Brent Rondon and Roberto Bellido-Diaz stand in an office
Features & Articles

How Pitt’s Small Business Development Center supports Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs

Tags
  • Community Impact
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Small Business Development Center

Lea este artículo en español.

In 2020, the University of Pittsburgh’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) was ranked No. 1 by the U.S. Small Business Administration for exceptional offerings, which include consulting, workshops and specialty support for entrepreneurs throughout the lifecycle of their business.

Since arriving at Pitt, SBDC Senior Management Consultant Brent Rondon (GSPIA ’95) has expanded the center’s Spanish-language support to ensure all business owners, regardless of what language they speak, experience that excellence.

“Pittsburgh is not known for Spanish speakers,” said Rondon. “When I came, the center didn’t have this offering, but because I’m here, the Spanish-speaking community now is aware of business resources that otherwise they would not have known existed.”

It’s a group that’s small but growing. According to an analysis by Pitt’s University Center for Social and Urban Research, Pittsburgh’s Hispanic and Latinx population grew by 67% between 2010 and 2020, while other parts of Allegheny County saw the population increase by more than 80%.

Rondon himself immigrated to the U.S. from Peru in 1988 and settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he learned English as a second language — experiencing firsthand the challenges many immigrants encounter.

The more English classes he attended, the better his professional prospects became. While working for the State of Pennsylvania from 1989 to 1993, he helped facilitate international trade issues among the U.S., Mexico and Canada for the North American Free Trade Agreement enacted in 1994.

He said his knowledge of English and Spanish during these exchanges was integral.

After receiving a master’s degree in public administration from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Rondon served on the boards of GlobalPittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Mayor William Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative, an immigrant, refugee and asylee integration strategy launched in 2014.

He then joined Pitt’s SBDC. When he noticed entrepreneurs coming to him with business questions in Spanish, he took the observation to his director and suggested updating brochures to promote their Spanish-language consultation capabilities. Since then, he said, the SBDC has seen a 280% increase in engagement from Latinx and Hispanic business owners in the Pittsburgh region.

Rondon is a member of a team of 10 business consultants, Rondon evaluates capital formation for the seven-county region supported through loans, grants, venture capital investments and other forms of funding. Each consultant must meet a quota each year, but he said this doesn’t influence or dissuade their decision to work with smaller companies.

“It means we work with many clients, but we do not discriminate,” he said. “We’re open to every kind of company at any stage. We want to pinpoint their goals, give them advice, guidance, use of templates, checklists, education and connections.” 

Tangible results

Industrial engineer Roberto Bellido-Diaz’s story is one of several triumphant tales of immigrant entrepreneurship the SBDC has facilitated, according to Rondon.

As a child growing up in the mountain-surrounded city of Arequipa in Peru (coincidentally, the same hometown as Rondon), Bellido-Diaz dreamed of launching a business that would increase employment opportunities for his local community.

“In the high mountains of Peru, things are sometimes hard — resources are limited, but mostly opportunities are limited,” said Bellido-Diaz (SCI ’23G). “We saw an opportunity for development if financial institutions would lend money to rural areas for improvement. The problem: [Those institutions] did not find enough people trained to expand commercially.” 

Bellido-Diaz eventually launched Ignis, a software development firm that specializes in training for financial services and sales and develops mobile applications for managing relationships with customers. The firm’s success — training and placing hundreds of employees and attracting at least 10 new banks to the area — fueled his ambition to expand operations when he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2021.

Though he described feeling “lucky” to pursue a master’s in information sciences at Pitt, the hurdles he faced in establishing a U.S. arm of the business were compounded by a lack of resources for Spanish speakers.

“Trying to open a company in another language, the jargon matters,” said Bellido-Diaz, citing that misunderstanding even a few words can further complicate navigating the legal system, understanding corporate structures or obtaining a federal tax identification number. “These things were new to us.”

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before a friend informed him that the SBDC, part of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, had a solution. The support and growth the SDBC facilitated helped Bellido-Diaz and Ignis Technology navigate the U.S. business terrain and further innovate. Drawing inspiration from family members working in health care, he said he is now focused on enhancing patient experiences in medical environments by integrating AI.

“As a software company, you work on different problems that might seem unrelated, but how you approach and handle the information is similar,” Bellido-Diaz said. “We believe it is possible to learn about patients if we see every health interaction as a single touchpoint in the context of a longer wellness journey.”

Rondon expressed pride in Diaz’s journey. And, he said, this is just the start.

“As I usually say, Hispanics in Western Pennsylvania are still the invisible group,” said Rondon. “There are many entrepreneurs who want to do this — and can — they just need assistance and the information in Spanish. After that, they have no limits for growth. They bring a sense of eternal hope.”

 

— Kara Henderson, photography by Aimee Obidzinski