Latino Entrepreneurs To Students: Be Ready For Anything

By Vanessa De La Torre
The Hartford Courant


Leticia Colon de Mejias gave a swift rundown of her life in the Bulkeley High School auditorium Thursday.

“I’m a mother of six children, I own four companies, last year I made over a million dollars and I’m under 40 years old,” said Colon, who founded Energy Efficiencies Solutions, a Windsor energy conservation firm, four years ago with a $25,000 loan.

The longer version? It involved seeing every job as an opportunity, researching ideas and being ready for anything, she told students. “None of the doors will open until you start asking the questions,” she said.

Colon came to Bulkeley as one of the faces of “La Fuerza Innovadora,” or “the Innovative Force,” a state-backed media campaign highlighting Latino entrepreneurship in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
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The project was funded through the CTNext program of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public agency that invests in technology firms.

On-air spots featuring Colon and four other Latinos — videos that are equal parts empowerment and state advertisement — have appeared on Spanish-language Telemundo and Univision.

In a partnership with the Hartford school system, The Latino Way, a Hartford marketing company that was hired for the campaign, has also distributed “La Fuerza” DVDs to city teachers and brought speakers to Bulkeley, Burr and SAND schools during Hispanic Heritage Month.

“It’s so powerful when you have Latino professionals with your Latino last name speaking about the success they have as entrepreneurs,” said Maria Lino, a founder and principal of The Latino Way. “And they are local people.”

At Bulkeley Thursday, John Soto, the wealthy owner of Space-Craft Manufacturing in New Haven, recalled growing up poor in Puerto Rico. He moved to the East Coast when he was 15, labored in menial jobs and was targeted with discriminatory remarks over his ethnicity, he told the teens.

“Don’t ever let anyone define you because of your color, where you were born, what you are,” said Soto, who started his company more than 40 years ago with $3,000. “It starts right here. You’ve got to feel good about yourself before you start to win.”

Claudia Maldonado, an engineer who helps run Silex Medical, a Southington company that creates medical devices for minimally invasive surgery, said she left her native Colombia a decade ago to come to the U.S. with her husband, who had family in Connecticut.

It took about a year to regain her career in a new country, she said.

Maldonado said she avoided settling for fast-food shifts. As an immigrant, she worked to improve her grasp of the English language and validate the engineering degree she completed in Colombia.

“Don’t settle just for the middle ground,” Maldonado told the students. “Are there going to be obstacles? Yes. … Life is not easy. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up.”

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