In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are sharing the story of Consuelo Poland, founder of the Latinas Welding Guild and director of RUCKUS, a flourishing makerspace in the North Mass Avenue industrial corridor of Indianapolis, where LISC has been supporting the growth of a new and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem. Poland is dedicated to connecting Indy’s residents, Latina and otherwise, to satisfying work in creative, hands-on and entrepreneurial jobs, and building a supportive community for small businesses and makers in the process.
When Consuelo Poland first began working at RUCKUS makerspace two years ago, she had a mission: “It was really important to get people into the space who had barriers to launching a business or product—whether gender, racial, financial or social barriers. Instead of going for established artists and people who always get opportunities, we do a lot of outreach to people who don't know something like this exists.”
The upshot is that RUCKUS, an incubator for startups, small businesses, and low- to moderate-income makers, artists and entrepreneurs, is now a workspace for nearly 50 ventures—46 percent of them women-owned and 40 percent minority-owned. “Everybody here is making their own niche product,” says Poland. “And the variety is huge. They’re doing everything from fine cabinetry and jewelry to candles and fragrances to outdoor furniture and leather tool belts.”
Poland applies a similarly inclusive mission to the Latinas Welding Guild, which she founded last year to teach the art and skill of welding. An experienced welder with a degree in applied arts, Poland sees the trade as an extraordinary way to open doors for Latina and other women who have been interested in hands-on work but were hesitant to give it a try.
“Culturally, as Latinas, we’re not supposed to be doing anything that’s somewhat masculine or dirty,” says Poland, who has roots in Guatemala and was raised in Michigan. “Part of the goal for the Guild is building a network and a safe space to ask questions. We’re not necessarily trying to get people into manufacturing, but if they’re interested, we can help them make that connection.”
The Guild’s classes take place at RUCKUS, which is equipped with five welding machines, in addition to high-tech equipment for prototyping and fabricating products on site. A partnership with the industrial design program at Purdue University brought state-of-the-art 3D printers, a laser cutter and a desktop CNC—all available for use to the artisans at RUCKUS and affliliated small businesses free of charge.
LISC’s longtime partner, Riley Area Development Corporation, is the financial backbone of RUCKUS and manages its programs, helping support the entrepreneurs there with rent scholarships and technical assistance from local professionals (such as legal, accounting and marketing advice), and offering free workshops about the business side of making. RUCKUS is also dedicated to hiring locally, particularly residents from the IndyEast Promise Zone, reentry programs and LISC's Financial Opportunity Centers network in Indianapolis.
And RUCKUS is growing. Together with Riley, Poland is building a youth job training and certification program, and because demand has been so great, they’re establishing RUCKUS satellites around the city. The first to get up and running is a micro-manufacturing facility at 1417 Commerce, a restored industrial building a half mile from RUCKUS’s 12,000-square-foot headquarters, which LISC has supported in the same reviving North Mass corridor. Other off-shoots include a commercial kitchen space and a co-working office space.
For Poland, the deep value of RUCKUS and the Latinas Welding Guild is how each connects talented, creative, entrepreneurial people to resources they didn’t know were possible. “In my own journey, I was exposed to a lot of opportunities out there. But not everyone is, and not everyone has the confidence or knows how to look for them. It can take a lot of courage to ask questions.” Fortunately, Poland and RUCKUS are ready with answers.