#StartupsEverywhere: Los Angeles, CA

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Robbie Cabral, BenjiLock, CEO and Founder

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

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Unlocking the Power of Hispanic Entrepreneurs

September 15 officially kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month. Latino entrepreneurs are starting companies 50 times faster than any other demographic group and becoming a bigger part of the total U.S. consumer market every day. To celebrate and support latino entrepreneurs, we met with Robbie Cabral, founder and CEO of BenjiLock. Latino entrepreneurs face challenges such as inadequate access to capital; in fact, only 12% of Latino firms employing more than one person received bank loans, compared to 18% of white-owned firms, 15% of Asian-owned firms, and 14% of Black-owned firms. Despite these challenges, Robbie is thankful for the mentorship and guidance received from SBA’s SCORE programs. He hopes that policymakers can focus on creating more opportunities for entrepreneurs from every walk of life.

Tell me about you. What’s your background?

I currently live in Los Angeles, California, but I was born and raised in the city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I believe that having the chance to live in two different worlds, has helped me tremendously to appreciate life and be humble. I'm proud to be a Latino!

What is BenjiLock? Why did you start BenjiLock?

BenjiLock is the world's first traditional rechargeable padlock with fingerprint technology, which means that you can not only open it with the ease of your fingertips, but also with a set of traditional keys. In less words, a hybrid, so if the technology fails, you're still able to use your lock.

It's been an incredible journey! After being laid off from work, in the worst time of the year, Christmas time, the same day, during the nighttime hours, my daughter was born. I was extremely happy, but also very depressed, which led to me become overweight. One day I woke up and I decided to do better, not only for myself, but also for my family, so I started going to the gym and that's where BenjiLock was born.

I noticed how people were using their lockers on a daily basis and the issues they were constantly having. Now, I can proudly say that my company’s purpose is to redefine the personal security experience using hybrid technology with the consumer in mind.

As you started your company, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What was the biggest surprise?

The biggest challenge I faced was working from home and pursuing this idea without having any income coming in. The emotional distress you have to go through while juggling with family, the daily routine and no one around you understanding the true purpose. It definitely required a lot of patience and perseverance.

The biggest surprise was taking a leap of faith and unveiling the prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas! It helped me showcase, to basically the world, what I worked so hard for.

In the U.S, latino-owned businesses are growing at rate that outpaces every other ethnic group. Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth for Latino entrepreneurs?

I have to say, based on my experience, mentorship is key! I admire what the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has done powering SCORE, which is America’s premier source of free and confidential small business advice for entrepreneurs and small businesses. To date, I still see my SCORE mentors for advice and guidance. I could not be where I am today without them.

How can policymakers encourage more latino entrepreneurship?

I would love for policymakers make, create and promote more avenues for not only the latino community, but for every inner city in our nation. We should provide more tools to learn and train in how to create and manage your small business. There's so many people that have come to me for inspiration and wisdom on how to start their business, how to manage it or access to capital and it's something that I've been meaning to get my hands on. Everyone deserves a chance, regardless of a person's ethnic background, we're all entrepreneurs in our own way.

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How has your life changed since your appearance on Shark Tank?

Being a one-man army, I felt that “Shark Tank” was a great move for myself and my company. To pitch my passion in front of such powerful entrepreneurs to me was truly the American Dream.

Stepping inside the "Shark Tank", going with my gut and landing a deal with Kevin O'Leary, it was the tip of the iceberg, so when the episode finally aired, Hampton's President and CEO, Kim Kelley, saw the BenjiLock and the story around the product. I received a call the next day and it was the start of a great working relationship!

My email inbox is inundated daily with so many great opportunities, but mostly with fan mail from all over the world. To be able to inspire others to take that leap of faith, I’m absolutely speechless. I've received numerous speaking engagements, achievements and recognitions including personal letters from the 42nd Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, the 43rd Governor and Iowa's first female Governor, Kim Reynolds and a nomination for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (which is the nation's highest honor for technological achievement by the United States of America given by the White House).

From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for the startup ecosystem?

I would say, as a whole, we as entrepreneurs and startups are always on the go and we tend to overlook the rollercoaster of policy issues, so I would love for them to be more open-minded, share and empower innovation and creativity. Hopefully, regardless of where you come from and in a constructive way, we're all able to drive a positive impact to our society.

What is your goal for the next year? The next 5 years?

My goal has always been to not only make this idea a reality, but to also provide for my family and be able give back and create jobs, that’s what I really wanted to do and it's looking like I will!

My number one piece of advice for entrepreneurs is….

There will always be someone there to point out all the negative, the best is to stay positive, surround yourself with that energy and have faith. At the end of the day, you're the only one that drives that engine, not the naysayer! Chase your dream, follow your heart and focus on your vision and things will happen. Positivo y humilde siempre!

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email jen@engine.is. Give us your feedback here.