Cristina Villanueva helps raise Latino business owners in Milwaukee and beyond | WUWM 89.7 FM

Cristina Villanueva’s mission is to help and raise Latino business owners in Milwaukee. Villanueva owns Ambas Financial Services LLC, a bilingual tax preparation and accounting business serving the south side of Milwaukee. She is also the co-founder of negozee, a social learning platform for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs across the country she.

For Villanueva, her interest in entrepreneurship began while she was a student at South Division High School. She says her teacher Vicki Kalman’s passion for teaching her students about accounting and finance stayed with Villanueva.

Villanueva followed this path while working for a national tax firm, while also becoming the taxpayer her family and friends would turn to for help.

“People would come and bring me their letters and I was like, ‘Wow, I just needed someone to help them and I called. [the] IRS with them to translate,” Villanueva recalls.

When he noticed a boom in new Latino business owners in Milwaukee, he changed direction and founded Ambas in 2017 to address the growing need for bilingual services. Villanueva states that it started with over 100 clients and has now grown to nearly 1,000 through word-of-mouth referrals and community outreach.

β€œIt has definitely improved, especially after COVID,” he says. “I realized there was a huge demand for Latinos to access resources. And now that’s where the mediator came in because we were realizing that all these great programs were available for them, like PPP loan, grants and aid for their work, but they couldn’t access it.”

The app offers access to training, resources, networking, classes and more to help entrepreneurs succeed and grow. It’s also 100% Spanish, serving Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs beyond Milwaukee, and Villanueva said it was surprising at first to realize how scarce Spanish language resources are.

“But at the same time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise… because it’s not just that the source isn’t there, but many of these Latino business owners have no affiliation with any bank because they’re not affiliated with any bank. A personal banker who can help them with their finances,” he explains.

“So I don’t want to say that we as the United States haven’t done a good job of raising funds, but I don’t want to say that we haven’t done a good job of finding a way to connect that resource to the end user,” Villanueva adds. .

The average black member is a Latino mother of about 39 years old, with one or two employees in her business, according to Villanueva. Part of the resource’s growth is due to the company’s ability to meet customers where they are and drive them to successful long-term growth, she says.

“I’m fascinated by coachmen because now I can help someone like my mother who is probably starting a business and doesn’t speak the language. So it’s our community paying back each other,” Villanueva says. “There are professionals here who have the knowledge or are these experts and then help the small business owner get them where they need to go.”

He says that for Latino businesses in the Milwaukee area to be successful, a space must be created for Latino entrepreneurs to share their stories and build a support system. For business owners, emphasis should also be placed on financial literacy and education on how business owners can take it to the next level, Villanueva says.

“There’s a huge need. Latinos are crying out for help… and it makes me really happy to see all these different collectives coming together in Milwaukee right now and we’re headed in the right direction,” he says.

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