Augusto Sanabria Follows His Passion as the Leader of Prospera
Augusto Sanabria’s advice to business owners is cliché, he admits, but that doesn’t make it any less true: “They say that when you work in your passion, you never really work a day in your life.”
And he would know. The president and CEO of Prospera has been testing that theory for nearly two decades in his work at the nonprofit, which provides bilingual assistance and resources to Hispanic entrepreneurs.
“Every part of my life, from how I grew up, to my journey to the U.S., to my journey into entrepreneurship, is proof that helping small businesses in our community is a passion of mine,” Sanabria said. “I’m still extremely passionate about the future and the ideas I have for the organization.”
When Sanabria first joined Prospera, the Spanish word for “thrives,” one of his first business ventures was facing some hardships. “I was buying primarily industrial products in the U.S. and had a friend who would distribute them in El Salvador and other places in Central America. When the price of oil skyrocketed, we went out of business as people started buying products from cheaper alternative sources.”
He started the business while attending the University of Central Florida and was just about to graduate with his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration when his path intersected with that of an employee of Prospera, then known as the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund. “She was teaching part-time at the university, and she suggested I come and intern for them. At the time, I thought it would be cool to learn about different businesses, hear the ideas people had and help them navigate the things I had already gone through.”
Eighteen years later, having been promoted to president and CEO in 2009, Sanabria is still helping those entrepreneurs on their journeys. “Our job is to help immigrant entrepreneurs from Latin American countries, or citizens coming from Puerto Rico, with the language barrier and blocks to understanding how to do business in the U.S.”
Growing up in Argentina and then El Salvador as the child of two business owners, Sanabria saw firsthand the struggles entrepreneurs face. His father was the owner of a Volkswagen dealership that focused on heavy equipment, trucks and machinery. His mother started several businesses, including a retail shop, a clothing store and eventually an Argentinian restaurant she opened with Sanabria’s sister in El Salvador.
“I saw the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said of watching his parents’ endeavors.
“It allowed us to live a comfortable life, we got a good education and could travel. We were provided so many opportunities. But on the other side, it was very palpable when my dad wasn’t doing well in business. And my mom failed a few times in those business ventures before finding success. I learned the good and not-so–good of business ownership. I think that’s why I fell in love with our mission — because if they’d had Prospera on their side, their path and likelihood of success would have been that much higher.”
Since Sanabria took the helm of Prospera, the organization has seen its share of impressive success. Originally only operating throughout the Interstate 4 corridor, Prospera expanded to South Florida 10 years ago to become a statewide organization. Five years after that, it ventured outside of Florida, offering services in Charlotte, North Carolina, and slowly expanding its reach to other cities.
“During the pandemic,” Sanabria said, “due to the needs we were seeing in other communities, we were able to expand into the Atlanta market and open an office in Georgia.”
COVID-19 also led to other changes. Prospera still offers its four core resources: education programs, business consulting, grants for business advancement tools, and access to capital. The organization adapted quickly to the needs of a business world forever altered by the pandemic and now offers more virtual services and events. Additionally, a partnership with JP Morgan Chase bank and small business lender Ascendus allowed Prospera to be there for clients in the past year in ways they needed most.
“The number one need of our clients was capital,” Sanabria said. “All of a sudden, we became an underwriting entity, helping individuals navigate all of the options. Together, we were able to deploy resources for those businesses.”
This fall, Prospera announced the results of its 30-year economic impact report, a move that was deeply important to Sanabria. The results were more than encouraging. In the past five years, Prospera’s total economic impact went from $1.5 billion to $4.9 billion. As for return on investment, the report found that in 2016, for every dollar invested in Prospera, the return was $70. In 2021, that number went up to $184. Prospera has also helped create 30,000 jobs, and 65,000 people participated in its educational programs.
Sanabria is ready to lead Prospera and the community into even more success in the coming years, encouraged not only by the numbers but by the people behind them — people he has always believed in.
“Maybe I’m a little biased, but we live in the best region of the U.S., in the best country in the world,” he said.
“It’s a very collaborative community. We partner with each other, we help each other out, we welcome one another. Central Florida is unique because we understand that the success of one is the success of all.”