The stories we tell matter. They create connection and influence, and they quite literally shape the truth as we perceive it.
Done right, stories can also lead to funding: real money in the pockets of entrepreneurs. There’s a growing community of BIPOC women who are leveraging the power of storytelling to grow their businesses and make a real impact on racial wealth gaps.
As a journalist, it’s why I’ve covered Latinos and money since 2015, a time when our cohort was largely absent from national business headlines. The contrast of this absence compared with places like Union City’s Bergenline and Chicago’s Little Village, both thriving communities built on small businesses made by immigrants and Latinos, was jarring. I knew there was a bigger story to tell about our diverse cohort.
It wasn’t until more data shed light on our group as entrepreneurs and producers that we began to see the tides turn and more coverage positioning Latinos as an economically powerful group. Among these reports was Stanford’s in 2018, reporting that Latino small business owners had grown 34% over the last decade. Today, we’re able to point to the fact that we make a $2.8 trillion GDP. If we were an economy, we’d be the fifth largest in the world.
“We believe that data is important. Most people, including policymakers in the government, institutions, and corporations, will try to do the right thing with the data,” Arturo Cazares, CEO of Stanford’s Latino Business Action Network, said.
This is why my podcast and newsletter Moneda Moves exists. Combine the power of data with storytelling about Latinx leaders, money, and our role in the American economy, and you can connect and influence the way that decision makers think. On the podcast, we’ve interviewed Latine media powerhouses about their latest ventures, fintech founders helping people pay off debt, and the CEO of a company sharing aguas frescas with the masses, to name a few.
Here are four successful entrepreneurs who show the powerful results that can happen when underrepresented voices create and leverage media platforms to amplify their stories.
If there’s anyone who understands the importance of telling stories about underrepresented groups, it’s Kori Hale.
When Hale saw a gap in business, finance, and tech news for Black professionals in 2018, she founded CultureBanx. Today, the platform speaks to the role of the Black community in the US economy.
“What we want to be able to do is impact the racial wealth gap,” she said. “When we tell our stories, that’s how we make sure our community is valued for what they’re bringing to the table.”
Sitting at the other end of the table reading these stories? Fund managers, investors, and venture capitalists. To Hale, not only is journalistic work done to increase the representation of the Black community in business news, but with the understanding that storytelling has influence – in this case, influence to move capital.
“CultureBanx consistently facilitates connecting Black entrepreneurs to capital in the form of fund managers and angel investors,” Hale said. “We have a ‘GameChangers’ section on our platform to specifically highlight and tell the stories of Black entrepreneurs who are disrupting various business sectors.”
Sandra Velasquez has witnessed the power of story firsthand. Before her career as a entrepreneur, she spent 15 years working as a Latin alternative musician, wearing multiple hats on the team – among them sharing her band’s story with news outlets. She observed the influence of media and storytelling.
“[The press] would print it and then it would become the truth,” she recalls.
So when she set out to launch her prickly pear, or nopal-based luxury beauty product in 2020, Nopalera, not only did she know the product, she knew the elements that would make the brand’s story and mission. Velasquez understood that Nopalera would be positioned as a cultural storytelling platform. She knew that visually, the packages would feature a golden woman with cactus leaves growing out of her head. Nopalera recognized its immediate Latina user base while also preparing for its eventual global appeal.
It’s with this vision that she’s been able to build a company that is now carried by prominent brands like Credo Beauty and Nordstrom—and helped her raise more than $2.7 million. This is in an environment where Latino startup founders receive just two percent of venture capital.
“You can’t extract the storytelling from the brand,” Velasquez said. “The branding itself has to tell a story. There’s visual storytelling and word storytelling. We worked on the branding part because it has to tell a story right away.”
When Valasquez first came to Karina Martinez, founder of storytelling and public relations culture-forward company The Avana House, she had her narrative ready. Founders frequent her agency when they are looking to raise seed money or Series A funding.
“The opportunity of the story is that someone reads it and understands all of the elements that are Nopalera … all the intention and the market opportunity,” Martinez said. “We went after high profile outlets that would therefore reiterate that Latina was luxury.”
Velasquez was asked for her recommendation to other entrepreneurs on when to seek assistance with storytelling as part of the business infrastructure. Her advice: Do it early, and do it often.
That’s the same advice given by Chanel Cathey, CEO and founder of CJC Insights. She cites brand storytelling as crucial early in the process to deliver authentic messages throughout the company’s growth. She’s led these journeys as a communications strategist working to prepare startup founders for the media. Notably, she guided communications for Black-owned unicorn companies, like the credit-building fintech Esusu.
“When you find founders who are strategically leveraging data to their advantage and calling out gaps in the market … that’s where you see more founders having traction,” she shared. “Storytelling is essential to me.”
This year, Esusu landed on Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative FInance Companies of 2022. On a panel with CultureBanx earlier this year, Cathey pointed out that media placements like these are major indicators to stakeholders and potential investors.
“There’s a hesitancy amongst us to talk about what’s going on with our business because we’re worried it might stifle other capital,” she said in the discussion. “We have to break a lot of these systems and reimagine how we are talking.”
For Velasquez, she says that presenting Nopalera’s brand story has not only helped position the brand to be present in luxury stores and investment, but also revealed that some investors were not ready to receive a Latina-owned luxury brand with a global appeal like her own.
“We have the power to write our own story,” said Velasquez. “It’s not about waiting for someone to come and discover us … We need to be the ones to tell our story.”