Our American Dream: Entrepreneur Roy Sosa Empowers Others to Dream
Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream" – a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.
Roy Sosa is a millionaire venture capitalist who wants to turn you into one as well.
"You can actually dream much bigger," Sosa, 40, urges. "It’s incredible what you can accomplish. But you will never know unless you actually try.
Sosa, is a self-proclaimed "social capitalist" -- someone who invests in ventures to empower the underserved.
His journey began in 1998, when Sosa, along with his brother Bertrand, launched the Netspend Corporation out of their one bedroom apartment in Austin, Texas, with an initial investment of $750.
Netspend provides customers with prepaid debit and credit cards that allows those who don't have bank accounts or established credit to have a sense of security and financial flexibility, especially online.
Inspired by the Internet boom of the 1990s, the brothers believed there was a large portion of the population that was under-served by traditional banking and financial institutions.
They were right.
"There were close to 40 million Americans that had been left out and disenfranchised from financial services," he said. "If you can create a way for people to enter the financial system, be apart of the formal economy – for them it's great because all of a sudden, instead of dealing paycheck to paycheck and cash, they can leverage themselves in a smart way."
In 2008, Netspend went public at a value of over $1 billion.
"It's funny, a lot of people think that our claim to fame or the thing we are most proud of is Netspend," Sosa explained. "My claim to fame was just getting to this country when I was 15, and everything after that has been one more blessing after another."
He arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1986, a year after his mother, a physician, had arrived. He and Bertrand lived with their grandmother in Monterrey, Mexico, while their mother worked to master the English language, establish a career, and land a home.
The brothers studied at the University of Texas, Austin.
"Being an immigrant is the harshest basic training to becoming an entrepreneur," Sosa, a former U.S. Marine, says. "You leave everything behind, you're going into a place where nothing is promised, failure is almost guaranteed, and you’re going to have to work very, very, hard and be very, very creative if you’re going to survive."
Today, the Sosa brothers are no longer as intimately involved with Netspend, and have instead been concentrating primarily on their philanthropy, which is called the MPower Foundation. The premise is simple: bring tons of entrepreneurs together to inspire one another and others.
"When you bring entrepreneurs together, just that alone provides an opportunity for people to share their stories, share their challenges, and get new ideas," he explains. "When you do that, particularly in a time where we no longer can count on government or big institutions to be the providers, we feel like that it's extremely important."
Operating primarily in Austin, Texas, since 2008, the foundation has hosted these conferences for more than 8,000 entrepreneurs, and there are plans in place to expand the conferences to include Mexico City and New York.
The Sosa brothers are also investing their own money to jumpstart entrepreneurial ideas that "build companies whose products help the world's underserved."
Organizations like MPower Mobile, which allows users to make money transfers to anywhere in the world with a simple text message.
The ideas are bold and, he says, are helping a large population of Latinos all over the world move past cultural, environmental, and personal speed bumps that keep people from risking it all for the pursuit of the dream.
"It’s a double edge sword," Roy explains. "That what makes us great, our strong community and family ties, is also one of the things that hurts us. It's great because we have an incredible support group and we have a lot of strong loyalties. It also hurts us because it doesn’t allow us to build partnerships with third parties or folks that are outside of our families."
The Sosa brothers hope that entrepreneurs, particularly Latinos, stop getting locked down in the family business by growing their business "team" with partners that have more experience than you do.
His advice for young Latinos is to keep going.
"Don't settle. If you are stuck, don't go for incremental change. You have to completely reshuffle the deck," Sosa advises.
Find a a partner, commit to change, find your allies, and a role model, he advised.
In mentioning his days back at the University of Texas, Sosa remembered seeing Michael Dell, current Dell CEO, as a young guy working at the local gym.
"It inspired me to say, 'Hey, if he can do it, so can I,'" he recalled.
Ultimately, though, it was his mother who has been Sosa's main role model.
"A divorced woman in the 70s in Mexico, which was a no-no, with two kids, moved to the U.S., learned a new language, figured it out, and brought her kids here," he explained. "It's incredible."
Sometimes that entrepreneurial spirit is learned and sometimes it's just in your blood.
Bryan Llenas can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @LlenasLatino.
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