Latina entrepreneur creates ambicultural Latino food event

150 150 Ed Coghlan

Many large California companies started as very small operations fueled by founders who had a great idea and access to capital. When people close their eyes and envision that person, some might conjure up a man. Increasingly today’s entrepreneur in California is not a man, she’s a Latina.

One such leader is Lilly Rocha, a UC Berkeley grad, who left a successful corporate job working on annual meetings and global events in the food and beverage industry because she had an idea.

Her idea was Sabor Latino which is now Los Angeles’ premier trade show aimed at Latino food and the Latino consumer. The next one will be held in Pasadena on May 13 and 14.

“It’s an ambicultural event,”  she explained which reflects both mainstream and ethnic foods that are part of the experience of Latinos. “We like mainstream food and we like our own ethnic food. The trade show reflects that.”

But for a Latina, Rocha explains, having the idea was one thing. Being in charge was another.

“The simple truth is that I was brought up in a culture that told me that the man is in charge,” Rocha said. “I had to learn to address that.”

One way she did that was to turn to a nationally known Latina woman empowerment specialist, Dr. Yasmin Davidds who we featured recently on the CAeconomy blog.

“Lilly‚Äôs choice to no longer follow a corporate system, or someone else’s rules allowed her to really dig into what her own strengths and gifts are,” said Dr. Davidds. “It is wonderful to see her evolve into a dynamic leader and agile strategist who is making the world a healthier place with food industry trade shows such as Sabor Latino.”

Rocha’s business–called 67 Events and Meetings–is taking off. She already employs eight people and expects to add several more employees in the future.

As this show grows, there is a lot of job potential, mostly in the event management area,” she predicted.   

Rocha is an example of the growing force of the Latina entrepreneur in the national economy. (This story written by Maria Botta provides some interesting data about the increase in Latina entrepreneurs).

The California Economic Summit is a regions-based approach to help identify ways to increase job creation in California. As we think about how to grow jobs in California, the growing economic clout of Latinos is fundamental to meeting the goal. A major engine of job growth in California is the small business sector, in which Latina-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing groups.

As part of our work with the Summit, CA Fwd met a group of Latina leaders at a Los Angeles roundtable, where we met Dr. Davidds. Our friends at HOPE, a non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to ensuring policy and economic parity for Latinas, organized the event.

For Rocha, now a business owner, there are a couple of other things you should know. First, when she talks with young Latinas, part of what she calls “the sisterhood,” she approaches it with the idea of helping each other. Her message?

“Get an education and dream big.”

And like most entrepreneurs, she has other ideas–lots of them. One idea was spawned by her own life story. Rocha had a heart attack several years ago at the way-too-young age of 37. While she has recovered, she is also educating people and promoting healthier snack food options to Latino consumers.

In the meantime, this self-described workaholic is doing what driven people do. She’s working night and day on her business, preparing for Sabor Latino in May. 


Ed Coghlan

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