A woman painting a piece of pottery that is spinning on a pottery wheel.

Helping Small Businesses Grow in El Salvador .

Micro- and small enterprises are receiving training to expand their businesses, thanks to a new international partnership.

In many countries, most businesses are small or microenterprises. It can be difficult for these businesses to grow, because they often do not have access to loans, and the people who run them may not have any business training. This is the case in El Salvador. Micro- and small businesses (with fewer than 10 and 50 employees, respectively) make up 98 percent of Salvadoran companies. But there are few resources to help these businesses succeed.

Luis Alberto Zelaya, who started a maintenance service for industrial machines called SEMPROFES, is one of these entrepreneurs. “Like many other people, we are looking for institutions that can help us, but they are very difficult to find,” Luis said. Then he found out about a small business development center run by the University of Sonsonate.

The university center trained Luis in marketing, quality assurance, and effective customer service. It also helped SEMPROFES become accredited to work with a major client. With this assistance, Luis strengthened and expanded his small business and secured a major $1.5 million contract with the Autonomous Executive Port Commission. “It was a real blessing,” Luis said about the help he received at the center. A few years ago, the small business development center that Luis visited did not exist. Now, there is a network of them across El Salvador. The centers were founded by the Salvadoran National Commission for Micro and Small Enterprise — known by its Spanish acronym, CONAMYPE— and they were expanded and strengthened with support from the USAID-funded Small and Medium Enterprise Development Program.


small business development centers opened across El Salvador


jobs created in El Salvador since 2012

$41.6 million

in sales generated since 2012

The program, which is implemented by Chemonics, seeks to grow the economy of El Salvador by focusing on micro- and small businesses, like SEMPROFES. To do this, the project looked for a model that had proven useful to micro-entrepreneurs elsewhere. It found this model in a U.S. small business assistance network called America’s SBDC.

Using a unique mix of government funds and private sector resources, America’s SBDC assists partner organizations in hosting small business development centers. These partners, such as universities, offer free consulting and low-cost courses on topics like writing a business plan or conducting market research. This strategy was promising because it offered El Salvador a way to establish more centers quickly, by embedding them in willing organizations.

To take advantage of this model, the USAID program facilitated a partnership between America’s SBDC and CONAMYPE. Ileana Rogel, executive director of CONAMYPE, explained how the Salvadoran commission worked with America’s SBDC.

“We had the opportunity to see the SBDC model implemented by the University of San Antonio, Texas, and learn about the role the university plays. In a period of about six months, we learned more about how the model works and we found interest from possible operators in El Salvador. We sent a group from CONAMYPE to San Antonio to experience the day-to-day of how an SBDC works. Then we brought down all the documents and manuals to adapt them to the Salvadoran context.”

"With support from the small business development center, we’re growing and have the opportunity to employ more people. We have hired up to 150 people when we have orders from abroad and our sales have increased by around 20 percent."

Marisol Ramírez, a local businessowner

Now, there are 12 small business development centers across El Salvador, which have helped to generate $41.6 million in sales and create 11,400 jobs since 2012.

Marisol Ramírez, who runs a handicrafts enterprise called ACOPROARTE, is one of these success stories. Marisol learned about developing new products, entering new markets, and creating investment and marketing plans at a center in Cayaguanca.

“With support from the small business development center, we’re growing and have the opportunity to employ more people. We have hired up to 150 people when we have orders from abroad and our sales have increased by around 20 percent,” Marisol said. CONAMYPE is helping to spread the small business development center model to other countries in Central America and to create an international network. Executive Director Ileana Rogel sees the program as an important way to grow the economy so that fewer Salvadorans emigrate in search of jobs.

“We believe that investing and receiving support from the United States to strengthen this model can be useful to stem the migration flow,” she said.