Honoring Latino Community Leaders, Plus a Latino Pitch Competition  

Latino Heritage may have wrapped last week, but we’re still celebrating here at the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation. 

Earlier this month, VSEDC hosted a fully virtual event honoring four Latino community members and giving six Latino-owned small businesses and startups the opportunity to pitch their companies to traditional and non-traditional lenders.  


The winners of our 2022 Community Impact Award are Angelenos serving in the public and private sector, from family-owned businesses to small business loan providers, each meeting the diverse needs of their communities.  

Albina Lopez is a psychologist and founder of Humano Family Counseling. Lopez offers counseling in both Spanish and English, and specializes in veterans, active military, victims of crime and family counseling. With VSEDC’s guidance, Lopez also launched her own non-profit, Metta Health Center, where community members receive therapy for free.  

Mike Castillo is the Executive Director of Council District Nine’s Business Resource Center, which serves South LA. When the Guaranteed Basic Income Program launched, Castillo coordinated several application sites throughout the district. Castillo also ensured that South LA businesses had access to the PPP loan and implemented the CD9 Small Business Relief Fund, which provided interest-free loans during the pandemic.  

Sal Mendoza is a legend in small business loans in Los Angeles, serving as senior vice president and manager of City National Bank’s Community Reinvestment Department for over twenty years. As chair of the bank’s Latino Advisory Board, he supports business development in the Latino community. Additionally, Mendoza supports causes including education, mental health, housing security, access to capital for minority businesses and youth mentorship.  

Rafael Ortiz Garcia and Rafael Ortiz, Jr., are a father-son team who own a twenty-year legacy business, Ortiz Jr. Auto Repair, proudly serving Los Angeles. As Rafael Jr. worked with VSEDC, they received their SBA loan and were set for a grand re-opening in 2021, but the pandemic interfered. They are now on track to open their expansion at the end of 2022, intending to hire two to four more people from the neighborhood, and to open a beautiful garden that uses the auto shop’s recycled water. Additionally, the Ortiz Auto Shop will mentor young adults from the neighborhood, who will shadow the mechanics for one year, learning the trade in order to be eligible for job opportunities at a car dealership. The program will launch once they open their expansion.  


Our pitch competition gave Latino-owned small businesses and startups the opportunity to win a cash prize, as well as receive valuable feedback from our panel of traditional and non-traditional lenders. The judging panel scored each pitch in the following categories: how well business told their story, their value propositions, how well each business owner knew their market, whether they made a strong ask, and whether they closed their proposition strong. Each pitch competitor received two hours of technical assistance from our VSEDC business coaches, in groups and in one to one mentorship.  

Startup Finalists 

Noemi Lujan Perez of ECODiversity Media: ECODiversity, LLC is a Latina-owned public affairs firms specializing in DEI and environmental solutions. Their wheelhouse includes strategic PR, government relations, DEI, and marketing campaigns. ECODiversity’s portfolio includes the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and National Park Foundation. 

Perez was awarded the first place prize of $1,500 for ECODiversity Media. Find them on Twitter and Facebook

Moni Vargas of Friends We Love: Friends We Love, Inc. is a full-service Black & Latino-owned media production company creating streaming and broadcast content by and for people of color for studios, public television, nonprofits and educational institutions. Founded by husband and wife team, Moni and Michael Vargas, Friends We Love has been awarded two Southern California Journalism Awards and three Emmy nominations for their documentary films and unscripted series work.  

Vargas was awarded the second place prize of $1,000 for Friends We Love. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter.  

Walter Cabrera of The Optical Shop, LLC: The Optical Shop aims to provide all of customers’ optical needs in one location. As a company, the Optical Shop values affordability, high quality, convenience, customer satisfaction, and growth within their staff. The Optical Shop aims to be a long-lasting practice by educating their community on the importance of eye care in their lives.  

Cabrera was awarded the third place prize of $500 for The Optical Shop, as well as the Audience Choice Award of an additional $500.  

Small Business Finalists 

Jennifer Alvarez of The Tree Yoga Cooperative: The Tree Yoga Cooperative, LLC is a Black and Latino owned yoga and wellness studio in South Central Los Angeles. The Tree Yoga Cooperative is a direct solution to many of the mental and physical health challenges the South Los Angeles community is facing. The Tree Yoga Cooperative brings over eight years of experience providing quality, accessible, beginner-friendly, trauma-informed yoga services to their community, as well as advanced yoga training. 

Alvarez was awarded the first place prize of $1,500 for The Tree Yoga Cooperative. Follow them on Instagram and add them on Facebook. 

Guadalupe Tlatenchi of GTLA Apparel Development: GTLA Apparel Development Inc. is an apparel development and production fashion house committed to preserving quality and craftsmanship by providing in-house services. All apparel is manufactured in Los Angeles. Tlatenchi aims to create an ecosystem with my community by providing jobs and influencing other manufacturers or brands to do the same.  

Tlatenchi was awarded the second place prize of $1,000 for GTLA Apparel Development Inc. Find them on Instagram and Facebook

Jesse Lucas of Zoom Medical Transportation: Zoom Medical Transportation is e a medical transportation company that specializes in gurney and stretcher transportation, with some wheelchair capacity. The company exists to provide care to the community.  

Lucas was awarded the third place prize of $500 for Zoom Medical Transportation.  

Lightning Round Pitch Competitors  

VSEDC was so impressed with the applicants for the pitch competition that we selected one additional startup and one additional small business to compete in a lightning round of pitching to our panel, resulting in $250 cash prizes for each of the participants.  

Monica Reyes of CME Landscape Corporation: CME Landscape Corp is a Latina-owned small business that provides services for the state of California, Los Angeles County facilities, municipalities, manufacturers, business parks, non-profit organizations, schools, property managed multi-family locations, and private estates. Services include grounds management, turf enhancement, mowing, fertilization, hedge trimming and edging. CME Landscape Corp can be found on Facebook and Instagram

Rolando Riggio of Sunshine Upgrades, LLC: Sunshine Upgrades is a residential and commercial solar sales company aiming to provide people with access to clean energy.  

VSEDC is proud to recognize the figures making a difference in our community, and the talent that exists in our local small businesses and startups. To our community members that are Latino small business owners or startups, stop by either of our BusinessSource Centers to start prepping your pitch for next year’s competition.