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Risk and Reward

By France Griggs Sloat

It was snowing the day Jose Cuesta landed in Cincinnati. Far from the warmth of his home in Cartagena, Colombia, he came to find fortune in his mother’s hometown. The weather was quite a shock, but Cuesta would not be deterred. Instead, borrowing from his father’s entrepreneurial spirit—and a lot of his Hispanic heritage—he launched into a new life and a business of his own.

 

Cuesta and several other Latin Americans he knew figured that corporations wanting to tap into Cincinnati’s growing Hispanic population could use a little homegrown help. So in 2003, they founded an Hispanic marketing firm that conducts research for corporate clients on Hispanic consumers’ buying habits. They named it Grupo Xela, or Xela Group. The name—pronounced “shella”—comes from the Mayan word Xelaju noj, which literally means “surrounded by 10 volcanoes.”

The catchy name should catch the attention of Cincinnati’s Hispanic residents, says Cuesta, a 2000 Xavier M.B.A. graduate who earned an industrial engineering degree from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana—a Jesuit university in Bogota. As Xela Group’s managing partner, Cuesta finds people by going into their communities—attending festivals and events, contacting Hispanic business owners—and signing them up for surveys. Then when a corporation wants to market a product, Cuesta’s group has a database of Hispanic names ready to be surveyed.

To increase the group’s outreach, they created a web site—www.escapelatino.com—that carries news and business ads for Hispanics and a link to Xela where people can sign up to take a survey. Xela Group now has about 2,000 names in its database. The company also does Hispanic marketing and advertising. Cuesta is not getting rich off his first business venture, but he’s not starving either. “I consider myself to be a risk-taker,” he says. “What I like most about being an entrepreneur is the ability to create something.”

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