Twenty-five years ago, Prospera -- then called the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund -- was established in a small West Tampa office.
There was a need to support Hispanic entrepreneurs in the area, says Claudia Johnson, senior business development consultant on the West Coast. Prospera stepped in to fill this void by offering bilingual technical assistance and workshops to Spanish-speaking businesses.
Decades later, the organization has spread to markets in south Florida and as far north as Jacksonville. Additional offices have opened in Miami and Orlando. Over the past 25 years, Prospera has “supported several thousands of people,” Johnson says. “Our objective became to strengthen the state of Florida’s economical sector with Hispanics.”
Now, Clearwater is the latest city in Prospera’s far-reaching network. As of January, the group became the sixth organization to join Clearwater Business SPARK
, a city-led business incubator that brings together a variety of resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Prospera was looking for a home base in Pinellas County, Johnson says, and Clearwater made the most sense for a partnership. “The city has the majority of Hispanics [in the county,]” she says. “So that is where we are working closely. Now we have a more clear collaboration, a strong collaboration.”
Denise Sanderson, the city’s director of Economic Development and Housing, says Hispanic entrepreneurs and small businesses represent approximately 20 percent of the city’s population. “Hispanic-owned businesses are an important and growing sector of our local economy,” she adds.
While Pinellas County residents were always welcome to participate in Prospera’s workshops and grant programs in other cities, the organization is now specifically targeting Clearwater. The organization will host six bilingual public workshops covering a variety of topics of interest to small businesses at Clearwater libraries throughout the year. The first was held Jan. 31 with around 30 attendees, Johnson says.
In addition to training, and mentorship assistance with marketing and business planning, Prospera
offers grants to small businesses looking to pay for professional services such as accountants and attorneys. The group also helps facilitate small business loans to entrepreneurs through partnerships with several banking institutions. “We’ve facilitated about $20 million worth of money for loans for clients throughout the whole state,” Johnson says.
She adds, “We’re here to help strengthen their business -- from start-ups to ongoing businesses. We’re a very active organization to help Hispanics.”