Marked by a variety of characteristics, innovation can be found in multiple disciplines. But all innovators set out in front of the pack, bushwhacking a trail where none exists. Innovative organizations and projects bring outside-the-box thinking to problems or present a refreshing take on the status quo.
Xpress sought to find those clearing the path for our community’s future and put out a call for the public to nominate innovators. We received a total of 41 nominations and, through a process of several in-house jury deliberations, arrived at the eight we profile in this special issue. It wasn’t easy. And the runners-up made us deliberate if we should even feature more.
Xpress is proud to present Asheville’s Innovators. We hope their actions inspire you to innovate in your corner of Western North Carolina.
— Xpress Asheville Innovator jury: Edwin Arnaudin, Jeff Fobes, Dan Hesse, Max Hunt, Carolyn Morrisroe, Tracy Rose and Gina Smith
Luis Carlos Serapio, creative director
Describe your organization/project.
Descubre Asheville is a bilingual online platform that highlights Asheville’s attractions while creating opportunity for all and a locally rooted company that pulls from local Latino talent. Our goal is to create integration, growth and academic opportunities for Asheville’s Latinos, African-Americans and the LGBTQ community. We offer advertising for any Asheville business or service on our bilingual platform and we give back to our community. Beyond offering our clients the opportunity for catering to a powerful demographic, we offer a way for them to show their appreciation of all by “embracing diversity while seeking inclusion.”
Why is this needed in the Asheville area, and how does it make a difference?
Asheville is a city that is pushing to be progressive and searching for ways to be authentically inclusive. However, it is a city that overlooks the potential achieved through an integration of all its sectors. I believe Descubre Asheville brings three key points for all to consider: 1.) We are a digital face for Asheville that greets and informs visitors 24/7 in both Spanish and English (in a country of 51 million Latinos, it is good to be bilingual and open 24/7); 2.) Descubre Asheville’s core inspiration is the empowerment of our community. Through the creation of our scholarship “Descubre tu Potencial” (discover your potential), I believe we can have a positive impact on the lives of young people by encouraging and creating the opportunity for academic development; 3.) Descubre Asheville is 100 percent local and organic. There is no big company behind us, just a group of Latinos and good friends who strongly believe we can make a difference by making Asheville the most inclusive city in America.
What was your epiphany/eureka moment for this organization/project?
Jan. 21, 2017. While walking alongside 15,000 women in downtown Asheville, I knew then that this town wants equality, and it wants to be progressive. I want that, too, and I want to invite all of you to join me and let’s together make it happen.
What was the inspiration that made you take the leap from cool, cutting-edge idea to implementing it?
My children are my inspiration. I want a better world for them. As Latinos, I want them to have good local Latino role models. This is why I believe we have to break through/down the negative stereotypes. I want my children to grow up in an integrated society (or the closest to it). I believe Descubre Asheville can be a bridge.
What do you think makes it innovative?
We are the first to showcase Asheville in English and Spanish online. Another important fact is that our platform is built to be smartphone-friendly. In a country where 95 percent of the population owns a smartphone, an online platform has to look good on the phone.
How is it working now?
It is going really well. There are businesses that have been very supportive because they see the value in taking a stand and making Asheville a welcoming city to all. Thank you, John Atwater from Mamacitas, Amy and Hugo Ramirez from Limones, Jim and Jen Lauzon from LaZoom, Francisco Troconis and Gary Culbertson from Contemporaneo, Karen Donatelli, Izzy’s Coffee Den, High Five Coffee, The Blind Pig, Neil from The Fine Arts Theatre, Claudia Guerrero and Juan David de Narváez from Open Door Boutique, Dimitri Schemel, Boomer Sassmann from Big Boom Design and everyone else that has supported Descubre Asheville.
What are your goals for the project in the future?
To contribute in a greater form to the advancement of Asheville’s Latinos and the empowerment of our community. Also to show business owners in Asheville, especially in the tourism industry, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, breweries, etc., that they can thrive while embracing diversity.
How is what you’re doing different from what others (people, organizations) are doing to solve this problem?
There are many great organizations in Asheville, and no one is the same. I appreciate all of those working on inclusion, equality, people’s rights, education and the immigrant and LGBTQ communities.
What advice do you have for people trying to use innovation to foster change in the community?
Be brave, be bold, be compassionate. Allow yourself to be a conduit for change that is both personal and collective.