SAN ANTONIO — La'Queena Gonzales has been doing hair for 20 years, but opening her salon came after a coincidental encounter at the carwash with her grandmother eight years ago.
"This man pulled up next to her that she knew and she said this is my granddaughter, she's a beautician," Gonzales said. "He was like, really? I have a building that used to be a salon that no one's in right now."
In this episode of Commerce Street, a podcast from KENS 5, we talk to Gonzales about an innovative new idea to expand her business as well as being chosen to receive coaching, support and funding from the Maestro Center. We also spoke to the Executive Director of the Maestro Center on how a new program is helping the community and economy of San Antonio.
Gonzales had been saving up and waiting for the right moment- and it came to her. She signed a lease, brought her clients with her and grew that list- leading to busy mornings at Hair Eccentric on North New Braunfels Road.
"[What I love about doing hair is....the] beauty," Gonzales said. "The art of hair, creativity. I'm an eccentric person so that's really- I like to take the simplest thing and make it kind of -- eccentric."
Clients like Tiffany Postelle vouch for her skills- and the atmosphere.
"My hair was really not healthy when I first started coming to her, it's really improved and now I get stopped here and there," Postelle said. "It's not just about her doing hair but it's also family oriented- she makes everyone feel welcome. I met so many clients coming here."
Now, Gonzales is ready to start her next chapter -- opening a cosmetology school where she can pass on what she knows and help young beauticians get their start.
"It's always been embedded in my heart," Gonzales said. "I've been in hair 20 years and went to a cosmetology instructor's course probably about 10 years ago, so it's always been in my plans, always been in the making- but it just takes time. I'm growing and things are manifesting for me- it just takes time."
While Gonzales is entrepreneurial at heart, the move will take some additional business skills. She applied for the "Entrepreneurial Equity Program" in hopes of learning them- along with the mentorship and granting of up to $20,000 the initiative provides for each business.
"Mentor is definitely one of the important things on my list, and to properly structure my business for what I have planned, and the funding of course will definitely help to achieve my goals," Gonzales said.
The City of San Antonio allocated $250,000 in FY2021 to create the program. Ten entrepreneurs will take part in a 10-week accelerator with hands-on coaching, support referrals and technical assistance, along with receiving up to $20,000 after successfully meeting specific milestones. The Maestro Entrepreneur Center will be administering the training. Participants were selected with equity in mind, in line with what the City says are ongoing initiatives to empower local businesses owned by persons of color and women.
"We wanted to take this opportunity to really, really pick and choose those businesses that were the most vulnerable, that needed the support in order for them to continue as a business- and also for those aspiring entrepreneurs who have not had their business incorporated- to provide them an avenue, an opportunity to get established so they can get up and running," said Mariangela Zavala, Executive Director of the Maestro Entrepreneur Center.
Zavala says the impact of a small business can be felt not just by the entrepreneur leading it- but by much of San Antonio.
"Once they start a business, they're contributing to the local economy by providing jobs to the local community and by spending dollars locally and investign their local dollars into the community to create jobs and commodities in our town," Zavala said. "It's a cycle, right? One business owner can impact our community so much."
Gonzales is looking forward to taking part and to the next chapter of her own business.
"I was excited when they called and told me of the 200 applications they had I was one of 10 selected," Gonzales said.
Client Sallie Davison says she is excited to see the next step on Gonzales' journey.
"I think it's awesome because the young people today and those that want to be entrepreneurial like LaQueena and want to learn a trade, this gives them an opportunity to, like she says, learn a trade then have a place where they can gain employing immediately," Davison siad.
To learn more about the Embracing Entrepreneurial Equity program, click here.