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Jesse and Edwardo Martinez are brothers from Houston, software engineers by training and co-founders of several startups. Jesse has been in San Francisco since the late nineties, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he realized there wasn’t a dedicated effort in Silicon Valley to connect Latino entrepreneurs in technology like himself. So, he and Edwardo took it upon themselves to host a Meetup of their own.
“We were all wondering, were there really that many Latino entrepreneurs?” said Jesse.
Turns out, there were, but no one had brought them together just yet.
Since then, the Meetup has burgeoned into the Latino Startup Alliance with the mission of cultivating entrepreneurial spirit within the Latino community and increasing the amount of Latino led technology innovation. The organization is based in Bay Area and expanding to chapters in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Austin next year. Jesse has now left his third startup to support the Latino Startup Alliance full-time.
The expansion seems ambitious, but LSA may just barely be tapping into the Latino entrepreneurial community in the U.S. at large. Latinos are far and away the largest minority group in the United States, making up 17 percent of the population. U.S. News reports the Hispanic student population at 4-year colleges and universities is spiking, with a 20 percent enrollment increase since 2010, and 2015 will be the most Latino Congress in history, with 29 Hispanics in the House and three in the Senate.
Nonetheless, the representation of Latinos in technology lags at only seven percent. And in California, the hub of tech innovation and where the Hispanic population is expected to become the largest ethnic and racial group in the state, Latino students represented less than 1.3 percent of computer science AP test takers in 2013.
Jesse thinks the problem is due in large part to education (or, more precisely, lack thereof). He wants LSA to help expand opportunity for more Latinos and inspire more to pursue both careers in technology and take the risks of becoming an entrepreneur. Like many startup networks, LSA supports entrepreneurs in its community through fostering connections, offering educational opportunities, and providing mentorship.
Take for instance Deldelp Medina, a San Francisco-based mobile app entrepreneur. Medina got involved with LSA and soon connected to several other Latina women in tech. With the support of the LSA community, she and Jesse founded a pre-accelerator for Latina entrepreneurs in the mobile application industry called Avión Ventures. Through training and programming, Avión will support Latina women with an interest and potential in building technology.
Jesse and Deldelp hope to see many more connections and new ventures, like Avion Ventures, emerge from LSA. This week, LSA is hosting its second annual summit in San Francisco featuring startup pitches, keynote speakers, and networking events. They’re hoping it’ll be their biggest event yet and a catalyst to inspire more Latinos to become leaders in technology.
A recent Pew Research Study showed that the “Digital Divide” in Latino community in the U.S. is rapidly shrinking: technology usage is higher than ever among Latinos and at pace with most other demographic groups. While it is encouraging to see that divide shrinking, the Latino community—and the nation at large—only stands to benefit when Latinos don’t just use, but also create, that technology.