Dr. Erika Gonzalez opened her own medical practice in 2014 to serve her community and inspire the next generation of Latina entrepreneurs. Here are five lessons she's learned along the way that have set her up for long-term business success.
When she returned home after 10 years of active-duty service as a medical officer in the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Erika Gonzalez knew she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her entrepreneur parents and open her own business.
But rather than jump straight into launching her practice, Dr. Gonzalez spent two years working at another physician’s practice, gaining valuable experience that she would later draw upon when she founded both the South Texas Allergy & Asthma Medical Professionals (STAAMP) and STAAMP Clinical Research.
“I was paying as close attention as I could to everything,” she says. “There are some subtle differences between practicing medicine inside the military and outside. I was really engaged and trying to pick up and absorb as much as possible from both the medical side and the business side.”
During these years, as she was building the skills that she would eventually use to run and grow her practice, she also took steps to set her future business up for success. She started crafting a business plan and setting goals for what she wanted to achieve. She also joined the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The connections that Dr. Gonzalez forged here helped get her business off the ground and the lessons she learned from peers and mentors have stayed with her to this day.
Since going out on her own in 2014, Dr. Gonzalez has used her experience and the connections she’s developed over the course of her career to build a thriving business in her community—and the results speak for themselves. Her practice has grown to three locations across San Antonio, and she now has 35 employees to meet the growing needs of her patients. In addition to serving as CEO and president of STAAMP, Dr. Gonzalez is also an adjunct professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where she passes on her knowledge and inspires the next generation of physicians.
As Dr. Gonzalez reflects back on eight years of owning a successful small business, she identifies five strategies that she’s employed at different stages of her journey that have contributed to sustained growth for her practice. Here are the key lessons that she’s learned along the way that can help other business leaders build their companies.
1. Understand your own strengths and weaknesses.
Dr. Gonzalez was confident that she could gain many of the skills necessary to grow her business on her own, but she also recognized that there were some areas in which she’d be better served by professionals. She hired an accountant, for example, to help with cash management and forecasting, and used a lawyer for contracts and to register the business.
“I am a doctor, and I had experience managing people from the military, but I had to figure out where my gaps and deficiencies were and make sure I addressed those areas,” she says.
2. Expand your network—and tap into its expertise.
By connecting with other entrepreneurs in the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and looking for mentors in her field, Dr. Gonzalez built a bench of informal advisors to whom she could turn with questions or for advice. Leaning on experienced business leaders—both in and out of her industry—gave her the knowledge and confidence to persevere through challenges and make smarter decisions for her business. She encourages other business owners to do the same.
“It’s OK to put yourself out there and ask for help,” she says. “There are a lot of people out there who want to pass on the knowledge they’ve gained from building a business, because at some point they were in the same position as you.”
3. Believe in yourself and your business.
As your business grows and your operations expand, you will likely face unexpected challenges that test your resilience. Roadblocks are a given in any business journey, and you may find that you need more inventory, more space, more employees, or more working capital to keep up with demand as your company evolves. Running into these growth hurdles can be scary, but Dr. Gonzalez says that pushing through that fear and staying committed to your business plan in the face of adversity is what creates lasting success.
“It can take a leap of faith to get to your business to the next level,” she says. “And one of the biggest challenges is taking that leap and staying committed to your long-term business goals, no matter what you may be going through today.”
4. Value your employees.
Dr. Gonzalez credits her team with helping to make her business a success—and she works to show them that gratitude every day. One thing she’s learned from running her own business is that talent retention is key. She recognizes the value of her employees and makes sure that she’s always taking care of them.
“The more your employees feel that they have a sense of purpose and that they are appreciated, the harder they will work for you,” she says. “Employees are the ones who drive the business.”
5. Find ways to give back.
Community service has always been important to Dr. Gonzalez, a value instilled by her parents and reinforced by her time in the military. During her career, she has helped run asthma-screening clinics in schools, served on several community boards, and recently founded the nonprofit Con Corazón SA, which focuses on health inequities and emergency preparedness in the San Antonio region. Dr. Gonzalez is also co-chair of the advocacy group Small Business for America’s Future.
“When you give back to the community and ingrain yourself in the community, then you become a part of the community,” she says. “That in itself drives business growth, even though that was never the point.”
INSPIRING OTHER LATINAS
There are nearly 5 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States, contributing more than $800 billion to the American economy,1 and Dr. Gonzalez says she’s especially proud to see other Hispanic women starting and finding success with their own businesses.
“There was a time when Latinas weren’t encouraged to become entrepreneurs, but they have always had the drive and the vision and the dreams,” she says. “Over the past five years, people have really started to invest in them, whether it’s through mentorship or giving them the tools that they need.”
Dr. Gonzalez hopes that these investments will encourage young Latina entrepreneurs to continue building toward their business goals.
“Trust in yourself and your abilities,” she says. “And know that even if you don’t have all the tools in place, there are people out there who can help you.”
1. SBA. “Joint Economic Committee Hispanic Entrepreneurship and Business Brief.” November 4, 2021.
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