The Gauntlet Business Program and Competition was the brainchild of Annette Patterson, founder and president of The Advancement Foundation (TAF), who dreamed of bringing the resources of communities together in support of small business entrepreneurs.
What she ended up with is the largest business program and competition in the state of Virginia, now in its fifth year.
Kat Pascal and Jimmy Delgado, Gauntlet graduates, took that vision a step further in forming the NCL (Nuestro Comercio Latino) in 2017. NCL supports Hispanic/Latino-owned small businesses by providing business development mentorship and opportunities for like-minded business professionals to connect in the Roanoke Valley.
“They want to invest their time in each other for a bigger, brighter future,” said Pascal.
Pascal and Delgado are highly successful entrepreneurs and the owners of the original Farmburguesa restaurant in downtown Vinton (now expanding to a second location in Grandin Village) as well as a commercial cleaning business, Spotless America. They represent the epitome of what can be accomplished through hard work, perseverance, and determination.
Their motivation with NCL is to help other small businesses succeed to the benefit of the entire community. They are both inspired and inspirational.
“NCL’s online platform via social media currently serves over 1,000 members across the Roanoke Valley—a number we plan to grow,” Pascal says. “In addition to networking and professional leadership development opportunities, our members will have access to job opportunities through corporate partners and showcasing their businesses. We aspire to be the business partner of choice for companies seeking to hire and develop diversity and inclusion.”
NCL is presently updating a suite of offices on Williamson Road to house the businesses who are currently part of the group. There will be space for meetings with one another and with clients, along with the provision of a “brick and mortar” address—helpful for start-ups, especially those in the service industry.
The six small businesses currently under the NCL umbrella include:
- DY Trucking, Inc., Marien Alvarez, Long Haul Trucking
- Dream Dance XV, Marina Trejo, Special Event Choreography
- La Michoacana, Guadalupe Torres, Creative Ice Cream creations
- Las Tapatias Taco Express, Juanis Aguirre Mexican restaurants (on Melrose, Orange, and Williamson Road)
- Veronica Faz, a Roanoke realtor for 14 years
- PerSUNality, LLC, Carolina Smales—a team of innovators in engineering, health science, education, and art helping foreign professionals new to the area make business connections and get into the market here
Business owners recruited by NCL are offered a support system to network, grow, and contribute to the community at large. Pascal and Delgado recognized them as like-minded individuals—passionate powerhouses with their same intensity.
Realtor Veronica Faz was drawn to NCL because of Pascal’s “enthusiasm and energy.”
“Kat’s name popped up all over the place,” said Faz. “I met her; I liked what I saw, I wanted to learn from her. The office space at NCL will be beneficial to clients and conveniently close to where many of them live. The Gauntlet offers a way to expand and get my name out there.”
Marina Trejo foresees the mentoring and networking available as potentially the greatest benefit from the Gauntlet, “breaking the ice for me, as I help the community learn about and keep alive Hispanic traditions like the Quinceanera. We want to maintain our own culture while expanding into the rest of the community and showcase what the Latino community is doing.”
As for the group’s involvement with the Gauntlet, Pascal says that “entrepreneurs will participate in weekly business training sessions; meet and network with successful entrepreneurs, fellow Gauntlet participants and mentors; and develop business strategies that provide a roadmap to success.”
Pascal is encouraging the entire NCL group involved in the Gauntlet to participate in the Gauntlet competition which is the grand finale of the program and offers $200,000 in cash and prizes to winners. She says the 10-week program is packed with vital business information. All their hard work generally results in such a solid business plan and model so that “it would be a shame not to compete to the finish” for the pool of financial benefits.
The NCL group is working intensively to get everything they can from the Gauntlet program—leaving nothing to chance. They meet before and after Gauntlet sessions to ensure that the business advice being offered is understood and that program requirements are completed—to “stay on top of things and keep motivating one another.”
Statistics indicate that Latino entrepreneurs are starting small businesses faster than the rest of the start-up population and becoming a bigger part of the total U.S. market every day. Estimates are that they will make up 29 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, up from 17 percent today.
Tom Tanner, from the Small Business Development Center, who works closely with the Gauntlet, says that census data indicates a population of about 10,000 Hispanic/Latinos in the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).
He believes a great benefit from NCL will be in introducing the stories of these amazing women and their businesses to the broader community—highlighting their accomplishments
“Overall the goal of the NCL group is to showcase the power of the business professionals who have some great businesses and happen to be Latinas/Hispanic,” said Pascal. “NCL is dedicated to helping minority and community-based small-business owners become engines of job growth and economic vitality in the neighborhoods they serve.”
More information on the NCL group and participation in the Gauntlet is available by calling Kat Pascal at 540-765-8267.