Collective provides support for Latina entrepreneurs in Iowa City

Marlén Mendoza co-founded Colectivo de Mujeres en Negocios to connect Latina small business owners to local resources.



Marlen Mendoza, the founder of Colectivo de Mujeres en Negocios, the Collective of Women in Business, poses for a portrait at Open Heartland on Thursday, March 11, 2021.

Lily Rosen Marvin, News Reporter

Marlén Mendoza said the idea to start a collective to support Latina entrepreneurs began with a cup of coffee.

When she moved back to Iowa City in 2019, Mendoza reached out to several Latina women she had met in her time as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa. While catching up in a local coffee shop, Mendoza said she realized that many of these women owned small businesses but were having trouble connecting with resources that would help them grow.

After one of the women shared the that she was having difficulty obtaining a home baking permit, Mendoza said she offered to use her connections at the city to help finalize the process.

“I’m really a translator and a mediator,” Mendoza said. “I started sending emails to the city saying that I had a community member who wants more information about applying for a home baking permit. I’d send the email and I’d also translate them into Spanish. Once we were successful with her and she got her permit she was so happy. I was like, ‘How long have you been trying to get this permit?’ and she literally told me years.”

This initial success opened Mendoza’s eyes to the fact that many resources for small businesses were not reaching the Latina entrepreneurs that she was working with.

Realizing this gap existed, Mendoza co-founded Colectivo de Mujeres en Negocios (Collective of Women in Business), a business collective aimed at supporting Latina business owners in the Iowa City area.

Data visualization by Mary Hartel/The Daily Iowan

“There are resources that exist but there’s a language barrier and there’s no connecting bolts,” Mendoza said. “So, how can we get these people that I’m working with in the community to understand the resources? How do we connect them to those resources and have people that can help in the translation of those resources?”

Since fall 2020, Mendoza said she has worked with a group of five women on everything from building a business model to personal investing. The small size of the group has allowed Mendoza to tailor her efforts to the specific needs of the women, she said.

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Retail Business Specialist at Iowa State University Victor Oyervides, who is working with the collective, said Mendoza’s efforts to build trust within the organization have made her a good connection for the entrepreneurs.

“I see that relationship and that trust just in how they talk among each other about different barriers they are overcoming,” Oyervides said. “If they run into a problem, they have that trust where they connect with Marlén and Marlén will help them out or seek out somebody who can help them out.”

Mendoza said she doesn’t like to think of herself as a founder but rather as a connector. She said collaborations with Oyervides and local organizations like the Iowa City Area Development Group have been a huge help when it comes to education and resources.

Director of Communications for the Iowa City Area Development Group Liz Hubing said Mendoza is filling a need that was not being met in the community before.

“Marlén is an example of a great leader. From the very beginning, she had a vision based on the needs of this community. She listened to these women and got a good idea of what their needs were and how she could help,” Hubing said. “This woman works nonstop. Every single day she amazes me with what she’s doing because she has a full-time job and is doing all this work completely volunteer-run.”

Although Colectivo de Mujeres en Negocios is currently a small organization, Oyervides said this work is greatly needed throughout Iowa.

As of 2019, the Latinx community was the largest minority community in the state, making up 6.3 percent of Iowa’s population. This community has grown significantly in the past two decades, increasing by 140.7 percent between 2000 and 2019.

“I think Latinx immigrants and refugees will benefit greatly from programs such as COMUN,” Oyervides said. “It will help with the recovery phase for the state of Iowa. We need a strong Iowa and if we really support the immigrants and the refugees, we will come out stronger as a state in economic and community development.”