“There’s nothing minor about us,” and there never will be for AL DÍA’s 2023 Top Entrepreneurs, and those that follow them
Recapping a memorable second AL DÍA Top Entrepreneurs Forum & Reception.
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If there was a quote of the night at AL DÍA’s 2023 Top Entrepreneurs Forum and Reception on Friday, Feb. 24, it came from Wooder Ice’s Hector Nuñez as he accepted his award for Business Innovation.
“I don’t use the term ‘minority’ because there’s nothing minor about us,” he told the crowd of more than 150 at the Pyramid Club.
In the moment, he was referring to his Wooder Ice team — one that’s a model of Black and Brown diversity for all to follow, and happened in the natural process of growing his platform to tell positive stories about Philly.
But it’s also something that encapsulates the entire event that was AL DÍA’s 2023 Top Entrepreneurs.
Like Nuñez’s team, whose work he was sure emphasize as the catalyst for Wooder Ice’s ascent in the Philly digital mediascape, all seven of the honorees spread across six categories — Nuñez included — also represented that same excellence rooted in entrepreneurship and creativity that sits at the crux of a changing Philadelphia.
Much like Wooder Ice, it’s long been AL DÍA’s goal to bring the stories of those individuals to the forefront of discussions across Philadelphia.
Before officially beginning his acceptance speech, Nuñez paid respects to AL DÍA Founder and CEO Hernán Guaracao, who he called the “true trailblazer” in the business of uplifting voices that Wooder Ice now does on a massive digital scale.
The interaction was short, but it was something Pioneer Richard Olaya would later describe in his own acceptance speech when defining the award he won.
Creating “beautiful spaces”
As an architect, he’s tasked with “creating beautiful spaces that reflect the best of contemporary society,” and it’s what he reads going into work everyday at The O Z Collaborative, where a sign on the front of the office displays the same goal for the whole company.
But as Olaya would expand, it’s also how he’s come to define the essence of a pioneer like himself. The beautiful spaces they create and routes they carve are for the next generation.
“I think the real takeaway today is that as a pioneer, we are all fortunate — as Latinos, we are all fortunate — so that the next young Latino and the next young Latina with big dreams can take that path and have it be a little bit easier to navigate,” he said.
Olaya went on to clarify that it can also mean the next generation of immigrants that come to the U.S. in search of their own American Dreams.
An “American Dream” is how the night’s MC, CNBC’s Janet Alvarez, described the journeys of Partnership winners Marcos Tlacopilco and Alma Romero. Arriving to Philadelphia in 1998 from Puebla, Mexico, the pair went to work for a fish market before opening their own, and then Alma del Mar in 2020.
As Tlacopilco and Romero told attendees at Top Entrepreneurs, their family works right alongside them in the restaurant to maintain the dream and keep the dreams of their kids alive. But beyond their immediate family, the pair, and Alma del Mar, are beacons of hope that light the way for any new member of South Philadelphia’s growing Mexican and Central American communities.
“We continue to work our hardest for you,” said Tlacopilco, addressing that very same community.
Family and community were also central themes of Neydary Zambrano’s acceptance speech as the Brick and Mortar winner. Her family too, were both the inspiration for Magic Memories, and the support beams that kept her afloat as the chain of early childhood development centers expanded to more locations in the Philadelphia suburbs.
“I’ve never done this alone,” Zambrano said.
Her community comes into play when Zambrano considers she’s often the only business leader that’s Latino and a woman when she attends the many chambers of commerce meetings she does in places like Montgomery and Chester counties.
“It makes me proud,” she told the crowd at the Pyramid Club before recognizing the growing number of Latinos that live outside of Philadelphia.
Pride is also what Sofia De Leon expressed in her own acceptance speech as the Top Restaurateur. Pride as she sees the business she founded to get a “little bit of home” in Philly, grow into an educational experience on a daily basis as customers learn about the nuances of Central American food.
The path will undoubtedly be easier for the next “little Guatemalan girl,” — as she told AL DÍA in a prior interview — wanting to sell pupusas and the like to Philadelphia.
For Mazzie Casher, the path he’s creating for the next generation of Philadelphia youth is one that happens in real time with his Philly Truce App and in the long-term with his Philly Truce Foundation. Both lead to a future that sees youth talk their problems out rather than pick up a gun to settle them.
Power in unity
It’s hopeful, but one Casher said can’t be realized unless all the communities in the room on Feb. 24 — Black, Latino, AAPI, and LGBTQ+ — come together to plan, empower one another and execute.
As he said regarding the candidates in the 2023 Philly Mayoral race: “They gotta sit down with Black and Brown.”
That’s also the work that was expounded upon during the evening’s panel discussion, featuring three leaders of Philadelphia’s New Diverse Chambers Coalition.
“We beat the drum,” Zach Wilcha, CEO of the Independence Business Alliance - Greater Philadelphia’s LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, told the crowd about the coalition’s work to push Philly City Council and the Mayor on issues where all chambers are in agreement.
Entrepreneur to entrepreneur
But beyond the chambers, there’s the individual entrepreneurs they support, and the support and guidance they build among themselves.
“I’ve been in that trench,” Guaracao said in his opening speech, an entrepreneur speaking to other entrepreneurs.
It doesn’t resemble the same trench Nuñez now inherits with Wooder Ice, and it’ll look even less like one to whoever he passes it on to. But there is something that has and always will stand the test of time.
They’re never “minor” — whoever takes that entrepreneurial journey.