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From refugee to CEO – Only in America

Ana Martin

In July, 2000 Ana Martin, under the cover of darkness, boarded a small fishing boat from Cuba and dangerously set sail for the United States to pursue her passion of being an entrepreneur.  With nothing but the clothes on her back, a small bag, and a soul full of determination she made the leap of faith seeking freedom and opportunities which were denied in her native country.  Fifteen years later, Ana Martin reflects while her computer chimes with a new e-mail and the office phone continues to ring in the very busy office of her construction company, Martin-Pinero, CPM.  She confidently smiles as she points out her name is on the door. 

 “The opportunity to own a business in Cuba is not only denied to all citizens, but if one starts a very small business venture, they are at the mercy of persecution, detention, or Castro’s apparatus could issue an eminent domain on the property where business was conducted,” said Martin.  “Knowing the consequences, we opened a business in desperate need to offset poverty and a financial crisis.  My family and I started a small B&B Beach House attracting diverse European, Central and South American clientele.”  Martin goes on to explain it was through the encouragement of these visitors saying “if you can do this here, you can be a success in business anywhere,” so I set my sights on America.  “No other country in the world would have afforded the opportunities I have received here in the United States,” said Ana. 

Upon arrival to the United States off the coast of south Florida in Key West, she was hungry, afraid and continually looking over her shoulder, Ana hears her father’s voice in the back of her mind, words of encouragement and calm.  “Ana you need to listen and follow instructions and you will succeed,” her father said.  Her father also encouraged her to pursue education at any level.  With that advice, Ana enrolled at Georgia Tech.  She knew it was going to be difficult due to the language barrier as she was also in the process of learning English.  It was there she came across an advisor that had faith in her and her abilities; it was this advisor that encouraged her to visit the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  “The advisor admitted the classroom can teach the fundamentals but the SBA can teach you the language of business,” said Martin.  “I knew I had to learn another language and the SBA taught me just that, the language of business.” 

Ana shares that:  “the Georgia District office was very instrumental during the start-up process.  They put me in touch with several small business counselors, and they collectively advised me on classes, training sessions and seminars.  I took as many as my schedule permitted.  They also referred me to their resource partners, Senior Corps of Retired Executive (SCORE) and Women Economic Development Agency (WEDA) as additional resources; I found a great SCORE counselor who holds a permanent position on my advisory board.”   

With the economic downturn in 2008 loaming, watching unemployment rise, and friends and colleagues encouragement turned to discouragement, Martin turned to the SBA and WEDA.  “The SBA and WEDA, were both very supportive to my venture and were delighted to see someone with enough bravado to start a business during those tough economic times, said Martin.  On a personal level, Ana realized it would take both more time and greater financial resources than anticipated before her newly created business would obtain its first contract.  She decided to apply for an SBA guaranteed business loan to help her finance the business start-up costs and received a $25,000 SBA guaranteed Community Express loan. 

Ana explains that it was hard work, listening and learning that eventually paid off.  Eight months after receiving the start-up loan there were countless rejections and denied proposals, until finally receiving the first contract award.  Ana reflects: “while looking back it does sound like a cliché but it was the truth, I kept pressing forward with every ‘no’ I was certain I was closer to a ‘yes’. A pivotal moment in my business was the day I learned from the Georgia District Office about the Department of Transportation Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DOT/DBE) certification.  I call it a baby 8(a) certification.”  Martin had hoped that the DOT/DBE would be a great source of work while enabling the business to grow, establish all necessary business connections, and hire employees. We were so excited to receive our first $23,000 contract,” said Ana.  “It was this first contract that allowed me to leverage our work while simultaneously, we would be able to get the business name out there and establish relationships with vendors and customers.”

In December 2013, Martin-Pinero CPM was granted 8(a) certification.  Successfully performing as an 8(a) Firm and continuing to support existing business has enabled Martin-Pinero to scale the business from one contract of $23,000 and one employee to now a $4 million business with 68 employees.  Ana attributes her success to the patient, knowledgeable and kind staff at the Georgia District Office.  “I studied hard, listened to instructions and asked questions.  Once I learned the formula of business from the SBA and all of the resources, I was able to put everything together to make my entrepreneurial dream come true,” said Martin.  “I could not have done it without the SBA. In no other country in the world is my story possible from a Cuban refugee to a successful businesswoman in a predominately male construction business world.”