Hispanic small-business owner Catalina Stawski walked briskly through a crowded exhibition hall in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the District, eyes scanning the room for opportunity. She came for one reason only: to secure a contract with the government. She said that will take her family’s eight-year-old consulting firm to the next level.
“I’m here to get all the info I can, and a good contact to make that happen,” Stawski said.
That was the objective of most of the 1,200 Hispanic business owners and professionals at the recent Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Expo where banks, local government agencies, insurance companies and wireless companies were among the more than 100 exhibitors swapping business cards and handshakes to secure business with the Hispanic community.
“We’re here to help businesses to grow,” said Angela Franco, president and chief executive of the chamber. “Some of the non-Hispanic businesses can grow by working with the Hispanic community. It’s just a matter of showing it.”
Franco created the annual expo three years ago after discovering what she felt were the two greatest challenges to Hispanic business owners — access to capital and access to contacts.
“The number one question I’ve been asked is how to obtain lending,” said Ivan Saborio, business banking relationship manager at PNC Bank, an exhibitor at the expo.
Panel discussions during the event addressed those and other concerns, including access to federal contracting; challenges and opportunities with media; importing and exporting to Latin America; doing business with local government; and social media strategies.
Throughout the day, Hispanic small business owners met with buyers to pursue contracts. Among them was Kevin Schell, a business development officer and public relations liaison at The Elocen Group, a minority-owned program and project management firm. Schell came to the event with hopes of securing a facilities management contract with the American Red Cross. He submitted a proposal during his matchmaking session with the nonprofit and is now awaiting a response.
“I left with some solid leads that could turn into some significant contract opportunities,” Schell said.
Sponsors included Telemundo, Freddie Mac, American Airlines, Lanigan Ryan Malcolm & Doyle, B-thrifty, Maya Advertising, D.C .Events and Verizon.