A first-generation Afro-Latino immigrant is making a name for himself in the entrepreneurial world and is using his talents to create a space for more people like him in tech.
Luis Martinez is the founder of We Tha Plug, an incubator created to help under-represented groups launch their own tech start-ups by providing the tools necessary to get their ideas off the ground.
"In the tech and innovation space, [the Black and Latino communities are] mostly underserved when it comes to resources, when it comes to access to capital. And those are the two main functions that you need as a start-up in order to succeed," Martinez said.
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"With We the Plug, we focus heavily on the fundamentals of how to build a company, so you won’t solely rely on venture capital."
According to a 2018 report from the Small Business Administration, less than 2 million of the 12.2 million business owners in the United States were Latinos. In 2016, a survey of business owners conducted by the SBA's Office of Advocacy found about 2.6 million businesses were Black-owned. Those numbers are even smaller in tech.
The SBA acknowledges that an important contributor to economic inequality in the U.S. is the racial divide in business ownership. The inability for minorities to access business opportunities contributes to economic deficiency and limits job creation, innovation and local economic growth, the SBA said.
Martinez noticed the need for support among minorities in the tech/entrepreneurial field after attending an event in Silicon Valley. He organized a small gathering to talk with Black and Latino founders to talk about their businesses.
"We went to this coffee shop and it was about 80 people that showed up. I really expected only five to seven people to show up and I really felt that there was a need for more folks in the ecosystem," Martinez said.
So, he started organizing his connections to create a space where minority business owners can connect with each other, with resources, and the tools needed to help them go from ideation to securing their first round of capital.
The accelerator officially launched in June 2019 and, so far, their membership program has grown to 400 founders across three continents.
We Tha Plug also includes a 12-week incubator program that teaches entrepreneur hopefuls how to create a sustainable business model. The first 12-week program, held virtually due to the pandemic, just completed with nine companies.
Martinez has noticed some challenges in getting minority groups to believe they can succeed in the tech space.
"Just because you don’t have tech skills, doesn’t mean that you can’t get into tech," Martinez said. "There’s room for everyone in tech so we’re just trying to get the local Black and Latinx community to really buy into what we’re trying to do.”
Martinez said that while We Tha Plug is a global effort, he is making moves to get a thriving entrepreneurial community within San Diego's minority groups.
"I think San Diego is slowly becoming a tech and innovation town and we want to get our communities to really understand that this is the move that they’re making and in order to kind of adapt to that," he said.
As San Diego moves more into the biotech space, Martinez wants to create opportunities for minority founders there, too.
We Tha Plug has set itself some pretty hefty goals: The company hopes to help launch 1,000 tech and innovation start-ups, help 100 Black and Latino workers find jobs with those 1,000 companies they helped found, and create entrepreneurial partnerships with 10 cities across the globe.
"There’s a lot of people that think that because they’re black or they’re Latinx that the mountain is higher – and it is. This is not for the faint of heart," he said. "Entrepreneurship is definitely difficult but if you can withstand all the negatives that come with that, you will be successful. So we’re just trying to show people that you can be successful, despite the circumstances.”