Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and the Hispanic Collaborative hosted a presentation and an information session with local Latino business owners at WWBIC South Central Office in Madison on Sept. 26 introducing a new initiative called mercadoMAD that will help Latino businesses in Madison and surrounding areas buy and sell goods or services online.
“mercadoMAD is a marketplace for Latino-owned businesses. It’s basically a way for them to learn the value of E-commerce and experience it at very low risk,” Andrea Mendez Barrutia, director of community engagement at the Hispanic Collaborative, tells Madison365. “Our mission is to strengthen and expand Latino-owned businesses by providing an easy on-ramp and adoption to E-commerce. Our vision is E-commerce in every Latino-owned business.”
The idea for the marketplace came about during the COVID-19 pandemic and was implemented successfully with Milwaukee-area businesses through mercadoMKE.
“What we found is that with the pandemic a lot of small businesses were hit really hard and they didn’t necessarily have the E-commerce capabilities,” Mendez Barrutia says. “And so the Hispanic Collaborative, we have a community working group and the idea came up [for mercadoMKE] as we were talking about E-Commerce and its importance. So we had a team in Milwaukee that basically went door to door to businesses and got them on board to mercadoMKE.”
mercadoMKE, a collaborative nonprofit initiative in support of Latino business owners, launched in 2021 and now has over 120 businesses participating in the Milwaukee area. The new mercadoMAD will basically be an extension of that marketplace initiative.
It’s led by WWBIC, an innovative statewide economic development corporation, in partnership with the Hispanic Collaborative, an organization that works collaboratively with the broader community to advance outcomes for Latinos in the Milwaukee region and beyond.
“It’s all about supporting Latino-owned businesses. It comes with free technical assistance and it’s free to participate in,” says Mendez Barrutia. “It’s a great way for them to learn E-commerce right and experience it. As we know, technology is expensive and it takes time to add it as a channel within your operations. So this comes with full support for that.”
mercadoMAD is free for small businesses to participate in.
“We’re really walking alongside their journey,” Kamaljit K. Jackson, vice president of programs and operations at WWBIC, tells Madison365. “It’s not just showing them, ‘Here’s the platform and thank you very much.’ It’s about: what can we do to assist you? Here’s how you set it up. Here’s how we add things. Here’s how we change our logo. Here’s how we add other components within a website.
“So it’s about training, teaching, and educating, so eventually we can get them to a much more robust platform in the future,” Jackson continues. “We would love to see all of our Hispanic communities and Hispanic-owned businesses have like an Amazon feel from an E-commerce perspective. But in order to get there, we have to take small steps because we know learning new technology for our demographics — very small businesses and mom-and-pop shops — can be very difficult to turn on the dime to go to E-commerce because it takes a lot of dollars and just the tech savviness and the know-how.”
Jackson adds that what they are building with mercadoMAD, much like they have already built with mercadoMKE, is “a comprehensive look with 365 comprehensive support.”
“It’s really walking alongside their journey to be able to make sure that we’re helping 365 [days a week] with whatever they need,” she says. “And we have two very dedicated individuals, one specifically for Milwaukee, one specifically for Madison. And then we also have this beautiful relationship with Walnut Way [Conservation Corp.] here in greater Milwaukee that they will be utilizing this platform for the Black entrepreneurs. So we’re looking at three very distinct communities, but very aligned in terms of E-commerce and getting individuals on this platform.”
The Covid-19 pandemic hit small businesses owned by people of color especially hard in Wisconsin and throughout the United States. mercadoMKE was created to help small companies establish an online presence when the pandemic forced many of those businesses into the E-commerce world just to stay afloat.
“If you look at how the pandemic hit, we understood as soon as it hit the disproportionality – we’ve got the haves and have nots, essentially,” Jackson says. “When the federal government rolled out the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program], the majority of those recipients were our white counterparts — I think African Americans were at like 11 or 12% … and Latinos were not that far behind. So when you think about the dollars that they’re getting from an access to capital or just even during the pandemic to be able to support their businesses, that gap is really large. So what are you going to spend money on? It’s not going to be on technology if you don’t know that that is what’s going to help your business. It’s going to be: how do I pay my people? How do I keep my shop open? But they’re not thinking about keeping the shop open through E-commerce where I gotta turn it to be virtual in nature so people can still shop in my shop and still come in.
“So that, to me, really set the foundation of why this E-Commerce is really important to our Hispanic community and our African American community,” she adds.
Mendez Barrutia agrees that general access to early funds was really hard for a lot of small Latino businesses. “I think just managing day-to-day operations can be hard and finding the ways to adapt can also be challenging,” she says. “So just having the full support and being alongside them in their journey is super helpful.”
Mendez Barrutia says that they have translated all of the training materials. “It is in language and culturally competent. We understand what that means,” she says. “It’s about building relationships and being ready at a moment’s notice to answer questions … making sure they know that they got an order placed and need to accept it…. that’s that full service.”
“When we’re looking at our communities of color, language matters. And generally, people want to have someone help them that looks like them and speaks like them … speaks their language,” Jackson adds. “I think what we’re doing with mercadoMKE and mercadoMAD is that we’re making sure that we understand the demographics and culturally what that means because it’s a trust issue, as well. They want to be able to trust you and that you’re going to do good by their business, you’re gonna do good by them. That goes a long way. A big component of this E-commerce is building those relationships in the community — it’s a very important and pivotal component of this work.”
To register for mercadoMAD, businesses can e-mail Veronica Gomez at email@example.com or call/text 608-501-3038.
“As we talk about larger initiatives to support Latino and Black businesses, mercadoMAD also fits into that. That’s something that we think is really important as large companies talk about how can they help support community wealth building,” Mendez Barrutia says. “This is one of those ways that they can do that. So when we talk about the marketplace initiatives, we’re not just talking about targeting customers who might already be purchasing from those businesses, we’re targeting raising awareness of these amazing Latino-owned businesses that have items that people may not have discovered yet and would really enjoy.”