Marcela Montero knows what it’s like to feel alone in a sea of circumstances as she is a first-generation American. Montero moved to the U.S. in 2001 with her family, looking for new and better opportunities, and leaving behind the political, economic, and social instability affecting Ecuador at the time.
Growing up in Ecuador, Marcela witnessed first-hand what it took for her parents to manage two careers, a successful consulting business, and a family. The hard work, long hours, and hard-won successes left an impression on young Marcela; one that would end up influencing her life’s work.
Sadly, Marcela’s father passed away when she was just 12 years old.
“After my father died, my mom continued teaching and running the business with the support of my older siblings. But being a single mom, running a business, and caring for a family of five affected her health,” shares Marcela. “At the same time, our country was going through political and economic problems. All of these factors contributed to my mom making the decision to travel to the U.S. in search of better opportunities for us. Once we arrived here, my mom considered the idea of opening a business, but due to the language barrier, lack of knowledge, and access to Spanish information and resources, she moved on from that idea and pursued other opportunities.”
It’s a scenario all too common for immigrating people once they become stateside. Previously successful professionals or entrepreneurs soon become sidelined once the language barrier, credential requirements, or challenging atmosphere prove to be too much to overcome. While the individual remains competent and qualified for in-demand work, it’s the infrastructure that isn’t always suited to welcome those from the outside.
This unfortunate reality is how you might come to learn that your taxi driver was actually a surgeon in their native country. Or that the incredible customer service agent who helped you at your favorite store had been a licensed therapist before immigrating to the United States. While some lack of transferable credentials is understandable, as there are differing criteria for healthcare, infrastructure, and other professions, there are some barriers that simply don’t need to exist — specifically, those that stand between would-be entrepreneurs and their dreams.
After the pandemic ravaged what had been a successful career in hospitality, Marcela was faced with a choice: ride it out or try something new. Thankfully, she chose the latter.
In 2021, as the doors began to close in the industry that she’d spent nearly a decade in, it was time for Marcela to take a leap of faith, just like her mother had years ago. Except for this time, her leap of faith wasn’t just for herself or her family. Marcela’s 2021 leap was destined to change the trajectory of Hispanic and minority business owners throughout the Indy region and beyond.
Since landing the role of Member Relations Manager at Indy Chamber, Marcela’s leveraged her hospitality expertise and natural inclination to connect, care, and engage with others, breaking new ground with minority business owners. As a member of the Hispanic community and a daughter who witnessed first-hand the positive impact entrepreneurship can have on a family, Marcela’s especially invested in providing support, guidance, and opportunities that her mother and others like her haven’t been afforded.
“I have a genuine interest in seeing minority-owned businesses succeed. The more I connect with business owners in my community, the more I feel that the mission of my job goes beyond my job description,” says Marcela. “To me, it is more than selling memberships.”
The support offered through the Chamber can often be the difference-maker for those striking out on their own, thanks to Marcela and her colleagues within the Business Ownership Initiative. The Chamber’s over 2,000 members gain access to expert business coaches, unique capital lending and procurement programs, workshops, and networking opportunities that can improve outcomes and even change lives.
“Early on, when I was beginning as the Chamber’s member relations manager, I identified the need to strengthen the relationships among our Hispanic members,” remembers Marcela. “I want to build trust for the Hispanic community to lean on organizations like the Indy Chamber for connectivity, resources, and education.”
What could have materialized as a small nod to her roots has instead resulted in a groundswell of support, engagement, and celebration of what opportunity lay ahead for Hispanic entrepreneurs in Indy. In just a year, Marcela has more than quadrupled the Chamber’s membership count of Hispanic business owners, began laying the groundwork to expose the positive economic impact of Hispanic-owned businesses, and created an event series cultivated especially for the Hispanic entrepreneur set. With two events completed in a four-part series, Conexión Empresarial is already making waves.
“It’s a series of four small, but intentional, sessions. I’ve received support from volunteer professionals who have been the speakers at these sessions, donating their time, resources, and sharing their expertise with the audience. I’m thankful to all of them; I believe that it’s an effort on the right path with the best intention to move the needle,” shares Marcela.
The events are more than just an opportunity for networking; it’s a time to learn, engage, and be inspired. During the August event, attendees learned about labor laws and legal best practices from attorneys at IU Health and Ice Miller LLP. At the first event, financial education was at the forefront. With each engagement, attendees have the opportunity to improve themselves and help uplift the Hispanic business community.
“My vision is to expand the Hispanic community’s awareness of resources and build trust,” says Marcela. “To connect people to organizations that care about their success and increase awareness of the economic impact that the Latinx community has on the region and the U.S economy. The better prepared and educated we are about running a business, the higher the chances to succeed in the long run.”
The economic impact of Hispanic-owned businesses in Central Indiana is monumental, coming in at over $1.1 billion in annual revenue. The over 5,000 firms that help make up that number only scratch the surface of what’s possible for the community and the families that stand behind each entrepreneur. And if they’re anything like Marcela’s family, many businesses are a family affair that can span generations.
“As I meet with Hispanic business owners and learn about their journeys, I relate to them. It reminds me of my family, specifically my mom, and our beginning here in this country. It reminds me of everything we went through looking for our path to success as immigrants in the U.S.,” shares Marcela. “I feel fortunate, and in a position to help others to find their path to success. My work at the Chamber allows me to connect small business owners to opportunities and resources, which is very rewarding.”
Marcela efforts have not gone unnoticed; she was named a member of the 2022 class of the Indiana Latino Leadership Circle, a two-year program designed to nurture emerging Latino talent.
One thing is clear: Marcela is in growth mode, and Indy will be better for it, thanks to her vision and tenacity. Despite the challenges and heartbreaks her family has experienced over the years, the chance to forge a new path for others keeps the fire burning for Marcela, whose own small children look to her for inspiration — just as she continues to be inspired by her mother.
“My mom taught me to be strong, kind, to keep learning, and to adapt to different situations. Despite all the challenges we faced as immigrants when we first arrived, my mom always stood strong; she made a home for us here and has always been a cheerleader for us. She is the one that keeps us together and has ultimately been an example of embracing new places and situations.”
Marcela is now a mother herself, and together with her husband, she works to balance her thriving professional career with her home life.
“Motherhood is beautiful, but one of the most challenging roles I’ve had. Due to our current roles, my husband and I are raising our kids away from our immediate families, the reality that many immigrants’ families face. I’m grateful for my husband, my best friend, as together we juggle through work and life balance. We cherish ways to make the most out of our time with our kids by creating memories. Time is so precious; we can’t get it back, so for that reason, I always remind myself to be present in the moments we share together.”
Marcela attributes much of her growth, both in her professional career and parenting, to her parents:
“I consider myself fortunate, and I thank my parents, because they gave us a beautiful childhood. As a family, we built great memories, and they were great role models for us. I believe that our main work is to cultivate the best version of ourselves and that our strengths shine when we know who we are and what our goals are. That’s what I want to be for my kids. I want them to enjoy their childhood, to push them to be the best version of themselves, and to embrace changes in life as new opportunities arise, all while being grateful and giving back to the community.”
Created in partnership with Indy Chamber.
Natalie Derrickson is a communications strategist who’s in awe of the grit and entrepreneurial spirit found in the Indy region. You can connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and her website.
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