EAST LOS ANGELES – An East Los Angeles program is helping minority business owners become their own bosses and invest in the community.
The East LA College Foundation Entrepreneur Incubator recruits women, minority, veteran, formerly incarcerated, LGBTQIA aspiring/existing students, and community-based entrepreneurs who are in a startup or growth phase looking to expand their company with help from industry leaders.
Jorge Gurrola is CEO and shoemaker at this company Mazatli Footwear. He taught himself how to sew by watching YouTube videos in order to kick start his business two years ago.
“I do a lot of hiking and camping so I wear a lot of sandals. And I probably wear sandals more than I do regular footwear,” Gurrola said. “I just came across this unique type of footwear that the indigenous people of Mexico wore, and that kind of caught my eye.”
His sandals pay homage to the style worn thousands of years ago, when indigenous people wore shoes with two straps. How he incorporates that design into each shoe, along with a tag that says “Made in East L.A.”
The Marine Corp veteran wants to eventually start a shoe factory in East L.A. and bring jobs to the community that raised him.
“I’ve always felt a certain connection to my community so I want to see my community prosper,” Gurrola said. “I want to see success stories happen in East L.A.”
He is working on becoming one of those success stories, thanks to the incubator. The program helps 15 minority small business owners with networking, financial courses, and growing their operation.
Gurrola needed help raising money. He started an online campaign and at first only raised $20. Doubt set in. But slowly more money started to trickle in.
“What started off at $20 bucks we ended our campaign at raising $5,335 in a matter of six or seven weeks,” said Gurrola.
The program has also helped Lisette Arceo grow Confetti Fiesta, a party décor business inspired by her Mexican heritage.
“If you go to Party City or any party store you’ll find things that are stereotypical and offensive, and I create things from my childhood that I remember and you wouldn’t find these things at a store. You wouldn’t be able to purchase these things without it being appropriated,” Arceo said.
Her goal is to one day open a party store in East L.A. for her and other Latina entrepreneurs to share.
She and Gurrola both want their businesses to provide opportunities to their East L.A. neighbors. For Gurrola, it is important to pay tribute to his roots.
“The indigenous roots are strong in East L.A. and we forget that because we live in the 21st century,” Gurrola said. “But it’s very important to know your past and to know the history of these people.”
He is forging a new career path, using the soles of his ancestors.