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Latino tech entrepreneurs earn spot at 1871


Juan Saldana and Javier Haro, of Food He.ro, don’t look like their fellow tech entrepreneurs and they don’t quite think like them either. They’re not white. They’re not fresh out of college. And they didn’t jump into their venture with the naivety that helps 20-somethings ignore the risks of entrepreneurship. Saldana and Haro are both in their late 30s and, as Latinos, comprise a rare subset of the tech startup industry.
Understandably, then, they were intimidated by the idea of joining 1871, Chicago’s elite business incubator for digital startup companies. The incubator became the pioneering initiative of the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center when it opened in 2011 and has since become a renowned community of tech talent, accessible by application only.
About a year ago, Saldana and Haro reached out to 1871, where Director of External Affairs and International Relations Diana Lopez-Obaldo and Chief Operating Officer Tom Alexander urged them to join.
Saldana said their initial intimidation about the incubator centered on the idea of its exclusivity.
“It seemed like a place where only the top software and development companies were accepted,” Saldana said. “Diana and Tom changed that perception almost immediately. Both of them were very proactive and very responsive. We always felt like we had friends there and that gave us the confidence to pursue our plans and be part of 1871.”
Over the last year, Saldana and Haro have continued fine-tuning their first major app. While they’re not yet at the point of beta testing, they hope the app will change the food industry by helping people connect with restaurants offering menu items that match their health goals.
Being a part of 1871 has fast-tracked their progress, right away providing networking opportunities with major companies like Quaker and McDonalds as well as the minority-focused, tech entrepreneur support organization CODE2040.
“Yes, in just one week 1871 did for us what would have taken months, if not years,” Saldana said. “We are no longer intimidated — we are invigorated with the possibilities.”
Besides 1871 itself, which, now offers a diversity scholarship for black and Latino-owned tech companies, Food He.ro has benefited from support and resources offered by the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
So far, the biggest challenge is finding funding for local talent in the creation of the app. The team is committed to building the technology in the United States, perhaps even in Chicago alone. While many software companies outsource the software development portion of their product, Saldana and Haro refuse to do so. That means finding the talent here or finding a way to create it.
“We are from Chicago and the talent is here,” Saldana said. “And it will continue to grow.”
Once the app becomes operational, NegociosNow will be able to describe it in detail. Suffice it to say, for now, that the innovative product will make connections between an individual’s stated health priorities and properly aligned meals at local restaurants. Stay tuned for more! By Tara García Mathewson