Pitch Latino Seattle 2024 spotlights local Latino business founders

Skylar Stekly

The spirit of entrepreneurship is recognized as a strong tradition in many Latino communities. But for Latino business owners in Seattle, there is a considerable gap in visibility for these founders and their endeavors.

A pitch-style competition seeking to address this disparity came to Seattle this spring. Pitch Latino Seattle took place on May 8 at the University of Washington’s Founder’s Hall. Nine local Latino founders were chosen to pitch their businesses for the opportunity to win start-up funds and create connections in the community.

Pitch Latino guests register at Founders Hall on Wednesday, May 8. The pitching competition sold out its auditorium as an opportunity to network, learn about new Latino-run startups, and engage with the business community.
(Photo by Skylar Stekly)

Propio, an online accounting firm, won with a persuasive pitch addressing the obstacles small businesses face and how their WhatsApp-based accounting tool can assist business owners and accountants.

The event came to Seattle for the first time this year when Pitch Latino Seattle Director Fanny Tavera, an MBA student at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, noticed a significant gap in representation for Latino-owned businesses in the city.“For me, this event was to focus on the Latinx founders and start-ups as a way to say, ‘We are here,’” she said.

Tavera is the representative and president of her 2024 graduating class. Through programs such as Venture Fellows, which works closely with local venture firms and incubators, she began a conversation about reclaiming space for Latino business owners. Research and cold outreach via LinkedIn eventually connected her with Latino Founder, a nonprofit accelerator dedicated to empowering Latino businesses and their owners.

Latino Founder created Pitch Latino in Portland, Oregon. The model is industry-agnostic, open to entrepreneurs from all sectors. This competition has granted thousands of dollars to Latino-owned businesses and start-up opportunities through a broad network of Latino founders in the Northwest.

According to the US Census Bureau, an estimated 6.5% of all businesses in the United States are Latino-owned. A survey conducted by Bain & Company shows that despite these businesses’ importance to the global economy, they are underfunded from all sources of capital. While Latino-owned businesses bring in an estimated $2.7 trillion annually, only 1% of funding from the top 25 venture capital and private equity firms is allocated to them.

Tavera saw this event as an important step toward “bridging the gap between the founders and all the community in attendance.” She hopes bringing this model to Seattle, “inspires those who are considering entrepreneurship, because now they’re seeing representation.”

Prospanica Seattle Chapter, an association of Latino and Hispanic MBAs and business professionals, sponsored the first Pitch Latino Seattle event. One month before the competition, the organization hosted a pitch coaching session. 

“A lot of entrepreneurs, especially in the Latin community, might have great ideas and the knowledge to execute them, but when it comes to pitching in three minutes or less in order to get some funding, that’s not a skill that everybody has,” said Jose Mario Peña, co-president of the Prospanica Seattle Chapter. Rosario Sethi is the other co-president.

Each invited founder had the opportunity to explore their work around the conference table, pitching and receiving constructive critiques from professionals with diverse backgrounds in the business industry. 

On the evening of Pitch Latino Seattle, community members filed into the hall, which was lively with music, fresh arepas, and multilingual chatter about life and business. This audience of industry leaders, university students, and community supporters ultimately determined the winner of Pitch Latino Seattle 2024 via a majority vote.

Panelists from different sectors of the industry spoke, sharing personal experiences and encouraging the founders before the event transitioned to the competition. Each entrepreneur was allocated three minutes to present their pitch, followed by two minutes of questions from a judging panel.

Rodrigo Carriedo opens his May 8 pitch with a photo of business owner, Araceli. Araceli’s story ultimately inspired the idea for his accounting company Propio which won Pitch Latino Seattle 2024. (Photo by Skylar Stekly)

Rodrigo Carriedo, founder and CEO of Propio, integrated storytelling and language elements into his pitch. Carreido “was a great storyteller, and I think that really played a role for him in the end,” said Peña. The pitching coach emphasized the importance of relatable storytelling for an audience.

At the beginning of Carreido’s pitch, the image of a young woman smiling with family members beamed across Foster’s walls. The woman is Araceli, an immigrant from Mexico. Carreido explains how Araceli worked through the barriers in her education and career path to ultimately own two businesses.

“She was constantly nadando contra la corriente, swimming against the current,” Carreido said, “Araceli is the definition of Chingona.”

Carreido’s words immediately struck one audience member, Eric Ramirez, who, after the competition, defined “chingona” from his own experience: “Someone who shows her courage and her commitment to overcome obstacles and to find a goal,” said Ramirez. “It’s normally used for someone that you really admire and that struggled through life to get to a successful point.”

Carreido said that each founding member of Propio is an immigrant or child of an immigrant and that this identity comes with strength built from legacy and hardships in the professional world. He said he is inspired by many of the hardworking women he grew up with in Mexico. The idea for Propio came from business owners like Araceli and his mother, who worked hard yet needed essential support, especially in accounting processes.

His business model, a WhatsApp application that provides accounting assistance for small businesses, was well received by accountants and helped customers grow their businesses through fast help with accounting questions using multilingual software.

The audience voted to award Propio the $5,000 prize, while the other participants were given $500 for their businesses. Carreido says these prize funds will help Propio start up its business and expand its potential in technology and outreach.

“We are here for the long run,” said Carreido. “I want to work, and I want to make sure that many other Araceli’s  have similar  opportunities–that they have enough tools for them to figure out how to be the other Araceli’s.”

Many contributors to Pitch Latino Seattle said they hope the event happens every year. In an example of chingona, Tavera hopes to proceed with the expansion of Pitch Latino Seattle after she completes her MBA. 

“Ultimately, I see this growing into an organization in Seattle that is a magnet for Latino founders to connect and support one another, as well as being a source to provide founders themselves with resources and the tools to be able to bridge the gap that exists in the space,” said Tavera.

Cover Photo: The nine Latino Founders pose with their checks in Founders Hall after the May 8th pitching competition. Pitch Latino 2024 Winner Propio took home $5,000 while the other constants earned $500 for their startups. (Photo by Skylar Stekly)

Skylar Stekly

Skylar Stekly is a fourth-year student at the University of Washington pursuing a major in journalism and public interest communication and a minor in english. Skylar is passionate about public affairs, arts and culture, and enterprise reporting with the goal of writing community stories that create connections on a global scale.

Publisher’s Notes: Washington Latino News and a class in the Journalism and Public Interest Communication program at the University of Washington are partners in best serving the Hispanic and Latino communities.