What do you do when you’re a financial whiz, a Latina, and have the desire to help Latinos start and grow businesses in the greater Los Angeles area? If you’re Maria Contreras-Sweet, you establish a nice little financial empire that includes a private equity fund and commercial real estate development company as well as a commercial banking enterprise, both geared specifically toward aiding Latinos in establishing and growing small-to-mid-size businesses. The two companies that Contreras-Sweet founded not only spur Latino economic growth in California, they also make excellent business sense. Here’s why:
Half of the population of Los Angeles county is of Hispanic origin, and Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment in the greater Los Angeles area. The locality has the highest number of Latino-owned
businesses in the country, generating an economy-spurring $23 billion in annual sales. Over one-third of all local businesses are Latino-owned, and 73 percent of all California Latino-owned businesses are located in Los Angeles county.
Latinos who are driving this nascent economy are, for the main part, establishing small to mid-size businesses, a sector traditionally overlooked by venture capital firms and commercial banks. This lack of financial services makes it hard for these businesses to grow. Meeting the financial needs of these Latino-owned small and mid-size businesses is a niche begging to be filled, and who better to fill it, reasoned Contreras-Sweet, than Latino-owned financial enterprises?
Thus was born the idea of both Fortius Holdings and Promerica Bank, two financial service companies designed specifically to meet the financial needs of Latino small and mid-size business owners, and to provide capital to spur entrepreneurship and growth among the Latino business sector. Both companies currently serve California and the greater Los Angeles area.
Fortius Holdings, of which Contreras-Sweet is the co-founder, president, and managing partner, is a private equity fund and commercial real estate development company specializing in providing California’s small businesses with quicker access to capital. With a Latino business focus, the fund’s investments range from $1 million to $10 million.
Fortius views small businesses as the backbone of the U.S. economy. The company feels that in today’s business climate, small and mid-size financial services companies must be flexible and nimble in order to thrive in the competitive global environment.