Amalia Moreno-Damgaard was raised in rural Guatemala in the 1970s by her grandmother, who was a cook, clothing maker, retailer and a florist.
Amalia went on to get an education and spent 25 years in international banking, with Minneapolis as her last post. She is now an award-winning chef entrepreneur.
“What I am, I owe to my grandmother,” said Moreno-Damgaard, 58.
Moreno-Damgaard and two other women business owners were honored in September during 2020 SBA Minnesota Small Business Week.
If demographers are right, more women and minority entrepreneurs like them will be needed in large numbers to help the country recover from the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Moreno-Damgaard was honored as being a champion for women. As an immigrant who witnessed discrimination and cultural misunderstanding, she formed in 2007 what is now the Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota, a nonprofit that counsels and provides networking and other opportunities.
Assisted by her husband, also a retired international banker, Moreno-Damgaard is also a renowned chef and author of “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen” and soon-to-be released “Amalia’s Great Kitchen,” which will expand beyond Guatemala.
Although women and minority business owners lag in overall representation, studies by the likes of Brookings Institution and the Small Business Administration indicate that they grew faster than the market during the 2010-19 recovery from the recession of 2007.
Anecdotally, these businesses are most likely in city neighborhoods and first-ring suburbs that are the most diverse.
The businesses ranged from cafes, health care and auto-repair places to contractors, filling once-vacant storefronts.
The SBA winners are encouraging standard-bearers. The other two honored are Ingrid Christensen, who owns a language-translation business, and chiropractor Bethany Wood.
Christensen, a Minnetonka native, spent the 1994-95 school year studying in Denmark on a Rotary scholarship while earning a degree in Spanish and Latino Studies at the University of Minnesota.
She became a translator, serving immigrant and refugee communities, and founded 10-employee INGCO International in 2006.
The company contracts with 3,000 linguists around the world who provide translation services for the likes of 3M, H.B. Fuller and Nike, as well as free services to several nonprofits.
“I’m passionate about the work we do,” said Christensen, 44. “Employing people is one of the greatest joys in my life. Seeing people live off their salaries is my favorite thing.”
Christensen lost a lot of business during the coronavirus downturn and has had to pivot and recruit new business such as health care institutions to survive.
Wood, 30, owner of St. Paul’s HealthSource Chiropractic, is SBA’s young entrepreneur of the year.
She was honored for a growing, three-year-old chiropractic practice and a history of community service.
A native of Bemidji, Wood excelled in athletics. Her interest in health and holistic treatments led her to develop a practice whose patients include a gold-medal winning synchronized swimmer, college athletes, a nationally ranked Cross Fit competitor and many Grand Avenue neighbors.
She provides chiropractic adjustments and therapeutic exercises, and provides other areas of health support such as nutrition coaching.
Wood is paying off an SBA loan she used to buy her practice in 2017 after working for another chiropractor.
She has posted double-digit annual growth in revenue for a couple of years, although it has been a struggle this year as it has been for many small businesses.
Wood gives back to her community by donating all new patient exam fees the last three months of the year to the Salvation Army’s efforts fighting the opioid epidemic, a challenge exacerbated by prescriptions issued to manage lower back pain. She also donates her services in an outreach program providing no-cost stress relief chair massages to employees of local businesses.
WomenVenture, which provides counseling, instruction and lending to small female startups, was honored as the 2020 Women’s Business Center of Excellence.
The experts note that businesses owned by women and people of color often struggle on the edge because they tend to be undercapitalized.
But increasingly, bankers and community development outfits are pledging more money toward them, seeing the same trends as the demographers.
The support for women-owned small businesses is important, said Brian McDonald, district director of SBA Minnesota.
They “provide crucial support for the communities, employees and families they are helping to thrive.”