Little Rock-based Venture Center launches AAPI entrepreneur mentorship program

Posted on February 15, 2024
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A new program aims to help entrepreneurs in central Arkansas’ Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The Little Rock-based Venture Center is launching a new mentorship program called AAPI Achieve, to provide support and guidance to entrepreneurs.

Little Rock Public Radio spoke with Mimi San Pedro, the Venture Center’s Chief Strategy Officer. She says the program grew out of existing efforts to help members of niche communities enter the business world.

Mimi San Pedro: We’re basing this new program off of our Women Achieve program, which is now in its third year and has been super successful. With that program, it was our belief that only women can understand other women’s lifestyles and struggles. We paired established business women mentors with aspiring business women mentees so they could get the resources they needed to reach their goals. As an Asian American (AA) myself, I understand what AAs face in the entrepreneur space. You need another AA to teach you how to go beyond the Asian market, to grow your customer base and take your business to the next level.

Daniel Breen: Do you have an experience, from your business beginnings, where you were the mentee?

MSP: I do. So, I come from a family of nurses, doctors, priests and nuns. When I decided to go into business, my family didn’t have any connections. In the business world, you need those connections, you know? Those references that will help you get your foot in the door. Well, as it turned out, my family did have one connection–Maria Haley. She was Governor Clinton’s Chief of Economic Development. She also happened to be Filipino. So that was my contact. I went to her and I said “I need help.” And she said, “I’ve got you.” She became my mentor. We maintained that relationship until she passed away in 2011.

DB: That’s very special. Thank you for sharing that. In that vein, what would you like to see as far as personal growth for members of the new AAPI Achieve program?

MSP: So, our metrics at the Venture Center are based on scale. We look at where you are and where you want to be and we aim to get you on that path–whatever that may look like. Whether you need skill training when it comes to marketing or sales, or if we need to look at your books and see how to make you profitable. Not just making money, but actually profitable. The biggest thing for me is that I look at these publications, like Forbes’ “40 under 40” and AMP’s “Top 100 Professionals,” and I’m like, “Where are the Asian Americans?”

DB: So, for this year’s program, which is accepting applications through March 10, how many applications do you expect and how many applicants will be accepted?

MSP: This is only our first year, but we’re expecting a lot of applications. We will only accept ten of them. That’s ten pairs; ten mentors and ten mentees.

DB: Will the mentors also be applying, or do you already have some professionals in mind?

MSP: The mentors will also apply, but we do already have our eye on a few that we would really like to see with the launch of this program.

DB: Without giving too much away, can you tell me what might set those ten applicants apart in your eyes?

MSP: We’re really looking for industries. Someone that owns a coffee shop, a restaurant, a software company. We’re also looking at potential for growth. This could be a startup, or it could be an existing company that has been struggling to scale itself. That’s the main thing we’re looking for: potential to scale. It would also be great if all Asian American countries were represented. That’s also very important to us.

DB: How would you urge fence-sitters to take the leap and be a part of this?

MSP: If any AAPI business people are reading this and not sure if it’s for them, I would say a few things. Not only will you enjoy the process, but you’ll make a lot of connections in this program. You’ll get the resources you need to help you flourish and become successful.

DB: And will the Venture Center follow up with these mentees once the program is concluded?

MSP: Absolutely. Like the Women Achieve program, we hope to develop a robust alumni. We hope those alumni will become future mentors. Our goal with this program is to develop a close-knit, yet large AAPI group that can create new opportunities for Asian Americans in the future.

The Venture Center will be accepting applications for their AAPI Achieve program through March 10. More information is available online.