By Janet Alvarez
When Jennifer Rodriguez relocated to Philadelphia in the late ’90s, the once-bustling South Philly neighborhood of Italian Market was in decay.
“It was a place experiencing disinvestment, and many wondered what would become of what was a once-vibrant commercial corridor,” says Rodriguez, who is now the president of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Today, the area is vibrant, attracting residents and entrepreneurs, and is among the most desirable neighborhoods in Philadelphia. To Rodriguez, it’s emblematic of the Hispanic community’s penchant for hard work and entrepreneurialism — even amid the Covid crisis.
“Our community knows how to find opportunity where others may not. We have done it before; we can do it again,” she says.
Rodriguez points to some key statistics regarding Hispanics and entrepreneurship – for example, data showing that Hispanic and immigrant entrepreneurs start more businesses than native-born Americans, and tend to grow revenue more quickly than the economy, as a whole.
Indeed, according to statistics from the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, between 2009-2019 the number of Latino business owners grew 34%, compared to 1% for all business owners in the United States. And between 2018-2019, Latino-owned businesses reported an average revenue growth of 14%, outpacing the growth of the U.S. economy.
Silvia Lucci was not a born restaurateur — she became one by necessity and marketing wit. The Argentina native studied education and obtained a master’s degree in social and urban development in her native country, but found herself suffering a minor stroke some years ago. That’s when her husband, a chef, began preparing “healing foods” for her. Silvia credits the diet, which was vegan, organic, gluten-free, and highly nutritious, with turning around her health. It was also delicious.
“We Latinos like bold flavors, and don’t want to compromise taste for health,” she says.
Soon, the couple found themselves selling the food at local farmers markets. That’s when a stroke of ingenuity occurred: Silvia printed cards with her business logo, and asked customers to drop them off at their favorite grocery store if they liked her food. The gambit worked. Dozens of cards were dropped off at a nearby Whole Foods Market, prompting the supermarket to invite her to pitch her LUHV Foods products. After a 15-minute “Shark Tank”-style pitch, Silvia and Whole Foods were in business. The rest is history.
Today, Silvia’s LUHV Foods are distributed in Whole Foods Markets throughout the mid-Atlantic region. She expanded her grocery delivery and catering businesses, and has opened two bistros in Hatboro and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Awards and accolades have followed. Full-page write-ups in the Philadelphia Inquirer. ”Best of Philly” Awards. A new, 24,000 square foot factory kitchen to expand her business nationally — despite the pressures of Covid.
Lucci credits her success in large part to her immigrant work ethic, and says it’s helped her navigate the vagaries of coronavirus.
“Being an immigrant is a virtue. This country was created by immigrants. We’re not foreigners; we’re new Americans planting roots here, and building a future. Now, when we’re in a pandemic, it’s when the virtues of hard work, creativity, and ambition that immigrants espouse really resonate. Our grandparents were all immigrants; that internal strength they had is what defines the future of this country.”
Though Luhv Foods now occupies most of Lucci’s time, her early years in the United States were filled with odd jobs cleaning houses and even longer hours. She arrived an undocumented immigrant in the 1980s, later obtaining her legal residency via the Green Card lottery, and became a citizen in 2000. Her undocumented immigrant housekeeper to U.S. citizen entrepreneur success story is heartening, but shouldn’t confound anyone.
“I am the face of an undocumented immigrant. People often think there are two types of Hispanics: legal ones and undocumented, but we are one and the same. We are all here to work hard and build a better future.”
Breakthrough technology for head injury
When Jessie Garcia played college rugby at Lehigh University, she suffered a concussion, but her coach didn’t recognize the symptoms and allowed her to keep playing. That worsened her condition and required her to take serious time off due to post-concussive syndrome. The problem, she says, was a common one: People just weren’t equipped to readily recognize head injuries, except for the most significant ones — but even mild concussions could have deleterious effects and warrant attention. That’s how her idea for Tozuda, a head-impact sensor that is cost-effective and easy-to-use, was born.
“I originally envisioned its use in organized sports such as college and professional teams, but Covid caused sports teams to stop for a while, so we had to look for other markets,” says Garcia, CEO of Tozuda, a manufacturing company that develops safety products for sports and industrial applications including the Tozuda Head Impact Indicator, a device that attaches to any helmet and indicates when a hit may cause a head injury.