a platform which allows for both small and large donations from families, businesses and universities with a focus on mobile payments.

Leonard Fishman, started Pledge 4 Good, a donation website focused on mobile payments. (Photo/Katerina Sardi)

Mauricio Zuniga, created a location-based online t-shirt site called Location Apparel, fueled by crowdsourced designs. The community in a given city votes on the designs and shares them via social media. With t-shirt designs going viral, Zuniga hasn’t needed to spend on marketing just yet. He began in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia and plans to move into New York, Atlanta and Dallas next.

Mauricio Zuniga from Chicago, started Location Apparel, a location-based t-shirt website fueled by crowdsourced designs. (Photo/Katerina Sardi)

Alejandro Russo, who is from Chile, won the pitch competition with his iPhone app Klooff, which is like Facebook for dogs — seriously. Russo’s app allows pet lovers to create a profile for their beloved furry friend and upload pictures which can earn points and badges for being “cute” or “tuff.” 

William Crowder, with Comcast Ventures and Dreamit Ventures, thought the pitches were strong and believes more Latino startup founders will come to the forefront as they learn about each other and build networks to help each other.

"The issue is not that they aren’t out there," he says. "The biggest issue is that they don’t know about each other."

The Latino entrepreneurs in attendance said events like the conference are a genuine start towards getting more Hispanics to secure venture capital funding.

"These opportunities let you present your ideas in front of the right people," says the 23-year-old Russo, who previously created and sold the top iPhone app in Chile to a company for "five figures."

Juniors from Gregorio Luperon High School put their ideas to the test by giving presentations to present investors. (Photo/Katerina Sardi)

A high school class comprised of mostly Latino students was also in attendance, which gave them a window into a world they weren’t very familiar with.

"It was exciting to be in Google headquarters," says Yamile Pacheco, 18. "I learned a lot by seeing what they were presenting and how they were presenting it." The student’s teacher, Saulio Tuero, says the experience was a chance for his students to be exposed to business and entrepreneurship. 

"For these kids to come to a company like Google and to see that there are Latinos who have made it is invaluable," he says.

"To see that they don’t have to study in a technological field — they can study advertising, marketing or  management and there will be a job for them and possibly even a company they want to start — that’s priceless."

ADRIAN CARRASQUILLO, NBC LATINO STAFF
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