For Kim Gamez, starting a business was a little like having a baby. Maybe that’s because when she and her husband, Hugo, were about to open their first restaurant in Jackson, Michigan, she was 9-months pregnant. While waiting for the Liquor Control Commission to approve the new restaurant’s liquor license, Kim went into labor with her first son. When she and a healthy baby returned home from the hospital, she got the news that the license had been approved.
“I’m 20 and a new mom, and we opened our restaurant,” recalls Gamez. “How hard can it be, right?”
Turns out plenty hard.
“Anyone who knows anything about the restaurant business will tell you,” she laughs.
But she and her husband learned as they went, and a few businesses and a few kids later,
they had found a groove. After adding another restaurant and a few rental properties to their portfolio, Kim and Hugo were feeling confident to take on new challenges.
“If you can be a landlord and you can own a restaurant, you can do anything,” says Gamez.
That includes launching a technology company.
As a girl from Jackson without much exposure, Kim had fallen in love with the Hispanic culture that Hugo, a native of Mexico, had introduced her to. Her favorite thing was the padrino tradition.
Essentially, a padrino is a sponsor. Leading up to Hispanic cultural events like quinceañera and weddings, padrinos—often members of the extended family—band together to sponsor aspects of the celebration. Someone pays for the dress, someone else pays for the venue, someone else pays for the drinks, and so on.
“It’s all about being selfless and giving to others,” says Kim.
Kim was happy to oblige when she was asked to be a padrino for her niece’s quinceañera, but working out the details was complicated. She decided she would buy the pillow that her niece would kneel on during the ceremony. But how could she be sure it would match her dress? Maybe she would just send cash instead. But was there a simpler way to send money to Mexico than arranging a wire transfer?
Then it dawned on her. Maybe there was a business opportunity here. What if there was an app that was part registry, part crowd-funding site, for padrinos?
She went to Ann Arbor to meet with people in the startup community to get advice. Someone told her to check out the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, where Michigan’s most promising startups pitch for chances to win cash prizes of up to $500,000. Watching the pitches, Kim was emboldened. She went back to Ann Arbor to assemble a team that operated out of Ann Arbor SPARK, and within months, they’d developed a platform called Mi Padrino. It didn’t take long for the service to catch on. By the end of the year, they’d attracted 50,000 users.
The following year, Kim went back to Accelerate Michigan, but this time as a participant. She left with a $100,000 prize. Mi Padrino would later receive follow-on funding through Invest Detroit’s First Step Fund.
“You really just have to listen to yourself,” says Kim. “A lot of you have that $1 million idea in your head, but you have to be crazy enough to follow it.”