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The Journey of a Foreign Exchange Latina Entrepreneur in Minnesota


The Foreign Exchange Young Entrepreneur Program (FEYEP) is an eight-week cohort-cultural immersion program. The FEYEP provides opportunities to young Latina entrepreneurs from Latin America to experience the Minnesota business culture. The program provides young women entrepreneurs with shadowing, mentoring and coaching opportunities. The goal is to learn about how Minnesota companies and entrepreneurs do business and about the Midwest value system. The entrepreneurs have daily meetings with other Latina women and minority entrepreneurs, women corporate executives as well as Minnesota political and government leaders. The program also fosters cross cultural, intergenerational and thoughtful conversations between the FEYEP participant and local community members and Latino immigrants. We believe that this is a unique way of building a diverse global community while providing business opportunities for US and Latin American entrepreneurs.

The selection process is based on different aspects. One of the most important one is the applicant's commitment to social impact and inclusive economic growth in their communities.

In 2022, the committee selected Antonella Morabowen, our first Young Latina Entrepreneur from the FEYEP. Antonella is Ecuadorian, born in Quito and raised at her family farm in Latacunga, a rural area in the southern part of Ecuador. Antonella started her business when she was 15 years old. She helped her mother's boutique hotel with graphic design projects and digital marketing-social media posts. After a couple of years, Antonella was offered and accepted a contract from a global hospitality industry digital marketing and online booking company.

Despite her busy schedule as an entrepreneur, Antonella was an honor roll student at a Latacunga's middle school and high school . Antonella is a leader, she considers herself a feminist and an advocate for women's economic rights. After graduating from college (2025), she aspires to become one of the first entrepreneurs to use her tech and graphic design skills to establish a social impact company in the rural area where she lives. Her vision includes hiring women and girls to work for her company and provide them personal and professional growth opportunities so that they can become self-sustainable.

Antonella's creativity, sense of responsibility and hard work has granted her many opportunities, like theTCA's FEYEP. Additionally, while in Minnesota, Antonella was offered many professional contracts to provide services remotely (from Ecuador) to US entrepreneurs. She has brought a different perspective of what social impact means to the people from her country and Latin America. Antonella has become a Social Impact Brand Ambassador for the TCA and its mission to provide economic growth opportunities to women and minorities. She has learned about the importance of the principles of the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, she has pledge to make them part of her social impact mission.

The personal and professional bond that was formed between Antonella, her peers, her mentors and coaches have gone beyond expectations. She will always have a place at the TCA and we will always be here to support Antonella in her amazing personal and entrepreneurial journey!

My Journey as a Young Latina Entrepreneur in Minnesota, October 31, 2022

By Antonella Morabowen, 2022 Foreign Exchange Latina Entrepreneur at the Trade Center of the Americas (The content of the following article has not being edited and it is the sole responsibility of the author).

Where did this adventure start?

For you to understand this whole adventure, I first need to talk to you about the very beginning.

The Foreign Exchange Latina Entrepreneur application process- June 2022

I found out about the Foreign Exchange Entrepreneurship Program when I was invited to participate in an online meeting. Silvia Ontaneda, President and CEO at the TCA explained the steps to apply and I requested the information and application form.

Two months later, I was pleasantly surprised by an email indicating that I have been accepted to be the Foreign Exchange Latina Entrepreneur. After signing the acceptance letter as well as the terms and conditions for coming to the US, I booked my ticket, VERY excited and honored by this opportunity.

The reason I wanted to come in person was to help me understand the business world and expand my network. As a girl who just graduated from high school and who is currently taking a gap year, it is very important for me to experience the real world before enrolling in college as well as learning how to improve my entrepreneurial mindset, which in my case, it’s graphic design services.

My business was established 3 years ago when I was 15. I started creating social media content for my mom's business, one of the first boutique hotels in Ecuador, which I manage until the day. I started my business envisioning a future as a successful woman entrepreneur. I wanted to be able to inspire and empower other women entrepreneurs from the rural areas of Ecuador to expand their global outreach.

Now that you know a little bit of my story, we can continue with my adventure.

Week 1

October 3-10/2022

I took a plane from Ecuador on the 3rd of October, 2022 and after a long day of planes and airports, I finally arrived in Minnesota where Silvia Ontaneda was there to pick me up.

On the first day, we drove around the Twin Cities. I was amazed by the fall and its colors. Then, in the next few days, we started networking. On October 5, Silvia took me to IMPACT HUB, a coworking space located in Minneapolis. Consequently, on October 6 we assisted at the Cine Latino launching event, and finally, on October 7, we went to the Latino Lead Event which took place at the University of St.Thomas. I was invited by Silvia, who was a speaker and a table-host at this event. She sat there at a table full of students who were interested in learning about her business and vice versa. She asked them about their future plans and encouraged them to continue perfecting their ideas. These were the very first spaces where I started meeting people from all around the world, willing to know more about the business culture here.

Week 2

October 10-17/2022

On October 11, Silvia and I went to the Minnesota Expo 2027, and on October 12 to the ACLU Breakfast with a side of dissent. At these events, I made some incredible connections with important and working people that are open to offering me opportunities to continue learning and practicing. Also, coming from Ecuador to Minnesota and seeing how there are organizations ( ACLU) that actually care about minorities is gratifying.

Week 3

October 17-24/2022

I´ve been shadowing Silvia 24/7. It's been non-stop. Being an entrepreneur is hard but completely worth it. Moreover, the values which she applies to her day-to-day life are priceless. Honesty, transparency, and responsibility at her job combined with her kindness create the perfect match. I believe that the principles from Silvia and the TCA demonstrate respect for their colleagues, clients, audiences, or society as a whole.

I´m just at the beginning of this journey and I already have learned so many things. I realize, for example, that learning the fundamentals of business is crucial for your future success. Also, including practical experience and technical skills in your abilities is what matters. On the other hand, teaching people how crucial it is to empower women in business through work and effort. As a young feminist, I truly care about adapting and teaching society to be more fair and equitable in terms of women´s dignity.

In order to return this knowledge to my community when I come back to Ecuador, I will be contracting with young women to develop their creativity in projects which I'm currently managing here. The fact of being shadowing a CEO at this time, really made me realize how much I wanted to become one, one day.

Week 4

October 24- November 1/2022

After almost a month of being here what I must highlight about Minnesota are the work ethics that are implied here. Everything is handled in a professional and strictly legal manner. From my personal experience working in Ecuador, where it is the opposite, I would say that it is more than necessary not only for your own peace of mind, but also because all people deserve their work to be respected, not necessarily admired, but for sure respected.

Furthermore, I admire the TCA for creating economic opportunities internationally. What I´m learning here is for sure the best thing I could ever have done for my personal growth and entrepreneurial spirit. I would highly recommend this program to all the girls out there searching for resources to expand their projects. This will allow you to raise your voice and ideas, transforming them into reality.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

- Peter Drucker

Week 5

November 1-7/202

A new month begins, and with it new opportunities to continue learning. This week, Silvia and I discovered our new favorite place, the library. We stayed there from 9 AM until 8 PM when they closed. While we were working, we had very interesting conversations about the business culture here in Minnesota, and how it differs from Ecuador, and in general from all of Latin America.

Silvia, who has lived in the US for 20 years, has adapted well. However, for a foreign visitor like me, the gap that exists is huge. I have been able to realize that people as well as businesses are handled in a transactional way, or as it is known professionally, in a low context.

The people from Minnesota like to keep things simple. In fact, there is an acronym for that: KISS Personally, I'm a creative person who likes to add a touch of originality to my projects, however, I've learned that it doesn't have to be that way always, and that's okay.

Silvia is the one who has taught me everything I need to know to start being a professional with values. Around the world, you will always find businesses and people with great ideas, but these don't guarantee values such as honesty and respect, which for me is the most important thing when getting involved in a new negotiation.

For this reason, learning work ethics is as important as any other skill.

Week 6

November 7-14/2022

This week has been pretty awesome. I volunteered at LIDERCON 2022, the annual leadership conference. Here I had the opportunity to listen to incredible speakers, talking about their personal and professional backgrounds as well as issues they’ve overcome, which, honestly, I never thought they would have.

As a person who has always lived in Ecuador, I can say that most people who live in Latin America, have this idea of the “American dream”, which is built by the idea of having everything, regarding money and opportunities. However, even if the economy is not the main problem in the U.S., many immigrants as well as citizens have problems that go beyond that.

Identity crisis. People from all over the world feel as if they don't fit in the US. At first instance, for some people, this can sound strange or not that big of a deal. However, it is a serious topic going around society these days. Eventually, this can lead to a lack of confidence not only in yourself but in professional matters.

Not necessarily because a country offers you job opportunities, it means that a person will be completely fulfilled. In addition, this is why it is extremely necessary to improve inclusion and diversity and be informed of these problems that may be happening in your workspace.

If you want to know more about this personal challenge that immigrants go through, I invite you to read about Project “Enye '' (Ñ), by Denise Soler, as well as the book “ Brown enough” by Chris Rivas.

If we as humans don't empathize with those around us, no one else will. I invite you to give yourself some time to think over if what is happening around you. If you have taken action over this situation, congratulations. And if not, I invite you to try.

I must emphasize that this problem is not only for Latinos living in the United States, or foreigners in general. But also of American citizens, although it is hard to believe.

My learning from this conference was to give importance to listening to people’s backgrounds since many times that could help you to figure out and discover what your thoughts and opinions of a certain topic are, even if you hadn’t thought about them before.

Week 7

November 14-21/2022

On November 16, I had the honor to go to KNOCK Inc, a creative agency driven to cultivate love and loyalty for brands. The first thing to say, the workspace is amazing, not just in terms of ambiance, but especially the people who work there. They are all friendly and nice and you can tell why. Congratulations to Lilli (owner and CEO), and all her team, although I didn’t get to meet them all, many of those who gave me the opportunity to learn, demonstrated the essence of the company.

In short, this demonstrates the importance of feeling happy and fulfilled in your job. In order to be successful in your business, you should always prioritize your easement in your work environment.

Week 8 + 9

November 21-December 4-2022

The last week of the program has arrived and many emotions run through me. First, on November 22, Marcella de la Torre, Director and Professor at the University of St. Thomas gave me the opportunity to shadow her at her work, particularly in her business class “Business is all for the Common Good”. I arrived there in the morning, and we prepared the class together. It was so kind of her to want to come with something different since a foreign (me) was going to attend her class. We decided it was a great idea to talk about Business Culture and how it can ruin or nail down a business. Not only did she let me organize her class with her, but also gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to the class and tell them about my background.

What I learned from her, and her knowledge applied to her job is fascinating. Besides, I was glad for the day we spent at the campus. We walked by the Business School, had lunch together, and shared thoughts.

I always appreciate it when a person not only allows you to know them professionally but gives you the confidence to become their friend.

The end of this adventure has come, and the first thing I want to do is to thank Silvia Ontaneda for making this possible.

She is the creator and author of this program that not only makes you a good professional but also helps you grow as a person, an aspect that, as I’ve already highlighted, seems essential to me when achieving success at all levels.

The effort that she puts into her work day after day is admirable, always with a smile and moreover with passion.

This program has everything to make your business launch, it goes hand in hand with professionals with ethics and, above all, unbreakable connections.

Thanks to the Trade Center of the Americas for letting me acquire all this knowledge, and don’t doubt that it will be exceptionally applied in my future as a professional.

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1 Comment

Natalia Linares
Natalia Linares
Aug 08, 2023

Wonderful experience for Antonella and amazing support given by Silvia Ontaneda and the TCA. Congratulations!

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