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Cristina Villanueva helps to uplift Latino business owners in Milwaukee & beyond

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Cristina Villanueva is a co-founder of negozee — a social learning platform that's for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs across the country.

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

For Villanueva, her interest in entrepreneurship began when she was a student at South Division High School. She says her teacher, Vicki Kalman, had a passion to teach her students about accounting and finance that stayed with Villanueva.

Villanueva followed this path working for a national tax firm while also being the person her family and friends would go to for help with taxes.

"People would come and bring me their letters and I said, 'Wow there's a need for someone just to even assist them and called [the] IRS with them to translate," recalls Villanueva.

As she noticed a boom in new Latino business owners in Milwaukee, she shifted directions and founded Ambas in 2017 to fill the growing need for bilingual services. Villanueva notes that she started with just over 100 clients that has now grown to approximately 1,000 just through word of mouth recommendations and community outreach.

"Its definitely evolved, especially after COVID," she says. "I’ve noticed that there was a huge demand for Latinos to have access to resources. And that is where now negozee came about because we were noticing that there was all these amazing programs available for them such as the PPP loan and grants and assistance for their business, but they weren't getting access to it."

The app offers access to education, resources, networking, classes and more to help enable entrepreneurs to succeed and grow. It also also 100% in Spanish serving Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs beyond Milwaukee, and Villanueva said that it was surprising at first to realize how few Spanish language resources there were.

"But at the same time it shouldn't be a surprise... because it's not that the resource isn't there, it's that a lot of these Latino business owners do not have a relationship with any bank so they don't have a personal banker that's able to assist them in their finances," she explains.

"So I don't want to say that we as the United States has not done a good job in creating resources, but we haven't done a good job in finding a way to connect that resource with the end user," Villanueva adds.

The average member of negozee is a Latina mom who is about 39 years-old who has one or two employees in their business according to Villanueva. She says that part of the resource's growth is due to the company meeting clients where they are and guiding them long term to successful growth.

"I'm attracted with negozee because I get to now help someone like my mother who's probably starting a business and she doesn't know the language. So it's our own community giving back to each other," says Villanueva. "There are professionals here that have the knowledge or are those experts, and then helping the small business owner bringing them up to where they need to go."

She says that in order for Latino-owned business in the Milwaukee area to succeed, a space needs to be created for Latino entrepreneurs to share their stories and create a support system. Villanueva says there also needs to be an emphasis on financial literacy for business owners and education on how business owners can get to the next level.

"There's such a big need. Latinos have been crying for help ... and it honestly makes me feel very happy when iI see all these now different collectives coming together in Milwaukee and we're going the right direction," she says.

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Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
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