Alicia Ponce has been an architect at APMonarch for 15 years and since the beginning, she’s counted on IHCC as a great resource for her business. Being a Latina and women-owned business makes her extremely rare and unique and even though she’s faced challenges, she stands strong against the adversity that she faces every day.
Tell me about your business.
My name is Alicia Ponce and I am the founder of APMonarch. It will be 15 years this year, so we are reaching our quinceañera and since the day I founded the business my mission was to design healthy environments. What does that mean to design healthy environments? It’s providing a healthy architecture for people because we’re inside buildings for over 90% of our lives. APMonarch focuses on designing healthy buildings, healthy doors, for not just people who live in those buildings but also for the environment.
How did you come up with your name?
At APMonarch it all goes back to the environment and how I got here to become an architect. AP are my initials (Alicia Ponce) and coincidentally it could also stand for architecture and planning, and the monarch butterfly represents a healthy environment. You know, anytime you see a butterfly it’s because there is healthy air and healthy water, and who doesn’t smile when you see a butterfly. The monarch butterfly is also the state symbol from where my family is, from Michoacán, Mexico, so it’s an ode to my family who has always supported me through every step of the way of my journey so that’s how APMonarch was created.
Was your business impacted by COVID?
COVID for sure impacted our business. We were able to work from home remotely just because of the nature of what we do. We also had to put projects on hold and just like people all over the world, we had to figure out what to do, so there were some really dark months. I will be honest, and I know that I’m not the only one. It was a way for me to become innovative and again figure things out. You know as business owners; we’re constantly figuring things out and COVID was definitely a challenge that we were able to take on and we’re still here and stronger.
How long have you been working with the IHCC and how have they helped your business?
I’ve been a member of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for 15 years and I’ve always been involved with IHCC. They helped me start my business. I walked into their offices since they used to have one in the Pilsen neighborhood, and I just walked in and asked them how I would apply for a business license. So, 15 years ago, the IHCC office helped me fill out the initial paperwork when it wasn’t online, it was still a paper application. Also, a couple of years ago I went through the incubator program for small businesses and that was a program that helped me how to pitch my business in under three minutes. So, I learned how to reduce my business pitch from 30 minutes and reduce it to three minutes and that was probably one of the best experiences that I’ve had.
What have you learned about working with the Chamber?
It’s really important to have a network that supports you, especially in business. Once you start a business you know that you’re going to have to take risks and there are lots of questions that come up so I know that whenever I do have questions the IHCC is a place where I can pick up the phone and call and I know they’ll have the answers and if they don’t have the answers then they’ll help you figure it out. It’s really important to have that network in order to survive in this business.
Any struggles that you’ve faced as an architect or as a woman-owned business?
There are some challenges and unique barriers as a woman, as a Latina, and as a Latina in architecture, it’s all in the numbers. There are less than 1% of licensed Latina architects in the U.S., so let that sink in for a little bit why that is and for a Latina to be in this professional service there are challenges along the way, not only gender-wise but culturally, so we constantly must find a way of saying here I am, I am a licensed architect, I own a business. Just being a woman in general, we must prove ourselves 2.5 times harder than men but that’s just the way it is, unfortunately. But little by little, I think we’re changing the narrative, and those men out there that support us, I applaud them for that because not everybody does [support] women and that’s just the reality.
What’s the best part of being a woman-owned business?
The best part of being a woman-owned business, a Latina-owned business is that I get to represent other generations that want to become an architect, that wants to be a business owner and say si se puede, yes you can do it and no matter the barriers and the challenges, there’s a way to do it and you know I’m here to help, I’m here to answer questions and so, adelante!
What projects are you working on now?
The projects that were working on and what we’ve done in the past always had a focus on sustainability, we worked with Chicago Public Schools as sustainability consultants and we work on higher ed, earning the highest levels of green building certifications on campus. We know we’re doing something right, and on the architecture side we are working with nonprofits, we are working with commercial offices in the Loop, and again with always, that sustainability element added to the design.
Instituto Desarrollo Amazing Aguascalientes (IDAA)
Something exciting we’re working on is the Instituto Desarrollo Amazing of Aguascalientes and that is our first international project which will be constructed around the earth and will be constructed by the people and for the people and locally so it is extremely exciting and I can’t wait to share more of that. I believe architects have the tools and resources to design beautiful and ambitious architecture. Through thoughtful design and informative dialogue, APMonarch designs architecture that respects the site and uses energy efﬁciently and conserves water. I was commissioned to be the lead architect for the Instituto Desarrollo Amazing Aguascalientes (IDAA) or Centro Amazing. I’ve developed a design that is engaging, artisanal, and environmentally responsible. A series of ramps provide equal access to the panoramic views of el Pueblo Mágico de Calvillo. Centro Amazing will be constructed from rammed earth with a construction method, a technique for constructing foundations, floors, and walls using compacted natural raw materials such as earth. Builders, both novice and experienced, can help build it. Rammed earth cools during the hot days and warms in the cold nights with little to no help from mechanical systems.
Any words of advice for small businesses?
One of the things that I think have really resonated with me is that even though there are challenges and obstacles, it’s so important that we help each other. All of us can rise and I say this all the time, lift as you climb and when you climb, make sure you bring someone with you because it just makes the journey so much better. I don’t know anyone that gets there on their own but I’ve had so many supporters and mentors and I’m very grateful for them. It’s going to be up to you to do it right but there are a lot of mentors around and one of my favorite quotes is “I stand as one, but I come as 10,000” by Maya Angelou.