After Coming as a Cuban Refugee, This Entrepreneur Built a $50 Million Business

When the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, Cuban-born entrepreneur José Prendes watched the ensuing chaos carefully. He was trying to determine which e-businesses would survive and why. One that continued advertising with television commercials, he noticed, was 1-800-Pet-Meds. “I thought that it had to be a good business, since amid all this craziness they were still surviving,” he recalls. That realization launched Prendes’ successful first business, VetAmerica.com, a successful business until, sadly, Hurricane Wilma razed company headquarters.

Despite the setback, Prendes persevered. Soon he came up with his next business idea. “I had a little bit of money left, and I had been looking into the health and wellness industry because I knew it was growing,” he recalls. In 2007, Prendes launched PureFormulas.com, an e-retail business that sells nutrition, beauty, and pet products worldwide and reaches annual sales of $50 million. The company has 110 employees in Miami, and Prendes is proud to report that half are women. His next challenge: Taking the company public. “That’s something I’d love to see,” he says.

This success would have been impossible in Prendes’ native country of Cuba. “I think that the Cuban business environment was basically just very hostile,” he explains. In 1985, when Prendes was 14, his parents made a life-changing decision for the family. “My parents were kind of in a rush to get us out of there,” he recalls. They didn’t want their son to have to enter the military. “But my dad had a technical career, which was of course paid for by the government. They didn’t allow him to leave. He needed to get some special permission.” So Prendes and his mother traveled without him to Ecuador, where Prendes’ father joined them a year later. By 1991, they were on the move again, this time bound for the United States with help from a foundation that aided Cuban refugees. “Coming to the U.S. was a little easier,” he recalls. “We had already been immigrants once. We had family here in the U.S., and we knew the opportunities here were better.”

I keep reading articles about the high percentage of immigrants starting small businesses. I think the impact is bigger than some people would like to admit.

Once settled, Prendes began seeking out those opportunities. “I always liked commerce and business; that kind of excited me,” he confesses. “I wasn’t exposed to it because there had been no entrepreneurs in my family. My dad is an X-ray technician in a hospital and my mom’s a teacher. But, for some reason, I just felt excited about the opportunity of being an entrepreneur. . . . I dropped out of college and I decided to start working.”

PureFormulas.com has brought Prendes recognition in South Florida. In 2012, he was named both CEO of the Year by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and Ultimate CEO by the South Florida Business Journal. He’s also a member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Young Presidents Organization, and he gives to charities, sponsoring Miami’s “Sponsor an Athlete 5k Run/Walk” for the Special Olympics, among others. Through a partnership with Touching Miami with Love, Prendes also supports after-school programs for kids in the impoverished communities of Overtown and West Homestead. Prendes has also gained attention on the national stage. Inc. magazine named him one of nine “Wildly Successful” Immigrant Entrepreneurs, and Bizrate bestowed its Circle of Excellence Award on the company.

To Prendes, it’s clear that immigrants play a crucial role in sustaining the American economy. “I keep reading articles about the high percentage of immigrants starting small businesses,” he says. “I think the impact is bigger than some people would like to admit. I think it’s huge. There’s nothing negative about it. Most immigrants just want to work, raise their kids and put food on the tables. Let’s face it: Immigration is a good thing.”

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