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Frequently Asked Questions

About ESO Ventures

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01. What does ESO do?

ESO is an entrepreneurial support organization founded in East Oakland, California in 2020. 

We build confidence, competence, and capital for Black or Brown business owners. We offer community and connection, business incubation, entrepreneurial education, coaching, and revolutionary financial products for early-stage entrepreneurs. We empower entrepreneurs to Build Where You Are.


ESO’s vision is to make entrepreneurship accessible and worthwhile in every community. Our mission is to create wealth and community well-being through entrepreneurship. Our big goal is to establish a business every day for the next 10 years creating over $3 billion in revenue and 60,000 new jobs in underinvested communities.

02. Who started ESO? 

ESO was founded by a three-person team – Alfredo Mathew III, Martha Hernández, and Benjamin Wanzo – during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic with a request from the City of Oakland and Merritt College to help activate the MacArthur Corridor in East Oakland.

What started as a $25,000 project to create a one-time virtual business incubator for home-based entrepreneurs has now become a $20 million initiative to create more access to entrepreneurship and business ownership in every community. ESO cares more about performance than pedigree, and is focused on building confidence, competence, and capital through our programs and financial products.

Alfredo Mathew III is an experienced urban educator, nonprofit leader, and business owner with over 20 years of experience as a teacher leader in NYC and California public schools. He was also the executive leader of a national youth entrepreneurship organization and started his own consulting business at the intersection of education, workforce development and entrepreneurship. Martha Hernández is a serial entrepreneur experienced in human resources, tech startup, retailers, service, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is passionate about technology as a tool to support people to achieve their life purpose and is a fierce advocate for both small businesses and underinvested communities. Benjamin Wanzo is an entrepreneur and a business professor, with a background in both management consulting and community economic development. He successfully ran his own lifestyle business in the education/tutoring sector for over a decade and his dream job is helping other entrepreneurs build where they are.

You can read more about our full team here.

03. Who are ESO entrepreneurs?

ESO entrepreneurs are sole proprietors, home-based business owners, or other early stage entrepreneurs who are looking for community, accountability, and support to grow their businesses to sustainability. We focus on entrepreneurs in Black, Brown, and underinvested in communities. These businesses generate less than $100,000 in revenue or are in a very early stage, before they have multiple employees and consistent profitability.

04. Why do you focus on Black and Brown entrepreneurs, specifically?

We believe entrepreneurship and business ownership are how we build an economy that works for everyone. In the United States, there are over 26 million business owners and of these, over 6.5 million are Black and Latinx. Overall, 81% of all businesses in the US. are sole proprietors, yet 96% of Black and 92% of Latinx business owners are sole proprietors. The revenue of sole proprietors by race/ethnicity breaks down to White and Asian businesses earning an average of $48,000, Latinx businesses earning $36,000 and Black businesses earning $22,000 annually. In California, there are 3.4 million sole proprietors and of these, over 1 million, nearly one third, are Black and Latinx.


These numbers tell us that Black and Brown entrepreneurs aren’t creating jobs and opportunities for the broader community because we are not building employer enterprises on par with other wealthier racial groups.


To receive the lasting impact of entrepreneurship and ownership, our fellow entrepreneurs have to create businesses that grow beyond self-employment and instead become assets that grow in value over time.

Our shared passion at ESO Ventures is to drive racial and economic justice through business creation, ultimately building more inclusive economies.

05. Does ESO make a profit?

Yes, ESO operates as a for-profit business. ESO Ventures Inc. is a for-profit C corporation and the ESO Capital in the Community Fund is a benefit corporation wholly owned subsidiary of ESO Ventures Inc. We also partner with government, educational institutions, corporations, and philanthropy who provide grants and investments that allow us to offer our products and services for free or at a subsidized cost.

We decided to build a for-profit entity for sustainability reasons – to be able to be here for entrepreneurs for the long-term – and to model business creation for our entrepreneurs. But our bottom-line is not purely financial: we are building inclusive economies that work for everyone, and this means we are focused on the impact and shared success with our entrepreneurs. We plan to prove that the 81% of business owners who currently never receive any formal funding from investors or traditional financial institutions are a missed opportunity and we can generate a profitable business that also grows the economy from the bottom up.

06. Do I have to be Black or Brown to participate?

You do not need to be Black or Brown to participate.  That said, the ESO curriculum, community-building, and resources are designed for Black and Brown communities.


ESO Ventures was created by Black and Brown entrepreneurs for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. We know the critical business creation challenges Black and Brown entrepreneurs face and we understand how racial violence and racist policies have limited economic growth for these same communities. We aspire to be an authentic and judgment-free space where entrepreneurs can collaborate, support each other, and access products and services tailored for their unique needs. If you want to join ESO, you should be prepared to become a part of a multi-racial entrepreneurial ecosystem focused on dignity, innovation, and shared prosperity.

07. How much does it cost to participate in ESO?

ESO offers a six-month free membership to our virtual community. During this time you are welcome to participate in ESO events, complete our self-paced curriculum, and join a 10-week business incubator cohort once it becomes available (sponsorships are available for specific geographies or populations). 


After the initial six months, or at any time you choose, you can become a paying member of ESO Ventures. Paid memberships unlock access to the Capital in the Community Fund (currently available only to  California residents with a registered for-profit business), subsidized business services, grants and other services.


ESO Ventures has a vetted network of industry experts and service providers who are available to our entrepreneurs at-cost. If you choose to take advantage of these business services, you will pay the rate that the service provider charges.  


Currently, an annual ESO membership starts at $99.

08. How does ESO make money? How can it offer subsidized costs to entrepreneurs?

ESO has a multi-sided business model. We sell business incubation services to community colleges, municipalities, philanthropy and other partners in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and we manage a debt investment fund. We are currently building out a membership model and business services marketplace for our members.

ESO partnerships allow us to provide entrepreneurial support services for free or at highly subsidized rates. Once the subsidy ends, it’s up to the business owner to decide if they’d like to continue their membership with ESO. 


09. What kind of funding does ESO provide?

ESO created an investment fund with a seed investment from the State of California to launch the Capital in the Community Fund, or CICF, which consists of three different financial products with varying financing and repayment terms created especially for early-stage entrepreneurs. The financing that is right for you depends on the stage of your business, whether conceptual or already up-and-running. 

10. I’d like more details about the Capital in the Community Fund! Am I eligible? How can I access the fund?

Learn the details on the Capital in the Community Fund (CICF) here.

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