Maria Llanos, Senior Small Business Coach at LEDC, tells us how she turned her side hustle into a lifetime career and a tool to advocate for economic equality.
Maria possesses a double major bachelor's degree in Industrial Chemistry and Industrial Engineering and a master's degree in Management from UNEXPO University in Venezuela. Beyond her impressive educational background, Maria also had a successful career in Venezuela. She worked for multiple multinational companies where she gained a thorough knowledge of how to operate a large business successfully, learning about marketing, licenses, production, and sales.
However, the situation in Venezuela worsened, and many people close to her were moving to other countries. With a heavy heart and unparalleled love for her home country, she decided to move away with her husband and start living in Washington, D.C., in 2016. Maria knew it wouldn't be easy to leave her country behind; however, when she got to the District, the first thing she did was to relearn English to gain a fresh start in a new city.
While working at different jobs in D.C., from what she already knew in Venezuela, she quickly realized that starting from scratch in the United States, particularly as an Engineer, would prove difficult due to her language limitations at the time. With this realization, Maria quickly completed her English as a Second Language Program and wanted to find a new way to work in business operations, a skill she knew pretty well. Therefore, she simultaneously took classes for the Small Business Program at Carlos Rosario Charter School, where she graduated with honors hoping to even turn her artistic abilities and business acumen into something productive.
When she was 14, Maria taught herself photography and graphic design and volunteered her skills with friends, family, and at school. Two years after coming to Washington, D.C., she decides to set up her own business and side hustle on top of her full-time job, an LLC offering photo and design services and video for personal and commercial events. The experience she gained from her side hustle and meeting others in her community while also teaching them how to start their businesses finally brought her to LEDC. As Maria mentions, LEDC was "the perfect formula" to venture into applying for the Small Business Coach position, which combined her experience with business and allowed her to connect with even more marginalized small business owners in the DMV that had a similar background to hers.
Since 2021, Maria has become an essential part of the LEDC family; now a Senior Small Business Coach, she is well known in the organization for her fantastic work with local shops affected by the construction of the Purple Line Metro. The help Maria provides at no cost, including business cost analysis, grant applications, marketing, legal advisory, etc., has given hundreds of entrepreneurs a new way to look at their business or potential business and become financially stable even through a pandemic. Moreover, a personal goal for Maria while at LEDC is to ensure that local shops across the Purple Line stay operational despite any setbacks present now or in the future. She will continue to be a point of support and provide solutions to these smaller enterprises with her knowledge and expertise gained through her lifetime and in all the areas where she possesses talent.
The road has never been easy for Maria or, in her own words, "on a single file line." As an immigrant, she has had to reinvent herself multiple times, and all this knowledge has led her to find balance, stability, and security in her life "because," as she mentions, "no one arrives late to their future." At LEDC, Maria continues to impress all of us with her commitment to accomplishing great things, always giving her best to her clients and colleagues.
As of now, Maria is grateful for the support received in the United States. She will continue learning and studying business operations to give back this knowledge to other entrepreneurs. Currently, Maria is working on a Certified Business Advisor certification from Kent University. She is also writing a book to help entrepreneurs find their voice and take the first steps toward building their businesses across the United States. At LEDC, we are proud to have Maria as a staff member and are grateful for her dedication to the communities we serve by mobilizing economic equality in entrepreneurship.
Maria at LEDC HQ getting ready to meet a potential client.
Written by Sofia Iszard, LEDC Communications.