Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m in the Bronx in New York City to speak with Esmeralda Herrera, Director of Programs and Community Relations at Communitas America. Communitas America is helping to build an inclusive ecosystem of changemakers that impact local economies. Let’s see how they’re doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome Esmeralda, what a pleasure to talk to you! Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me what challenges Communitas America is addressing?
Esmeralda: The pleasure is all mine, Spiffy! Communitas America serves the Bronx, in New York City, by supporting local changemakers that help build neighborhood wealth, advance local empowerment, and enable upward mobility. This creation of wealth for under-represented groups, in turn, can be reinvested in local businesses and the community in a virtuous loop that improves access to goods and services, creates jobs, revitalizes neighborhoods, and builds a more solid economic foundation.
Spiffy: What motivated you to join this endeavor? I understand you’re a Bronx native!
Esmeralda: Exactly, Spiffy! My Bronx has always been a dumping ground, but it has forged me into who I am today. Many hope that between teen pregnancy and a school-to-prison pipeline, some of us, if any, will escape. Yet for many, there is no escape. Social entrepreneurship is an investment in my community as much as it is for me. It has allowed me to no longer be a prisoner of my past, no longer haunted by Bronx statistics and stereotypes. Entrepreneurship allows us to “uplift as we climb.”
Spiffy: So then how is Communitas America helping to create a more equitable world?
Esmeralda: The pandemic has further exposed the negative impacts of economic inequality and structural racism. Communitas America’s changemakers are working against systemic barriers and have been on the front lines of tackling racial, educational, and health injustices. Finding the resources, community, and funds to launch or scale an impact-driven venture can be impossible. Our role is to build an impact ecosystem that improves outcomes and supports entrepreneurs through our accelerator program.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a recent milestone you’ve reached and the kind of impact you anticipate it having?
Esmeralda: We recently completed six cohorts with a total of 79 ventures founded by 90 entrepreneurs. $102,000 in seed funding was awarded to 15 ventures with innovative solutions and exceptional potential to address issues in the Bronx. These transformational changemakers are launching their social ventures and catalyzing our investment into social impact within their own communities.
Social Entrepreneur panel by Bronx Creative Impact Series Episode 1. (Photo credit: @ErikaKapin)
Spiffy: Is there a startup or project you’ve worked with that exemplifies the impact you’re striving to make?
Esmeralda: Entrepreneurs are growing in numbers and, to support their sustainable futures, we are hosting networking events that can form peer networks where Bronx, BIPOC, and women entrepreneurs can support one another. DreamYard, Communitas America, BronxFilm48, and Equity Design brought together entrepreneurs, filmmakers, and community leaders to elevate the stories and individuals who craft them. This intersection of entrepreneurship and storytelling is called: Bronx Creative Impact Series.
Spiffy: I’m curious if you’ve learned something unexpected and interesting recently?
Esmeralda: As an urban farmer, I constantly learn from farmers, but plants can be just as insightful. Trees have been around for more than 400 million years, which is a good amount of time to collect valuable wisdom. One particular tree, the Aspen, connects with its nearby Aspen trees through an extensive interconnected web of underground roots making it a single organism, so if one tree is closer to water it can share the resources. This reminds me that we are indeed stronger together as a community.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, Esmeralda, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Esmeralda: We incubate innovative and diverse changemakers through our impact accelerator and provide community through our innovation space so that they can develop sustainable business models and launch social ventures. Our mission provides access to opportunities for women and minority-led founders. Our direct support can mean the difference between a flourishing social venture and sustainable livelihood, or one worthy of scale but unable to achieve any traction.
Spiffy: That kind of change and impact is priceless! Thanks so much for sharing about the work of Communitas America. It’s been an honor!
Bronxite Esmeralda Herrera is an ecosystem builder who works at the intersection of business and social impact to support local entrepreneurs. As Director of Programs and Community Relations at Communitas America, Esmeralda manages a Bronx accelerator that works directly with BIPOC founders to help build, launch, and expand social ventures that reach vulnerable communities. (Nominated by Represented Foundation. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 25, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.