Five local Latino-led startups received some welcome news this week — each of their businesses was awarded $100,000 dollars from Google’s Startups Latino Founders Fund.
The Chicago-based winners are Onebit, a platform that automates financial tracking for independent business owners; ConnectCare Hero, which builds online communities for older adults, their families and healthcare providers; Sanarai, a platform for Spanish-language mental health services; Route, a digital cleaning operating system; and Grapefruit Health, a healthcare technology company that utilizes tech-enabled services to help healthcare providers reach patients.
The announcement comes at a time when just 2% of venture capital funding for U.S. businesses went to startups with Latino founders last year, according to a study by Crunchbase — this despite Latinos making up 17% of small business founders.
“A lot of the things that we’re experiencing isn’t what typical investment goes into, but it is big problems we’re addressing within our communities,” said Osvaldo Montelongo, founder and CEO of ConnectCare Hero.
The genesis of Montelongo’s company came from his own life experiences — his father was 57 when he was born.
“In my early 20s I had to take care of my dad and I quickly realized he was getting dementia and had to move into a nursing home. And so when I moved him into a nursing home, I noticed right away that his mental health was declining pretty quickly,” Montelongo said. “And a lot of it really was because he didn’t have the right cultural programming, cultural connections to programming for him. And so I developed ConnectCare Hero to help him and other Latinos like him.”
Similarly, Luis Suarez developed Sanarai, a platform for Spanish-language mental health services, when he saw a need in the Latino community that was going unfulfilled.
“There’s a huge gap between the 5% of providers that speak Spanish in the U.S. and 13% of the population that speak Spanish at home. We’ve seen increased demand for the services and there's just a mental health professional shortage in the first place, and the ones that speak Spanish are in super high demand.
With so many Latinos starting businesses of their own, the services offered by Onebit can help them succeed as well, said founder and CEO Omar Hernandez.
“Definitely our service can help businesses, especially the ones in the Latino community, make better sense of their financial data. Since a lot of these businesses are selling online now they need to be able to connect these online systems along with their existing point of sale systems within their stores,” Hernandez said. “So connecting all of that information and being able to make decisions on that financial data is very crucial to help these businesses succeed.”
Cleaning services and tech might not seem like a natural fit, but Ricardo Regalado, Route founder and CEO, said that his years of experience at the helm of a cleaning services company made him uniquely qualified to create technology that works for that space.
“We’re in Chicago, it’s a huge tech ecosystem. So I was able to find the right people to align myself with and help me build the product, bringing it from an idea to a reality,” said Route founder and CEO Ricardo Regalado. “But guess what — we are the subject matter experts. So that’s the other side of building technologies, you need to understand who you’re building it for and why you’re building it.”