U.S. Bank, MarketStar Foundation and Suazo Partner with WSU to Boost Hispanic Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Weber State University’s Wildcat Micro Fund and the Alan E. Hall Center for Sales Excellence are partnering with U.S. Bank, the MarketStar Foundation and Suazo Business Center to grow and support the Latino/Hispanic entrepreneurial ecosystem.

First-generation American and entrepreneur Manni Martinez knows the value of programs like these firsthand. In February 2020, he received grant money and guidance from the Micro Fund to help him grow his business.

“The Micro Fund is more than just money,” he said. “It’s additional guidance and support.”

Led by the Hall Global Entrepreneurship Center in the Goddard School of Business & Economics, the Micro Fund is a micro-grant fund that provides grants in the form of cash or services to local entrepreneurs, following a milestone-based mentoring program. To date, the Micro Fund has provided 48 grant awards to entrepreneurs in northern Utah totaling approximately $70,000.

Martinez, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, learned simple business economics as a child when his mother would wake Martinez and his younger brother early on weekends to sell snacks at soccer games at the Weber County fairgrounds. In high school, he was part-owner of Finance Peak, a financing firm for entrepreneurs that provided debt and equity instruments to fund their business, and, at 18 years old, he co-founded Ordereasy, a company that made software for fans to order concessions from their seats at stadiums and arenas.

Before concerts and sports were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maverik Center in West Valley City was a prospective Ordereasy client. The Micro Fund staff helped Martinez develop skills to approach enterprise customers. 

“They have provided a lot of support,” Martinez said, “from funding contribution, business operations, to just simple advising.”

During a couple months of high school, Martinez lived in an Ogden youth homeless shelter, Youth Futures. He now sits on the nonprofit organization's board. At his lowest point, he never thought his drive for entrepreneurship and business would take him so far. “The Micro Fund contributed to making my dreams into reality,” he said.

Martinez also serves as vice president of operations for Outcode Software, where he helps build apps for clients. Through his experiences, he has seen a need for business programs targeting underserved communities. “There needs to be much more awareness that there are actually non-biased resources to support those types of demographics,” he said.

Recognizing this need, Weber State’s new partnerships are expected to give a boost to Latino/Hispanic entrepreneurship in Utah. 

“Continuing our efforts to grow our regional economic prosperity is a priority at Weber State,” said Guy Letendre, WSU director for economic development.

MarketStar, in partnership with the Hall Center, will provide a community education course for the next five years in sales and customer service excellence that will target enrollment within the Latino/Hispanic community. Scheduled to begin fall of 2021 at the WSU Community Education Center in Ogden, the course will help students improve their interpersonal and professional sales skills and position them for success in the sales industry. 

“We are actively focused on community engagement and developing from within the Ogden area,” said Brock Adams, Hall Center director. “This program absolutely exemplifies that approach, and we will continue to see its success unfold in the coming years.”  

Last year’s pilot course included 10 students, including 9 students who spoke English as their second language. 

“MarketStar is thrilled to share our sales mastery and leadership framework, which has created over 30 years of growth for our company, with our education partners,” said Paul Grant, MarketStar chief customer officer. “We are committed to strengthening our communities and drive meaningful and lasting economic impact by teaching skills that will launch individuals into sustainable and fulfilling sales careers.” 

The Suazo Business Center, a Salt Lake City-based business resource center for Latino/Hispanic and other underserved communities, recently received grants through U.S. Bank and the Micro Fund to help increase awareness of the Micro Fund grant program and to provide mentoring services during the grant process beginning in April at the WSU Community Education Center in Ogden. Participants will commit to 18 hours per week of training. 

“By focusing on these clients with a more refined, one-on-one approach, we can help end cycles of poverty and allow for greater self-reliance for some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Silvia Castro, Suazo Business Center executive director.

“At U.S. Bank, we’re committed to creating opportunities that bridge gaps and allow people to achieve their potential, which is one of the reasons our foundation is a longstanding supporter of the Suazo Business Center,” said Cristie Richards, leader of the Consumer & Business Banking division of U.S. Bank in Salt Lake City. “This grant will help existing and potential Hispanic entrepreneurs in the Ogden area at an incredibly challenging time for small business owners.”

Luis Lopez, Ogden City Council member and director of WSU’s Community Education Center is optimistic about the programs. “The Hispanic community has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and we hope the additional resources and mentoring can help build an entrepreneurial network and support new and growing businesses,” he said. 

Martinez encourages other Latino/Hispanic entrepreneurs to take part in the programs. 

“Members of the Latino/Hispanic community have some of the greatest entrepreneurial drive I have ever seen,” he said. “Anything you put your mind to is possible if you just go out and do it.”

Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.

For high-resolution photos, visit the following link.


For photos of the Suazo Business Center, visit the following link.



Jaime Winston, Office of Marketing & Communications senior writer, editor
801-626-7396 • jaimewinston@weber.edu


Guy Letendre, WSU Economic Development director
801-626-6569 • guyletendre@weber.edu