Richmond’s Immigrant Entrepreneurs On the Rise

Through her work with low-income Latino families at the resource center behind Richmond High, Maria Resendiz has realized that the key to autonomy for the families she serves lies in reaching economic stability and independence.  This was her main motivation in helping a group of women from the city of San Pablo organize and develop a business plan for a worker-owned food business. For help with structuring the cooperative she reached out to us at the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3) of the East Bay Community Law Center.

GC3 has partnered with the group in order to provide the legal assistance necessary to get the project off the ground. Students in the clinic are helping the San Pablo women navigate the licensing and permitting process, draft a partnership agreement, and adapt to the challenges that inevitably arise while launching an enterprise.

Maria’s hope is that the San Pablo women’s business will serve as a model for the rest of the community.  Currently, all of the women are in single income family households, with the majority of their husbands employed in construction and custodial work. By providing free legal services to the San Pablo women, GC3 will help increase their autonomy by facilitating the creation of their own source of income. GC3 will also simultaneously help inspire others who will see a local and tangible example of community members taking the reins of their economic destiny through entrepreneurship and solidarity.

The group plans on making mole, a traditional Mexican sauce, and packaging it for sale to small shops and markets who will then sell it to the end consumer. Though the women had originally envisioned the project as a catering service serving a variety of foods, they soon realized that a focus on a single packaged product would provide a more reliable source of clients and require less labor. GC3 is currently in the process of researching the permits required for the group to sell their mole—prepared in a commercial kitchen—to shops and specialty supermarkets. With a renewed business plan, newfound determination, and the help of GC3, the San Pablo group hopes their mole will be able to hit the market in the near future.

The group will then join a long legacy of immigrant entrepreneurs that have historically created businesses at greater rates than the general U.S. population. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s report “Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners, and their Access to Financial Capital” immigrants have higher business ownership and formation rates than non-immigrants and roughly one out of ten immigrants owns a business.

This project is a prime example of the work we strive to do here in our clinic. The mission of GC3, a community-economic development clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center, is to advance green jobs and resilient communities through cooperative enterprise. We are the first legal clinic in the country that focuses on incubating cooperatively-owned or cooperatively-managed businesses in low-income communities. Recently, we have expanded our services in order to directly reach low-income micro-enterprises, particularly in the City of Richmond’s Latino community. GC3 endeavors to help these entrepreneurs overcome the unique challenges they face due to language barriers and immigration status. We do this by advising clients on how to legally own a business, obtain required business permits, and protect their personal assets.

GC3’s involvement goes beyond permitting and entity formation, however. The clinic regularly makes cross-referrals to other EBCLC practices which have helped our clients with health benefit and immigration issues, such as applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows for a discretionary grant of relief for certain undocumented youth that came to the U.S. as children. GC3 also aims to be a source of referrals to other valuable Bay Area resources like La Cocina, a food business incubator and the Women’s Initiative, which helps women create their own jobs. By focusing on clients that are promoting collective entrepreneurship and providing wrap-around business and legal support, GC3 is increasing the community’s resilience, one startup at a time.

Brian Ortiz is a second-year law student at Berkeley Law and a former law clerk at the East Bay Community Law Center, working with GC3.

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