In San Antonio, a Colombian entrepreneur helps immigrant workers succeed

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When Yuliana Martinez came to the United States from Colombia to study environmental engineering in 2014, she never imagined that she would become an entrepreneur in a completely different field.

Today, she not only runs a successful, expanding company, but also places great importance on helping her immigrant employees to master their lives in the USA. She and her husband, who is also her business partner, have just welcomed a little girl into their family.

A successful immigrant entrepreneur, Martinez credits her own hard work and the opportunities that life in the United States brings.

However, the road to their success today has not been smooth.

In Colombia, Martinez worked as an environmental engineer for the government but was intimidated by what she called dangerous armed groups.

And although she was part of the Colombian workforce, her income was not enough to make ends meet.

“Having a home, having transportation, and having food is a luxury for the majority of people,” she said of Colombia. Her own salary is so low, she said, that Martinez has to decide between having her own apartment or a car.

Feeling that her life was increasingly at risk because of her work, Martinez made the difficult decision to leave her job and family. She secured an F-1 student visa to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Martinez worked here during her studies as an environmental engineer. She got married. She thought her path in life was mapped out.

to lose everything

But the marriage was becoming abusive, and Martinez knew she had to get out. The turmoil forced her to give up everything, even graduate school, which she was about to graduate from. She was fired from her engineering job.

At 28, she found herself in a foreign country with nothing – no job, no home, no family. She applied for other engineering jobs but to no avail.

Eventually, Martinez desperately turned to cleaning homes. But rather than fret that the work wasn’t in her area or somehow beneath her, she found cleaning houses comforting.

“I felt calm and it helped me forget what I was going through,” Martinez said. “The cleansing became therapy to help me face this difficult process I was going through internally.”

She was also able to lean on her Colombian family, who were able to travel to the United States on a visa and give her the emotional support she needed. With that support, she said she was able to keep the faith.

“I lost everything, including my job,” Martinez said. “I didn’t come all the way from Colombia and I didn’t go to all this trouble for nothing. If I have to start over, I will start over.”

While healing with her family by her side, Martinez made a business plan. Posting her services on Nextdoor and Facebook, she said that in the first week of house cleaning in San Antonio, she was able to replace her weekly salary as an engineer — and she had more time for family and friends.

Eventually, Martinez met her now husband, Andres Martinez, who is also a Colombian immigrant. The two joined forces and created Chabod cleaning services — Chabod means “full of glory of the Lord” in Hebrew. Business started to boom. By 2018, the couple began hiring people.

Today they have two cleaning groups with 10 employees, most of whom are also migrants. Her Colombian family has relocated permanently to San Antonio. Her brother invests in the company and her sister studies at the Baptist University of the Americas.

Meanwhile, Martinez has continued to innovate.

“I did not come [from Colombia] just to clean.” Martinez said. As the engineer cleaned at the heart of each house, she used that time to think of ways to expand her business and help her employees.

Entrepreneurs with a migration background

Studies show that Martinez’s entrepreneurial drive is widespread among immigrants.

according to a Paper 2022 For example, the study published in American Economic Review: Insights found that immigrants are 80% more likely per capita to start their own business than US-born citizens.

“The results suggest that immigrants act as ‘job-creators’ rather than ‘job-takers,’ and that non-US-born founders play a predominant role in high-growth US entrepreneurship,” the authors said wrote.

“There is a lot of evidence that immigrants tend to have high levels of entrepreneurial activity and high levels of autonomy,” agreed Rogelio Sáenz, professor of demography at UTSA.

Sáenz, who was recently called to the professions Scientific Advisory Committee on Censusesconducts research on immigration, Latino sociology and demographic trends.

He said the research found that immigrants contribute more to the US economy than they take from it – one of many common misconceptions held by some Americans about immigrants and immigration.

“For example, immigrants are much more likely to pay taxes,” Saenz said, adding that most undocumented immigrants aren’t even eligible for food stamps and other welfare benefits. “They contribute a lot more to the economy than they take out.”

Immigrants like Martinez and the people they employ will play a crucial role in the country’s current and future labor shortages, he said: “These are the workers that are so badly needed in the coming decades.”

Chabod Cleaning Services employees mopping the property of a commercial customer early in the morning. Recognition: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report

thank, give back

Martinez wants her employees to be successful. When the COVID pandemic first broke out in 2020, she offered them an online financial literacy course to help them manage their finances and learn how to save. She encourages them to take free classes at the library to improve their English skills, helps them with their immigration processes, and helps them understand and file their taxes.

Martinez also doesn’t limit her support to financial and legal matters.

As a domestic violence survivor herself, when Martinez learned that one of her employees was experiencing domestic violence, she put her in touch with a local family violence center to help her move out of her situation. She connected another associate to resources for her drug addiction.

In addition, she continuously develops her business.

With her technical background, she has tested natural chemicals and essential oils as part of her cleaning process, creating products with a unique smell.

Her clients like to say their homes “smell like Yuli” — Martinez’s nickname — after she’s cleaned their houses, she said. She doesn’t plan to sell these products, instead using them as a differentiator to keep the cleaning side of her business unique.

But she has specialized in specialized cleaning tools – another by-product of her technical background. Working in homes in the San Antonio area, she thought of ways to make cleaning easier and ended up developing tools for hard-to-reach areas, including pipes, drains, and air ducts. This work has now become a separate company, Chabod Home.

As she eventually completes her master’s degree while navigating life as a new mom, Martinez also aspires to have her tools made in Colombia — another avenue she hopes to push forward.

Martinez said she is grateful for the opportunities she has taken here in the United States and hopes Americans will see her story and understand the value that immigrants like her and her employees bring to this country.

“I came with the belief that I was doing the right thing,” she said. “I love this country. This country gave me what my country couldn’t give me. I owe everything to this country: I owe my family, my baby, my business.”

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