What empanadas, handmade from scratch with best ingredients, can teach you about entrepreneurs
“I wanted to replicate my own experience to help others overcome obstacles and expand,” tells Pilar Guzman Zavala, co-founder and CEO of Half-Moon Empanadas, and she knows firsthand about startups’ highs and lows.
Pilar and her husband began their journey into entrepreneurship 11 years ago. Their first store almost brought them to bankruptcy, and it took seven years more to actually get a paycheck and see the light.
"The key moments in our business were marked by mentors, who opened the door for us and believed in us when we, in fact, we were about to quit," she continues. "Loneliness was one of the hardest things founders also face. Being connected to opportunities, to a support system is something that I saw could make a difference."
This year, Knight Foundation and Venture Café Miami supported Pilar's initiative Passport, a program that trains and connects founders in low-growth businesses to help them scale their respective businesses.
Historically, the South Florida landscape is driven by small businesses. And although Miami-Dade has the highest small business concentration (over 80%) in the region, Miami ranks in the bottom tier on national indices for firm scaling and has a lower proportion of larger, high-value, entrepreneurial companies compared to many other U.S. communities.
The initiative aims to resolve this problem of scale by curating high-value experiences both in Miami and nationally, focusing exclusively on connecting diverse, Miami-based founders, prospective investors, and B2B partnership opportunities.
Going beyond networking, Passport education focuses on industry-specific, tactical strategies for business growth and hosts an immersive study tour, intensive group coaching, and masterclass sessions led by founders and executives who have a track record of scaling ventures. Pilar is one of those founders.
To the question ‘what's your actual superpower’, she answers: "I speak from the heart, and people listen to me."
Pilar’s desire to empower isn’t exclusive to Passport: 80% of her employees are women and immigrants.
"I learned from my startup experience that failing is a necessary thing in life, to evolve; that I am a fighter, and if I find myself in the jungle, I will survive. I learned how hard it is to be rejected and how to pick myself up again. I learned the importance of being humble and to accept help when you need it. I learned to be patient but persistent at the same time…that asking is ok and it’s the only way you can get things done. I learned that you can dream high and that it takes hard work every day to achieve your dreams."
Each Passport cycle will run for one quarter and support 12 entrepreneurs per cohort. Passport members will get access to platforms of resources, training, and measurement tools.
"I am relentlessly resourceful," adds Pillar, being an entrepreneur, a mom, and a wife. Life-balance for her doesn't exist, but she confirms: "this trade-off is a better way to live."