A key aspect of entrepreneurship is connecting with others, which requires empathy.
“I think so [empathy] the most important part for anyone who wants to be a coach or help someone,” said Rodrigo Salas during a recent interview.
It’s one of the many lessons Salas has learned during a successful career in marketing and advertising, but perhaps more importantly, as a small business owner. Using this know-how, he mentors other aspiring entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas.
49-year-old Salas is the company’s executive director Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) Northwest Arkansas. The Business Accelerator is an affiliate of the nonprofit Massachusetts for All, a national entrepreneurship organization with offices across the country. Its mission is to make entrepreneurship accessible to anyone who wants to start their own business and provide opportunities to build generational wealth for their families.
EforAll was founded in 2010 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande. He believed that the best way to overcome inequality of opportunity was to support future entrepreneurs in communities on their journey. He founded EforAll to help start-up entrepreneurs, especially entrepreneurs outside the tech sector who may have limited access to seed capital or traditional “incubator” or accelerator programs.
Funding from Bentonville Walton Family Foundation supports the Northwest Arkansas Accelerator, which launched in March 2021 as the first EforAll community in the state. The nonprofit hired Salas later that year.
“Rodrigo is an entrepreneur himself and understands the challenges and obstacles in the entrepreneurial journey,” said Yi-Lin Lai, senior program officer at the Walton Family Foundation, which supports NWA’s EforAll. 1 million dollars. “Being an entrepreneur of color, he was an ideal mentor for the Hispanic communities in Northwest Arkansas in terms of his language and entrepreneurial experience.”
Lai said that increasing access to entrepreneurship programming in the region is a key focus of the Build 2025 strategy.
“EforAll’s EparaTodos [Spanish language] program helps do this by creating an accessible program for the community of current and aspiring underprivileged entrepreneurs – minorities, moderate incomes, women, and residents with low levels of education and English proficiency,” she said.
Since joining EforAll in 2021, he has helped establish a four-person team to manage activities that support regional entrepreneurs in building skills and social capital. They do this through accelerator programs (offered twice a year in English and Spanish), mentorships, pitch competitions, in-depth seminars that offer ongoing education on business topics, and networking events.
The EforAll NWA Winter 2023 Business Accelerator, its third, kicks off this month.
“Rodrigo is building and supporting an impressive network of diverse leaders in Northwest Arkansas,” said Jeannette Balleza Collins, Northwest Arkansas Council. director of business development. “To run a bilingual accelerator program, there is a tremendous amount of personalized community outreach, volunteer engagement, and event management that goes hand in hand with solid business support for the founders. Rodrigo leads these efforts in a cheerful, methodical, and intentional manner.
“He and his team bring great joy to the important work of inclusive business development.”
MEXICO TO TEXAS
Salas was born and raised in Mexico City. He described his family as middle class. His father was a marketing manager in a small grocery chain. His mother stayed at home to raise two sons.
Salas earned a marketing degree at the Tecnologico de Monterrey in 1997, where he met his future wife, Leticia Castellanos. He was a brand manager for Nestle when he and his wife decided to move to Austin, Texas in 2003 to continue their studies, and they have been living in the US ever since.
Salas received his MBA from the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business in 2005 and then continued his career in various CPG marketing, strategic and director roles.
“And then I decided to start my own business, which was the craziest idea,” he said.
Inspired by their Mexican heritage and love of cooking, Salas and his wife began Molly sauces in 2013. The family business, now located in Bentonville, makes cooking and hot sauces that can be used in traditional dishes from different regions of Mexico.
Molli is sold online and in over 400 grocery stores nationwide.
“Starting a business is so easy and dreamy, but it’s so hard,” Salas said. “Especially when you have to do everything by yourself. I didn’t know what I was doing in many ways. I knew the marketing side. I did not know sales, finance and operations.”
Salas said he needs to find coaches. The US Small Business Administration and SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer and expert business mentors, have been helpful. He also read a lot and took several business courses.
“At first I couldn’t find the stove,” he recalled. “So I took a how-to course at Texas A&M [safely] do not kill people by making food. This is very important if you are selling food. “
Salas said that for the first three years, he rented a commercial kitchen and prepared the products himself.
“Going into bottling, labeling, packaging and distributing it to stores … it was a lot that I didn’t think about and it was a big learning curve, but I loved it,” he said. “And I still love it. It was painful because sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. And that’s the way of business.”
TEXAS TO ARKANSAS
Salas’ wife was hired to work for Walmart Inc. in 2019. went The following year, a promotion took the family from Dallas to northwest Arkansas.
Salas mentored other entrepreneurs while living in Dallas and looked for a similar opportunity in northwest Arkansas. He found it at Fayetteville Counseling Startup Junkiewhere he learned about and became interested in EforAll’s plans for Northwest Arkansas through this work.
“I didn’t know who they were, but when they said they were looking for a bilingual executive director, I was interested,” he said. “Since starting the business, I have seen how difficult it is to start a business. Helping people in any way I can is what I’ve tried to do.
“Most important [aspect] allowing people who have been in the area for generations to move forward economically and socially instead of pushing them out. This is important for the region.”
Collins said Salas is adept at staying grounded as the EforAll NWA team learns more about the region’s targeted needs for idea and early-stage founders.
“He was very responsive to that need because he brought in board members, mentors and funders,” he said. “He took the initiative to support the addition of a team member specifically for outreach activities to expand the reach and impact of the program. This is a unique distinction for this particular EforAll location.”
Collins also noted that Salas’ marketing experience will help him tailor EforAll’s level of engagement to appeal to a broad stakeholder base.
“He has a deep love for helping people step into their own agency to effect positive change, which is a beautiful strength of character,” she said. “I have seen him many times, whether at an event of the leadership of the chamber or Creative mornings, and his passion for supporting underserved entrepreneurs shines through every time. He is fantastic at creating the conditions for growth and taking more leadership positions. “
Salas said that EforAll NWA has built a good capacity and has cooperated with other entrepreneurship support organizations in the region. He said Northwest Arkansas is a great place for entrepreneurs for many reasons, and he mentioned a few things, including Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Arkansas, Walton Family Foundation, Tyson Family Foundation, Arkansas Northwest Community College, Startup Junkie, Forge, Unlimited communities and Kiva NWA.
“We are finding our place and supporting each other,” he said. “Some people see us as competitors, but we all support different businesses.”