Two Venezuelan sisters turn diaspora into thriving entrepreneurship

Mariela Briceño remembers the turning point moment she transformed searing humiliation and anger into her life’s mission.

“It was more than ten years ago when I was getting ready to present my first Miami-owned company to a potential partner. During the meeting, he ignored me and assumed that my employee, a man, was in charge,” said Mariela. “Despite my effort to correct him, he kept ignoring me as if I didn’t exist.”

An immigrant from Venezuela who was struggling to overcome the obstacles of starting a business in a new country, she vowed to help other Venezuelan women in the diaspora overcome entrepreneurial challenges, including gender discrimination, and founded Venprendedoras with her sister, Claudia Briceño.

“My passion for Venprendedoras goes beyond being Venezuelan,” said Mariela. “It has to do with wanting to offer women the support I didn’t have when I re-started my entrepreneurial path in Miami.”

Mariela, a 56-year-old, has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, running her own marketing business, Viva+ in Miami. She wanted to do more. In 2019, Mariela joined an entrepreneurship program called Focus Mujeres Emprendedoras by Cisneros Media Group. There, she realized the power of community and the importance of building support networks, which later helped her create her own organization.

“During my journey and career, I realized how difficult and lonely it is to start a business in a country where you just arrived, don’t know the language, and have nobody to help you,” said Mariela. 

Claudia, a 52-year-old lawyer, left Venezuela in 2010 and relocated to Uruguay. She co-founded  ‘Manos Veneguayas,’ a non-profit organization that provides resources to newly arrived Venezuelan refugees. She moved to Miami in 2020 to work with Mariela.

“I wanted to support my fellow Venezuelans no matter where I was,” said Claudia. “I wanted to help Venezuelan women who left the country with dreams to achieve. We felt identified; we were those women.”

The idea for Venprendedoras was born on Jan. 20, 2020, and consolidated as a non-profit in February 2020, when two sisters combined their knowledge and aspirations to create an engaged community that offers visibility and opportunities for learning and connection.

Venprendedoras started with three simple questions: Who are the Venezuelan women starting their own business? Where are they? And what are they doing? To answer these questions, the two sisters created an Instagram account. They started sharing black-and-white stories from Venezuelan women showcasing their challenges and positive outcomes in building their own businesses. This initiative attracted many followers who later joined the community.

“We started as an Instagram account but eventually evolved into a female empowerment movement,” said Claudia.

The two sisters quickly gained followers on Instagram and held their first in-person meeting in March 2020. Despite concerns about COVID-19 and potential lockdowns in Miami, they decided to proceed with the event as planned in Doral. The meeting was a rewarding experience that motivated them to continue their project. 

“Mariela and Claudia Briceño in a networking workshop with Venprendedoras,” photo courtesy of Mariela Briceño.

However, just two days later, Miami went into lockdown, leaving the sisters uncertain about the future of their project, which they had only been running for two months.

“When the pandemic hit Miami, we decided to migrate everything online; we didn’t know it was going to work,” said Mariela. “But during the pandemic, people were eager to connect with others, and we created a platform where Venezuelan women could share their stories and challenges, which worked very well.”

Mariela and Claudia had many plans to do in-person workshops, but the pandemic forced them to do almost everything online. However, they do not view the pandemic as a negative outcome because they noticed that many people took advantage of the situation, started their businesses and joined Venprendoras as a guide to connecting and learning new hacks. 

Milangel Ruiz, the owner of Mildonas, was among the first Venezuelan women to join Venprendedoras. The Briceño sisters remember her with special affection because she is an example of a Venezuelan who reinvented herself and started from scratch in Argentina to reunite her family. 

“When I arrived in Argentina, the main idea was to work in a place that would allow me to raise money to bring my children with me,” said Ruiz. “Due to the lack of work at that time, I began to practice the knowledge I gained in a basic baking course I took in Venezuela, where I also learned how to make artisanal donuts.”

Ruiz started as a street vendor and now, after five years, has her own business in Rosario, Argentina, called ‘Mildonas un sabor.’ She thanked Venprededoras for featuring her story on Instagram because it increased visibility and the number of followers on her business account. 

Many of the stories featured on Venprendedoras’ Instagram are from women reinventing themselves during the pandemic, such as Rhona Lambana’s. 

She owns Amala Wellness and has been in the United States since 2013. Lambana started from scratch, working as a TV show studio audience to retail stores. She was tired of being an employee and wanted to be her own boss, so she decided to become an esthetician, get her license, and work from home during the pandemic. According to Lambana, the pandemic was the best year of her life.

Finally, in 2022, she founded Amala Wellness. 

“It hasn’t been easy, but I don’t let the train go without me, so I take every opportunity the life has to offer me like Venprendedoras,” said Lombana. 

She is currently located in Brickell but is soon moving to Pembroke Pines to continue her business growth.

According to the 2024 Wells Fargo Impact of Women-Owned Business Report, “During the onset of the pandemic in 2020, despite business closures, women launched more businesses than they closed. Women-owned businesses also grew their workforces and increased their revenue while men’s numbers shrank.” 

Also, the Latino demographic continues to represent a great part of increasing business in the U.S. even after the pandemic. “Hispanic/Latino women-owned businesses came out stronger after the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. Average revenues for these businesses increased 17.1% between 2019 and 2023 compared to all women-owned businesses’ 12.1% rise.” 

After the pandemic, the foundation became a virtual community with a few in-person events, such as networking, bazaars and workshops, but most activities are online. The foundation’s most successful event is  ‘Open Mic 5×5’ and is held monthly.

“Open Mic 5×5 brought together many people during the pandemic, and now some of these people are close friends,” said Mariela. “The event also played a significant role in the foundation’s growth, fostering a large community of Latinas.” 

Moreover, Venprendedoras tries to assist other entrepreneurs living in Venezuela by partnering with Focus by Cisneros Media. Through a six-month program managed by AME de Venezuela, every $250 payment made by participants from Focus is used to finance women entrepreneurs in Venezuela, helping them achieve their business goals.

For Mariela and Claudia, it is also important to help women overcome gender biases in their businesses. Therefore, they plan to launch their program, ‘Getting Pitch Ready,’ by the end of 2024 to help women secure venture capital.

“Starting a business is harder for women than for men,” said Mariela. “Men can raise capital based on their ideas, but women have to show results to get funding for their ventures.”

A study from Harvard Kennedy School showed that “70% of venture capital investors preferred pitches presented by male entrepreneurs over those presented by female entrepreneurs, even though the pitches were identical.”

The two sisters will continue working to help women from the diaspora and expand Venprendedoras to support Venezuelans and the rest of the Latino women’s community.

For them, Venprendedoras is their passion and not just a job.

Amelia Orjuela Da Silva is a senior majoring in digital journalism with a minor in social media and E-marketing analytics. After graduation, she wishes to pursue a career in the entertainment field as a writer/reporter to shine a light on stories that need to be discovered.