In southeast Fort Worth, neighborhoods like Glencrest exist in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-identified food desert. An abundance of fast-food restaurants, liquor and convenience stores stretch as far as the eye can see. But grocery stores are few and far between. 

After attending an agricultural training workshop in 2015, Steven and Ursula Nuñez learned how small farmers could make a difference in their communities’ food and health crises. They believe urban farming is the solution to the area’s agricultural crisis. 

Husband and wife Steven and Ursula Nuñez spent years examining sustainable agricultural practices. Steven Nuñez sought a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture to further research farming and community building. Courtesy: Steven Nuñez.

Their efforts started as a small, experimental garden with some fruit trees and grew into a 3½-acre urban farm, Mind Your Garden. The Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is trying to help such businesses take root, naming the farm as one of three finalists selected for its first Latinx Business Pitch Competition. 

The competition is a way for the chamber to give back to the Hispanic community and provide an event that would not intimidate new businesses, Director of Business Development Jazmin Gutierrez said.

“A few of them were saying they actually wrote their business plan’s first or second draft specifically for our chamber pitch event,” Gutierrez said. “We noticed other business pitch competitions nationally were for those that have been in business for years.”

Bank of America and the city’s Economic Development Department helped fund the competition. All three finalists will receive various levels of funding: $3,000 for first place, $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place. 

Eight small businesses applied for the competition and pitched their ideas to a panel of judges on June 25. Three businesses were selected to move forward to final pitching Friday.

Panelists selected businesses based on how well they understood the industry, how economically feasible their pitch was, how clearly they presented their ideas and the level of preparation and research that went into the presentation. 

Victor Garcia of Sol Dias, Steven and Ursula Nuñez of Mind Your Garden, and Veronica Sauto of Saltus Training Group were selected for the final pitching.  

Meet the finalists

Sol Dias

Sol Dias offers handcrafted desserts and snacks and specializes in bringing authentic Mexican ice cream to the Metroplex. Founder Victor Garcia, 28, was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and said when he moved from Los Angeles to Texas, he found the state lacked quality Mexican treats. 

Sol Dias founder Victor Garcia poses at the brand’s storefront. The company, established in 2016, is located at 2812 Denton Hwy in Haltom City, Texas. Courtesy: Victor Garcia

“There are about 150 paleterías (in DFW) which are the main carriers of Mexican ice cream, and only (about 30%) of those make their own,” he said. “We’ve tried them and feel like they’re sacrificing quality. Our long-term goal is to change the tide to really authentic Mexican ice cream available to all in the U.S.”

Garcia is a member of the chamber and said the competition’s first round of pitching provided him with valuable feedback on his business. 

“They let me know, ‘Hey, your financial plan for growth is weak’ or ‘Maybe you have to focus on making your solution more crystal clear,’” Garcia said. “From there, it’s how do I beat myself(…) How do I beat my last presentation?”

If he wins first place, Garcia said $2,000 of the prize money will go toward marketing and packaging for his upcoming meeting with HEB. The other $1,000 would go toward donating popsicles to events to “spread more Mexican joy,” he said.

Saltus Training Group

Saltus Training Group provides customized bilingual (English-Spanish) training to Hispanic small business owners in entrepreneurship, accounting, finances, sales and marketing, QuickBooks, technology and legal contracts.

Co-Founder Veronica Sauto, 50, was hired as a representative for the Mexican government to teach Hispanic communities in the U.S. about starting and growing a business. Sauto later decided to run her own business with her own teaching materials.

“There is an important shortage in bilingual bookkeeping services and people are very good in operations but they don’t have time to have an accounting system,” Sauto said. “We’re going to start providing practical tools to help entrepreneurs better understand their businesses, how to get a loan, how to communicate with their accountant or banker.”

Sauto works with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce under the Bilingual Business Program. Sauto earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pheonix. Courtesy: Veronica Sauto

While she trains entrepreneurs on elevator pitch techniques, Sauto said, it is something she had never tried herself. 

Participating in the contest “is a great way to encourage the Hispanic community that regardless of if we have a very thick accent or don’t have the best English, we can overcome these obstacles,” Sauto said. “We are immigrants and we are thankful with this country of big opportunities. We need to take advantage and create jobs.”

She said the money from the competition will go toward hiring and training bilingual bookkeepers to master Quickbook technology.

Mind Your Garden

Mind Your Garden is an urban farm in Glencrest with the goal of tackling food insecurity in southeast Fort Worth. Founders Steven and Ursula Nuñez, both 38, said their community is a food desert where farm-fresh food is harder to come by than fast food and convenience stores.

Mind Your Garden is located at 3815 Timberline Drive in Southeast Fort Worth. Courtesy: Steven Nuñez

“We’re going to be providing education, health education, farming education, as well as growing food to sell to increase access to healthy foods in our neighborhood,” Steven Nuñez said. “Then {we are) also building that community support where people can come together and learn how to grow food and support each other.”

Ursula Nuñez said winning the competition will help them set up irrigation so the farm does not have to rely on the retention pond on the property to water their crops. 

She said she felt “very emotional and grateful” to be selected to move on to the final round.

“It’s important to build community and recruit people in joining this movement on eating healthy,” Ursula Nuñez said. “We believe healthy people and a healthy city is a prosperous city.”

The final pitching

The final round of pitches is from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Friday via a virtual session. The event is $10 for chamber members and $15 for non-members. Registration is open on the competition’s event page. 

In this round, finalists will have five minutes instead of three to pitch, and it will include a five-minute question-and-answer session with the panelists. The businesses will be judged on similar criteria to the first round.

Guiterrez said the chamber wants to host the competition again next year. 

“A lot of these individuals were new faces to our chamber so we’re hoping they gain a good network of supporters,” Guiterrez said. “Even with those who did not win the funding, we are definitely following up with them one-on-one so we continue to get them where they need to be to be successful.”

Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at brooke.colombo@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Brooke Colombo

I'm a general assignment reporter for the Fort Worth Report. I'm a recent graduate from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in digital and print journalism.

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