City Colleges course aims to help Latino entrepreneurs

The continuing education course at Harold Washington College covered areas that some small-business owners overlook.

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Iris Gutierrez Berrios (from left), Elida Ramirez, Erik Zuniga, Daniel Forbes and Marisa Alcantar attended an event on Dec. 6, 2022 to celebrate completing a course at Harold Washington College that’s intended to help small business owners. Forbes taught the eight-week course; the others were his students.

Iris Gutierrez Berrios (from left), Elida Ramirez, Erik Zuniga, Daniel Forbes and Marisa Alcantar attended an event on Tuesday to celebrate completing a course at Harold Washington College that’s intended to help small-business owners. Forbes taught the eight-week course.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Iris Gutiérrez Berríos started her own business out of necessity more than anything else.

“It was do or die,” the 32-year-old attorney said.

The Puerto Rico native left her job at an immigration advocacy group in mid-2020. But soon, the rent was coming due, so she started a private legal practice.

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What experts call the “under the hood” components of running a business did not come easily, though.

“Numbers are a weakness I have,” said Gutiérrez Berríos, 32. But taking a new course in entrepreneurship for Latinos offered by City Colleges of Chicago has helped her when it comes time to balance her books.

She was in the first group of students completing an eight-week Latino Entrepreneurship course at Harold Washington College in the Loop. They just wrapped up their studies last week.

The continuing education course explored various aspects of running a small business, including finances, grant opportunities and marketing.

Iris Gutiérrez Berríos, shown on Dec. 6, 2022, has her own law practice, and took a course at Harold Washington College in the Loop aimed at Latino small-business owners.

Iris Gutiérrez Berríos, who has her own law practice, took a course at Harold Washington College in the Loop aimed at Latino small-business owners.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

It was launched in partnership with the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Students can register for the free course through the college’s Future Ready program.

Jaime di Paulo, president of the chamber, said it initiated the course to combat some troubling statistics about small businesses in Illinois. Although Latinas in the state start businesses four times more than any other group, 60% of them close in two years.

Di Paulo was worried Latino cottage industries that sprung up during the pandemic would fold without support.

“This is going to help Latino and minority-owned businesses to succeed,” he said. “The more we invest in our businesses, the more our communities are going to thrive.”

Harold Washington College was chosen because about 70% of its students are Hispanic, according to the college’s president, Daniel Lopez, who spoke Tuesday at a news conference where the first cohort was honored and the next round of the course was announced. Classes start Feb. 1.

Four of the nine students from the first cohort, including Gutiérrez Berríos, were on hand Tuesday.

Marisa Alcantar completed a continuing education course offered at Harold Washington College that was aimed at Latino entrepreneurs.

Marisa Alcantar runs a program at the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to help small businesses.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Marisa Alcantar, 51, who runs a program at the chamber to help small businesses, enrolled to better help those she works with.

“I wanted to live this end of the experience and be able to share that,” she said. “Business owners are so busy running their business they can forget all these other aspects of running a business.”

For Gutiérrez Berríos, that component was marketing.

“Money is like blood to the business, and marketing builds that flow,” Gutiérrez Berríos said, quoting her instructor, Daniel Forbes.

Adopting strategies, such as marketing through Google, already has helped increase her revenue.

“I had been priding myself on being word-of-mouth, on scraping by and being the underdog,” she said. “But I realized you don’t have to do that.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

Graduates of a course at Harold Washington College aimed at Latino entrepreneurs are seated at an event marking their completion of the class. Standing behind them are officials from the city, the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and City Colleges of Chicago.

Graduates of a course at Harold Washington College aimed at Latino entrepreneurs are seated at an event Tuesday marking their completion of the class. Standing behind them are officials from the city, the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and City Colleges of Chicago, including their course instructor, Daniel Forbes (in bow tie).

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

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