Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Karen Lopez
Karen Lopez moved to Elkhart, Indiana with her family when she was three years old. She credits her hard-working mother and father as her inspiration for a career in business. Karen’s first “job” was to collect monthly payments from clients who ordered home décor items of bedding and curtains from her mom, who purchased the items in bulk. Her mother taught her two major lessons as a child, “If you want things you have to work hard,” and “Be a smart shopper.” Karen took this to heart and started her first business by printing off coloring pages from the public library. She then sold them to her third-grade classmates at $.10 and $.50 cents a page respectively …until her teacher asked her to stop.
Fortunately, by the time she was a senior at Concord High School, no one was asking her to stop anything. She was invited to participate in the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur’s Academy (YEA!). Through that program, she started her business Petite K-Lo Decors, which created personalized curtain tiebacks. She relied on the expertise and counsel of several early business mentors to help her. The Concord High School Speech and Debate team honed her speaking and presentation skills, which allowed her to earn money from the Shark Tank like panel from sponsors of YEA! Organization to start up her business.
As high school graduation approached, she realized that she would need to expand her business to be able to afford college. While The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and resident rate tuition enabled her to initially pursue her educational dreams, she knew that college without federal or state financial assistance would be expensive. Learning from YEA!, the Elkhart SCORE’s free business consultation, and IUSB’s intro to business course, Karen learned of the importance of a business plan, which she used to help her parents start-up K-Lo Bazar in a micro-business incubator for Latinx entrepreneurs in Elkhart.
She began at IU South Bend in the fall 2014 majoring in advertising and marketing. While pursuing her degree she expanded her business and moved from the business incubator to a storefront. She paid for college while working part time jobs and enabled her mother to move out of a factory environment to manage her store full-time. Her hard worked was rewarded when Karen earned her Bachelor of Science in Business in 2019.
Since her graduation, Karen was selected for the Corporate Banker Development Program, a training program for managerial positions within 1st Source Bank. She continues to work hard to give back to her community by helping Latinx businesses understand specialized programs like the Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic. She encourages current IU South Bend students to “make connections with their faculty as they will guide students into their professional careers.” She also hopes that “Latinx students try things that are beyond their immediate circle of family and friends.” She hopes that they join a new club, get to know people, and make lifelong connections. She realizes that first generation immigrant families and students make enormous sacrifices, however a university education “is something that no one is able to take from you” and is well worth the effort.