Carlos Espinoza-Toro

by Lia

MKI Affiliation:

Small Business Development Partner


Director of Small Business Services


Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp (JPNDC)


Carlos Espinoza-Toro got his start in small business development working with Boston-based dry cleaners . In his position at the Institute for Policy Studies in 2013, he worked with these small business owners among others around Jamaica Plain to adopt green technologies and ameliorate risks of cancer. For example, he helped conduct a Kickstarter campaign to help dry cleaner small business owners find a financially feasible way to transition away from carcinogenic chemicals in their operations. He then joined the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) in 2015 and is still there now as the Director of Small Business Services.

Carlos got involved with Massachusetts Community Development Corporations (MACDC) and the Mel King Institute (MKI)  through his work at JPNDC. After first getting in touch with our President & CEO Joe Kriesberg to learn more about economic development advocacy for state level funding, he got involved with the Coalition for an Equitable Economy and the Community Business Network (CBN). CBN was created during the pandemic to convene MACDC members and others in the small business ecosystem in the Commonwealth to maintain engagement, bring ideas and challenges to the table, and promote events. In his words, “when I log into the Zoom meetings for the Coalition and the Community Business Network, I feel like I’m going to learn something new. I feel like I’m going to be able to promote an idea or discuss a challenge I’m dealing with, and I feel I have the chance to receive support, information, and connections with folks that are dealing with the same issue or have solutions.” Carlos has become a key partner in MACDC and MKI’s small business development work.

In 2020, Carlos also took the Small Business Certificate Program, a partnership of the Mel King Institute with Cambridge College and Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC). This program provides small business technical assistance providers with practical knowledge and skills such as legal knowledge and back-end accounting  to in turn support small businesses. In his opinion, this program is unique because professionals rarely discuss how to develop and serve small businesses at a local level. According to Carlos, “this is the only program I know of that focuses on preparing professionals to serve and help develop small businesses at the local level. It provides very rigorous, pragmatic, hands-on materials. I don’t leave without being able to apply something.” 

He has also taken advantage of a variety of other MKI programs. Something he values about MKI classes is the emphasis on the context in which professional development concepts are laid out. For example, when learning about small business inequity , the MKI instructor began the class by using existing data to explain the obstacles people of color face in the construction industry. This context is vital to understanding why we are doing what we are doing in community and economic development.

Small business development is not just a job for Carlos. It’s personal for him, because his own parents owned a car garage while also working other jobs. He relates to the difficulty of making a small business work economically, especially for people of color and immigrant owners. Since so many small businesses are family-based, he feels like he is helping his own family. Beyond the personal connections to the work, small business development has important repercussions for owners. The ability to accumulate wealth through owning a business is a key part of economic development for people of color. Carlos feels that this connection has not been given the public consideration that it deserves, and he wants to be part of that body of knowledge and development. Finally, Carlos feels strongly that empowering small businesses gives individuals agency. To survive in a market that is hostile towards small businesses, owners must be innovative and dynamic. This situation also means that people in this field see the results of their actions almost immediately, which can be incredibly gratifying.

For Carlos, the future of small business development is difficult to pinpoint or predict. In his mind, there are two ways to view the road forward. On the one hand, we can focus on the very real challenges that small businesses face in the United States, where the government rarely supports the infrastructure that small businesses need. For example, small businesses do not have the back-office support or legal and accounting expertise that large businesses benefit from. These gaps are further exacerbated by the pandemic, where the digital divide has defined much of business success or failure. The more positive vision is that these challenges will lead to innovation in times of extreme necessity. We need mechanisms and tools to capitalize on new business innovation and create new ways of accumulating wealth for small business owners.