This week (Nov. 14-20) marks Global Entrepreneurship Week. Below are reflections from entrepreneur Cindy Pedraza, who cofounded CocoAndré Chocolatier with her mother Andrea and grew the business with help from the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program. Both had the opportunity to attend The United State of Women summit in June.
Earlier this year, my mother and I joined fellow women entrepreneurs on stage at the White House United State of Women, a summit tackling issues around gender equality and a celebration of women in business. As the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and a first generation American, I never imagined that I would watch my mother share her story—our story—with so many.
Our story is ultimately one of perseverance. After being laid off within months of each other during the recession, my mother and I decided to take matters quite literally into our own hands. My mother had been hand-making chocolate for over 30 years, perfecting her craft as a Master European truffle maker. Together we opened CocoAndré in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, transforming a gutted out space into a small storefront where customers bought chocolate based on reputation alone—there was no room for even a display counter. However, when we looked for additional funding to expand our growing business, we found ourselves met with resistance at every turn.
Our journey is not unlike many other women in this country. Over the last 40 years, women-owned businesses have become an increasingly important part of the U.S. economy, growing from 5 percent to 30 percent of all businesses. These enterprises generate trillions of dollars in economic activity and revitalize communities by providing tens of millions of jobs. Despite this success, women entrepreneurs still face significant obstacles. Compared with men, women struggle to get access to the capital that they need to start and grow a business.
The difficulty that we faced in securing a loan connected us to another robust community of a different sort: the thousands of women entrepreneurs who are denied access to the capital that they so badly need to grow their businesses. If our nation is to live up to its full economic potential, women must have the same support as men when seeking funding, and institutions that provide this capital must lead the way.
We were grateful to ultimately have the opportunity to work with a community development financial institution called PeopleFund through a partnership with The Tory Burch Foundation and Bank of America. The loan helped us to pave a new path for our business by enabling us to invest in necessary equipment and renovations and hire four new women employees. PeopleFund saw CocoAndré the way we saw it: as a pillar in the community, and the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program helped us to take our business to the next level. We’re honored to work with these organizations that are part of a larger effort to strengthen women’s role in the economy both in the U.S. and around the world.
Our experience at the summit was one of the most empowering times of my life. As a little girl, my mother was always my hero. From raising three daughters while pursuing her high school diploma to starting her own business, there was nothing she couldn’t tackle. I am grateful that my mother was able to share her greatest life lessons with others; lessons which have guided my own career and personal journey. Her story is a constant reminder to always stay humble, never fear to ask for help and know that it only takes one person to say yes.