Time for Hispanic startups

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Jeff Valdez claims that Si TV, his oft-postponed cable network for English-speaking bicultural Hispanics, will launch Feb. 25 "come hell or high water." Of course, added the former standup comic and creator of the Nickelodeon hit "Brothers Garcia," "there may be a lot of flames."

Mr. Valdez is one of a number of U.S. Hispanics pursuing ventures from media to entertainment and specialist sports-marketing agencies that tap into the increasingly high-profile Hispanic market-and the growing number of advertisers trying to reach those 38 million people.

Take Fernando Espuelas. In the late 1990s, Mr. Espuelas dreamed of bringing Internet access to people throughout Latin America. His StarMedia Networks briefly spanned the continent before a crash in the dot-com bust; he resigned in 2001.

Now he's back, with a new vision. He's CEO of Voy LC ("I go" in Spanish), a hub that will churn out music, TV, films, books and a cable network through four separate companies.

"We're creating a consumer brand targeting the 18-to-34 Hispanic market, based on optimism and self-empowerment," Mr. Espuelas said. The Latin music division, for instance, will produce records after testing the online popularity of would-be stars with music fans. "We'll let consumers choose the artist and music through the Internet," he said. "It will be grass-roots creation of stars."

In print media, one Latina is following in the footsteps of Martha, Oprah and Rosie with her own magazine, Thalia, to be published by American Media starting in February 2004. Thalia Sodi, a Mexican singer, already has a merchandise deal with Kmart.

The title comes as Hispanic print media thrives. Latina Media Ventures' Latina is raising its rate base in January 2004 to 350,000, from 250,000 a year earlier, with a 45% rate increase, said Publisher David Kahn. He projects the magazine will be up 33% in pages and 55% in revenue in 2003, and is planning Latina's first standalone special issue for next year.

On the agency front, more general-market agencies are creating separate Hispanic shops, often majority-owned by the Hispanic agency executives who start them. Independent agency Marc USA found its name translates easily into Spanish by merely adding an "a" to form the Spanish word for brand, marca. The 2-month-old Marca agency is 51%-owned by President Tony Nieves and Chief Creative Officer Armando Hernandez, veterans of Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam in Latin America.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulous recently opened a Miami-based Hispanic shop, run by Jose Lopez-Varela, and Stan Richards of independent Richards Group is an investor in 2-year-old Grupo Gallegos in Los Angeles.

Mario Flores and Roxana Lissa in August started Sportivo, a sports public relations and marketing agency blending the English word "sport" and the Spanish word deportivo. "We want to go beyond traditional Latin sports like soccer and baseball," Ms. Lissa said. "Why not hockey and golf?"

Mike Fernandez left his job as a Hispanic marketing manager at Pepsi-Cola Co. this year because he was convinced there was a niche for his new events-marketing company, Latin Factory. He noted that at a recent pitch he attended for a Hispanic promotion assignment, three of the four contenders were general-market agencies.

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