Young Entrepreneur Award 2021Carolina Polanco of Alpaca Distribution, right, receives the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce's 2021 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award from CAN DO Director of Economic Development Jocelyn Sterenchock.Carolina Polanco, co-founder of Alpaca Distribution, received the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award during the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce's Annual Business and Community Awards Luncheon.

CAN BE has sponsored the annual award, which promotes the development of future business owners and operators under the age of 35 within Greater Hazleton, for the past eight years. Applicants are scored on business strategy, long-term goals, growth and community contribution.

Polanco said, “I am very excited and grateful for the recognition of my business, which comes as a result of my discipline and experience that I have gained over the years. Receiving this award is a sign that you have to keep going, despite the obstacles.”

Alpaca – a name created by the combination of letters from the names of co-founder Jose Alberto, his daughter, Paola, and Carolina – is a wholesale food distributor of dry goods and supplies for restaurants and supermarkets. The company sells an extensive list of name-brand products throughout Greater Hazleton, including brands like Kraft, Sara Lee, Goya, and more.

Polanco was inspired to become an entrepreneur by her parents, who showed her how to work hard, be her own boss and provide for her family. They also taught her the importance of providing excellent customer service, which she believes has been the key to her becoming a successful entrepreneur.

“Winning this award would not have been possible without the inspiration I have received from my parents and my colleagues, for whom I have the deepest respect and from whom I have derived the strength to challenge myself,” Polanco added.

When COVID hit Polanco wanted to take advantage of a gap she noticed in food distribution. Utilizing her existing business connections, she launched Alpaca Distribution to provide dry goods and restaurant supplies to small, local establishments throughout Greater Hazleton.

With the help of CAN DO, the Small Business Development Center at Wilkes University, the Hazleton LaunchBox and the Chamber, Polanco has been able to establish a business plan and some long-term goals.

“I want to thank (CAN DO Director of Economic Development) Jocelyn Sterenchock for always staying present from day one. I don't think this would have been possible without her and we are eternally grateful,” she said.

Although obtaining business financing has been difficult, which is the case for any start-up company, Polanco has the mindset of an entrepreneur and is committed to succeeding. She continues to work a full-time job, while dedicating all of her free time to Alpaca Distribution. Her goal is to continue to gain new customers in order to be able to commit 100% of her time to the company.

Polanco added, “This is only the beginning. I have faced several challenges on my way here but each one of them has only strengthened me to make me the person I am today – a thorough professional who knows exactly what she wants; someone who sets her eyes on a goal and does not lose sight of it unless it is achieved.”

Nominees for the Chamber’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year award must be between the ages of 13 and 35; reside or attend school in the Greater Hazleton area; attend school, high school or college or have successfully completed high school or be a full-time graduate student; have a for-profit business currently operating within Greater Hazleton that has been in operation for at least three months; and have a client/customer base of three or more.

Sterenchock said, “CAN BE is proud to support this award each year and recognize the hardworking and innovative entrepreneurs that we have right here in Greater Hazleton. Even more exciting this year is for us to recognize Carolina because Alpaca Distribution is a client of THInC and a tenant within CAN BE. We are honored to play a part in helping her and her company succeed.”