Business owner and community innovator Ann Gonzales has had quite a career in her short 33 years of life. Motivated by her creative instinct, a business-oriented mindset, and her cultural identity as an Asian-American lesbian, Gonzales has a lot of irons in the fire and has seen great success. Now co-owner of the Charlotte-based creative design agency Create-ster, Gonzales uses her free time to do digital marketing and event planning for Filipino American Spirit and the Carolinas Asian American Chamber of Commerce (CAACC), among other projects. Dedicated to serving her communities with all the skills in her arsenal, Gonzales is a manifestation of determination and accomplishment.
Why did you choose to co-found Create-ster?
At the beginning half of 2011, my business partner, Alyssa Kibiloski, and I left our jobs from Corporate America to work for an entrepreneur who formed a start-up PR firm. Unfortunately, the PR firm ended up not making it financially. From there, Alyssa and I decided we needed to combine forces and start our own creative marketing agency. Alyssa focused on the graphic design half of Create-ster and I focused on the website development half.
Would you describe yourself as more creative, more business-minded, or both?
I would say I’m 40/60 when it comes to being creative or business-minded. I used to love creative writing, drawing, painting and creating pieces of art out of clay. I did a lot of fine art throughout high school.
However, as of late, I’ve morphed into becoming more business-focused. I do less creative production work and primarily work with clients one-on-one on their marketing strategies, manage our production team at Create-ster and do business development and administration.
How have your ethnic heritage and your LGBTQ identity influenced your professional life?
Being LGBTQ and Asian, I’ve looked for professional opportunities to be involved within those two focus groups … It’s opened my eyes to better understand the disparities that we, as LGBTQ and Asian Americans, face from not only a local and national level, but from a corporate level to a small business/entrepreneur level.
Now that I’ve retired from the Charlotte LGBT Chamber, I’ve moved to focus on being part of the Charlotte Asian community … Thus far, it’s been a good, interesting journey. I’ve learned that the Asian communities’ focus seems to be more about educating others about the Asian culture, and less business-centric. However, I know CAACC is looking to do more when it comes to Asian businesses and entrepreneurs.
How did you first become inspired to pursue graphic design and technology?
I was always into art and writing. I wrote and illustrated my own stories when I was around 8 or 10. When I was 15-16 my parents bought a computer and I met a friend who built her own website. I was so amazed that she was able to build her own website that I started to build my own. From there, I taught myself how to use graphic design programs and learned how to code in HTML and CSS.
Who have been some of your major influences, either personally or professionally?
Teresa Davis will always be one of my major influences. She was the one who got me more involved in the LGBTQ community. Through her, I was part of the Charlotte Film Festival, the Charlotte Business Guild, the Charlotte LGBT Community Center and very briefly with Charlotte Pride … I am deeply moved and inspired by Rocio Gonzalez from the Charlotte Latin Chamber of Commerce and Nimish Bhatt, John Chen and Dr. Nini Bautista from the Carolinas Asian American Chamber of Commerce. All four of these leaders have been working in the community for years and years to create opportunities for the Latin, Asian and refugees of Charlotte.
What do you do to have fun or relax?
I love being outdoors, gardening, cooking and spending time with my family. I also love checking out new restaurants and attending the many awesome festivals we have in Charlotte!
Politically, are there any particular causes that are important to you?
I’ve started a Charlotte LGBTQ Asians Facebook Group in hope to find more LGBTQ Asians within our community. It’s been a very, very slow process. Thus far, I’ve only met about 8 LGBTQ Asians within our community since 1998! … The Asian community is slow to adopt non-traditional norms. On the flip side, those [I’ve spoken to] about being LGBTQ, they’ve been very welcoming and supportive. I’ve even had parents speak to me about their children being LGBTQ. So we’ll see! I’m hoping to see a change in the next couple of years where I’m not one of the only few LGBTQ Asians who attend LGBTQ functions.