It seems impossible sometimes, but it is not. Keeping your business dreams alive in times of crisis requires creativity, innovation and perseverance. Today we tell you the story of how two Puerto Rican entrepreneurs are doing it.
This has been the case for Arlyn Vázquez, owner of a pastry business called Chic & Divine Sweets, and Elizabeth Vázquez, creator of Medic-Citas, a micro-business dedicated to transporting disabled or at-risk people to medical appointments and personal events. These two inspiring women work hard to keep their business dreams alive. Dealing with the impact of the pandemic on an island that was already affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and several earthquakes earlier this year.
The Birth of Two Business Dreams
ALINE CERDÁN – Tell us a little about your business, how did it come about?
ARLYN VÁZQUEZ, CHIC & DIVINE SWEETS – I had been thinking for a long time about the idea of establishing my own business. I come from a merchant family. My parents had a grocery store for more than 30 years and almost all my brothers have businesses. So, I took community entrepreneurship classes in the city where I live and then I started taking various baking courses. In the process, I realized that not many people knew what macarons were, and those who did, thought they were too delicate to make. So, I started to perfect my technique. I started selling to friends and family while still working for a company.
In 2016, just when I lost my job, I participated in Saborea Culinary Fest, one of the most important gastronomic events in all of Puerto Rico where the most recognized restaurants participate. That helped a lot with product acceptance and gave me the courage to talk to more people.
ELIZABETH VÁZQUEZ, MEDIC CITAS – Medic-Citas is a micro-company that specializes in transporting elderly, children, youth and adults with functional diversity to their medical appointments, treatments, dialysis, laboratories and private or family events. Our vehicles are equipped with a ramp to move them in a safe and comfortable way.
Before starting my business, I decided to quit my job with an airline. It was closing its base in Puerto Rico and I would have had to move to the United States. My parents were very sick at the time and my main responsibility was to be with them until the end. I was in charge of taking them to their appointments. Getting them in the car was always a struggle. Then, someone told me about a company that offered this type of service. The service was requested at the Veteran’s Hospital for my dad and I was fascinated with the type of work they did. I learned about the process of having that type of job, the requirements, etc. That is how I decided to start this business that fills me with satisfaction, love and empathy for clients who are mostly elderly.
Adjusting Business Dreams in Times of Crisis
AC – What transformations have been necessary to keep your business dreams alive in times of crisis? What adjustments did you have to make after the pandemic?
AV – Unfortunately this crisis has affected all entrepreneurs, but especially small businesses. I have focused on staying positive, looking for alternatives and products that people can consume and work from home. For example, I started selling boxes with cakes clients can decorate at home, an alternative where the whole family can participate and then enjoy a homemade cake. In the same way, I began to offer empanadillitas (mini turnovers) so that people can fry them at home on a Sunday as a family while having a day by the pool.
EV – These events have shown us how vulnerable to any natural and man-made situation life is. Difficult times that have affected our economy and health. My business dreams continue to be firm in these situations. I think it has been a time to analyze, study the situation, remain calm and confident, and save money.
AC – What are some of the biggest challenges as a post-hurricane Maria business owner?
EV – Hurricane Maria paralyzed our services for a month until medical appointments were normalized. It was the first time my work routine was affected. But the appointments resumed, and we started working, thank God. That made me analyze how to prepare financially for an event like the hurricane or worse. The biggest challenge is to continue believing in what I do and to not allow myself to fall when confronted by any situation that might appears. Everything is about being assertive, protecting what you have, feeling passion and waiting for the exact moment to start or continue growing. Never stop no matter what.
AV – Thanks to the fact that we have a power plant, we were able to make the product and deliver it to all the points of sale quickly. We didn’t have much time between making and storing, so we made the food and delivered the same day. However, they say that “the misfortune of one is the grace of others” and one of the points of sale that we have now was thanks to the fact that another company that made desserts couldn’t continue to supply.
Important Lessons in Times of Crisis
AC – What do you think is the most important thing you have learned about how to keep your business dreams alive in times of crisis?
AV – Stay focused and positive. Always look to learn from others and look for alternatives that fit the market’s needs and the moment.
EV – Believe in my dream, love what I do, have passion for my business, don’t let it fall without fighting first, move obstacles, reinvent myself, open doors and close those that are not convenient.
AC – What recommendations would you make to other small business owners fighting for their dreams and businesses at this time?
EV – I recommend that they don’t give up. That they fight for their dreams. It is not always easy but it’s never impossible. They will encounter obstacles, but their dreams are bigger. I’d recommend they start their business with a business plan they can follow through each step. Don’t start a business with debt. Go little by little. Don’t be anxious, the business will grow slowly.
AV – That they never give up, that they persevere and that they believe in themselves. There are always difficult moments in a business, but we have to know how to learn from them and move forward.
Solidarity Between Puerto Rican Businesswomen
AC- How does your business impact the local economy? What is the best way to support small entrepreneurs and businesses in our communities?
EV – Positively! First, the local government injecting capital by giving jobs and paying government taxes and patents, being a self-sustaining company. Second, I serve as an example to motivate others to become financially independent.
Being in solidarity with small local companies. I like to use the services of my people and consume what my country produces. That is what stays here in my homeland and in this is how we support the communities to grow and expand.
AV – The best way is buying their products and promoting them. Currently we are the first in the Google search for macarons in Puerto Rico. Anyone who likes to taste a fine dessert such as macaron, calls us. They are a dessert that is used at parties and even as gifts at special events such as weddings.
AC – Where do you find the strength and inspiration to keep going when everything feels most difficult?
AV – My family is my greatest inspiration and my strength to keep going.
EV – First, in God who guides me and has never abandoned me. Then in the testimonies of people who have gone through difficult situations and motivate us not to give up. It strengthens me remembering where I was before and what I have achieved so far. That gives me the drive to continue fulfilling my dreams and goals.