By Tonya McMurray
Jessica G. Cavazos believes in the power of investing in dreams.
“All people have the opportunity, the will and the talent to be something great. All it takes is a community to invest in them,” said Cavazos, who was recently named the first-ever deputy under secretary of commerce for minority business development for the U.S. Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA).
She knows firsthand the power of community support. Born in the South Texas town of McAllen and reared in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she and her family were recipients of public benefit programs. Her mother was born in Mexico and both her father and stepfather were born in Puerto Rico. With two siblings and three stepsiblings, she was reared in a strong and supportive family that valued its heritage.
“When you invest in people, people flourish, and I’m a great example of that,” Cavazos said. “I think I’m in the right role. A lot of what I’ve dreamt about doing on the state level, I’ll be able to do at the national level.”
Donald Cravins Jr., who became first-ever under secretary of commerce for minority business development for MBDA in September 2022, said Cavazos’ background makes her the ideal candidate for the deputy under secretary role.
“Although I’ve been an advocate for minority businesses on the national stage and our MBDA staff is filled with experts on policy relating to MBEs, we were looking for someone with a deep operational connection to minority business owners and the communities they serve,” he said. “We were also looking for someone with a different background than mine, someone who could add a different perspective to the thought leadership. If MBDA is truly the equity agency and designed to meet all types of MBEs where they are, then its leadership, staff and policy must reflect the nation’s rich diversity. I was proud to ask Jessica Cavazos to become our first-ever deputy under secretary because that is exactly who she is and what she brings.”
A family of entrepreneurs
Cavazos’ interest in minority business development grew from watching family members who had great business savvy but struggled against the obstacles that often face minority entrepreneurs. Her father was one of the first Puerto Rican grocery store owners in Wisconsin. He understood business but spoke limited English. Her grandmother owned a small clothing stand at a flea market for nearly two decades.
“My grandmother was a smart businesswoman and is a great example of someone who – if she had only had the right tools to do something greater and maybe even get that store outside of the flea market – she would have been able to impact the family financially at an even greater level,” she said.
Cavazos has served in a variety of public service positions with a strong background in community engagement, economic equity and minority business development. Before coming to MBDA, she was president and CEO of the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce, executive director of the Volusia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and owned her own small business, too.
Those experiences have shown her the grit and determination of diverse business owners and the support they need to be successful.
“There are many business owners who dream of growing, but they just don’t know how,” Cavazos said. “Many times, we need people who will guide us and show us the way; that is also true in business. A hope that turns into a dream that turns into a plan is a great business.”
An economic equity champion
Cavazos said she joined MBDA because she believes in Cravins’ vision.
“The national level is how we’re going to impact entrepreneurship models and engage in the scalability of business ventures,” Cavazos said. “I call myself an economic equity champion. Economic equity is giving opportunity to communities that feel they don’t have a part in this economy and giving them the tools to show them where they belong, so they can be change agents for the next generation.”
Cravins said Cavazos’ experience and perspective will be an asset as MBDA continues its efforts to expand economic opportunities for MBEs.
“Jessica has on-the-ground experience in the minority business community,” he said. “She is a proud Latina and will effectively represent the interests of the fastest-growing business community in the nation – women of color,” he said. “She’s a tremendous, intentional leader. The MBDA, U.S. Department of Commerce and the nation will be better places because of her service. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made at MBDA since I joined in September, but I’m even more excited to see how we’ll grow now that Jessica is part of the team.”
Cavazos is aware of the power of having a Latina in this new role and believes it can be an inspiration to both the Hispanic business community and women entrepreneurs.
“I come from a mother who, as an immigrant, suffered a lot of setbacks during that journey,” she said. “I’m so very proud to be the first Latina at the helm to really open doors and create pipelines for other Latinos and many other underrepresented populations.”
As she begins her new role, Cavazos is focused on helping to carry out Cravins’ vision to promote economic equity for minority entrepreneurs and making the best use of MBDA’s Capital Readiness Program, which is a $100 million investment to start incubators and accelerator programs across the United States.
Cavazos hopes the agency can continue to strengthen its national network of business centers by working together, building strategic alliances that will give minority businesses more opportunity, increasing investment opportunities and giving minority businesses resources to support their scalability and spur minority business growth nationwide.
“We’re seeing the renaissance of businesses post COVID-19. The pandemic strengthened people’s way of doing business, and we’re seeing the resiliency of those who were able to hold on,” she said. “This agency is about opening doors to wealth creation and economic inclusion, so all people can find opportunities in our great nation.”
To learn more about MBDA, visit mbda.gov.
About Jessica G. Cavazos
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
First Job: Circulation aide at the Milwaukee Public Library at 15 years
What was the last business book you read? “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You,” by John C. Maxwell
What’s the best career advice you ever got and from whom? “Not matter where you are in life, remember you have a purpose; live true to that purpose. Never forget where you came from, and never stop being useful to others” ~ words from my mentor, Juan Jose Lopez
If you were not a champion for minority-owned businesses, what would you be doing? As a young woman, I dreamt of being a reporter, but ended up being a radio announcer, [so] I may have pursued that. But I love being a champion of minority-owned businesses and creating opportunities for women and diverse communities, so I’m glad to be in this position.
Big upcoming MBDA event: Our 40th Annual National MED Week, Sept. 20-21, 2023.
MBDA Minority Business Development Agency Jessica G. Cavazos Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency Donald Cravins Jr. deputy under secretary of commerce U.S. Department of Commerce first-ever deputy under secretary of commerce for minority business development for the U.S. Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency