Maria Elena Terriquez had always wanted to run her own business. She had sold perfume in Mexico for 15 years when she immigrated to the United States to join the four of her five adult children who were living here.
It’s been ten years since she arrived, and at 54, Terriquez now runs a Fruitvale Avenue perfume business called Las Mil Y Una Fragrancias that translates into 1001 Fragrances. Part of what helped her start the business was training she received at AnewAmerica Community Corporation, a non-profit that offers business-training services for immigrants and refugees. On Thursday evening, wearing a bright cap and gown, Terriquez graduated with 34 of her peers from AnewAmerica’s micro-business training program.
“I was cooking in several restaurants in Oakland,” said Terriquez in Spanish, through the English translation of AnewAmerica Program Associate Ferron Salniker after the graduation ceremony at Holy Names University. “Now I don’t have to work in other places, because my business sustains me,” Terriquez said.
The ceremony had a familial atmosphere, with family and friends standing up throughout to snap photos, and small children fidgeting in their chairs searching for their parent in the sea of blue graduation gowns at the front of the room.
AnewAmerica’s three-year Virtual Business Incubator program provides micro-business development training to help clients achieve financial literacy and economic self-sufficiency. It also offers long-term investment planning, and technological training, and emphasizes the importance of social responsibility.
Clients have opened businesses that include an event planning service, a Mexican ice-cream shop, and a Nepalese rug shop.
Once clients graduate from the six-month training program, they receive two and a half years of guidance toward the development of their own businesses from staff-members, and volunteers who include business students and small to medium business owners.
“A lot of the people who are new to this country might not be able to find, or at least not right away, well paying jobs,” said AnewAmerica Business Program Director Jeff Butler. “There might be barriers of experience, or certificates they have, that might not be recognized in this country,” said Butler. He said that a lot of their clients ran small businesses in their home country before they immigrated.
AnewAmerica is based in Berkeley but has offices in Oakland, in San Jose and in Richmond. Thursday evening was the first time they had graduated students from their Richmond program that opened in 2008. CEO and Founder Sylvia Rosales-Fike said in an interview after the graduation ceremony, that the effort for a Richmond program was initiated by alum Leonor Garcia, who recognized a need for a micro-business training program in the city.
Created in 1999, AnewAmerica does outreach to the nine Bay Area counties, and have clients from over 55 countries and six continents. According to Butler, the largest groups of people are from Latin America and South East Asia, followed by Africa, and then Europe.
On November 19, the program will celebrate its tenth anniversary at Oakland’s Scottish Rite Center, with a “Gala and Exposition” in which AnewAmerica clients will sell merchandise including custom made jewelry, pottery, and food.
When Rosales-Fike spoke at the graduation ceremony, she said the graduating class represented Mexico, Iran, the Philippines, Columbia, Nepal, Guatemala, Nicuragua, El Salvador, Germany, South Korea, Ethiopia, India, and Ecuador. “These are the new Americans of our society,” Rosales-Fike said. “These are entrepreneurs who are contributing to our economy and enriching our country.”
AnewAmerica’s clients have typically lived in the U.S. for at least five years. The organization said that they don’t inquire about their client’s citizenship but are looking for people who will participate for the entire three-years, and are committed to starting a business in the Bay Area.
Rosales-Fike said that what makes AnewAmerica different from other micro-business training programs is their emphasis on social responsibility. One main piece of AnewAmerica’s curriculum guides clients toward opening socially and environmentally responsible businesses. Examples of these include a frozen yogurt shop with locally produced yogurt, a pre-school/day-care program with an organic garden, and an environmentally friendly cleaning service.
AnewAmerica launched a Green Business Certificate program in 2008. The program trains clients to open environmentally friendly businesses and work toward meeting the Bay Area Green Business Program’s standards that are recognized by the state, and include pollution prevention, resource conservation, and waste minimization.
Some clients sell environmentally friendly products or reduce their business operation’s negative environmental impacts. Others choose to donate a percentage of their profits to a local charity or take leadership positions in their communities like advocating for immigrant or labor rights.
In addition to her perfume business Terriquez started a clothing business called Eco-Fashion, to provide single mothers and victims of domestic violence with jobs. She put an ad out in a Spanish newspaper and recruited Spanish-speaking immigrant women with sewing and crochet skills. Her purpose was to create sources of income for women who would not be able to find work elsewhere.
“They gave me the support and security to start my own business,” Terriquez said of AnewAmerica with her newly granted diploma and a bouquet of flowers and balloons, that her family gave her, at her side. “They also taught me how to give back to the community.”