Meet Your Driver: Ameena Velazquez

Ameena Velazquez - Oct 4, 2023
Illustration by María Jesús Contreras

My name’s Ameena, and I run a construction company, MKE Drywall Finishers. The guys call me Patrona, which means boss in Spanish. I have it on the license plate of my black Chevy Silverado. So everywhere I go, people know what’s up. 

I was a full-blown accountant before. Mind you — that’s not what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to become a detective. But then I had kids, which messed up my plan. So I took the safer route and did accounting for a long time. But I can’t sit inside four walls all day and take direction from somebody. I’m Aries to the core. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. 

My first business was medical transportation. There was a new healthcare program in Wisconsin, and I saw an opportunity: All you needed was a car and insurance and certifications, like CPR. So I left my job. I had 30 vans and 40 employees at the peak. 

Things got messy in my divorce, and I had to give up half the company. But I thought, if I could build one, I can build two. 

After I got divorced, I started driving. And I tell you, if it wasn’t for Lyft, I wouldn’t have made it through. I created a Facebook group so I could help people who are just starting to drive. I answered questions. I built a community. Particularly women. I’m die-hard on empowering women. If you can empower one person, that’s enough. Because that person will go and empower another person. 

People always ask, “What is your hobby?” My hobby is empowering people. Swear to god, that’s my hobby. It’s not sewing or making things. It’s building an environment that’s positive and powerful.

So then I created a construction company. Well, I had this idea to start one, and my best friend was a taper. He asked me to marry him. And I told him if he quit his job and came to work for me, I’d marry him. We’re married now. He still works for me. 

At first, it was only taping. But then I’m on these job sites, and I see them doing the drywall, and I think, hey, I got guys who can do that. Then I’m watching them do the framing for interior walls. Man, we can do that too. Then insulation. Lo and behold, it’s a full-grown construction company. 

When I started in construction, I didn’t even know how to read a plan! But I learned through trial and error. I still have doubts. I still get scared. It is hard being a female in construction because there are so few of us. You’re out there, and they’re not looking at you like the owner half the time. It’s very sexist. But I’m not a quitter. Put my guys on a project, and I’ll show you what we can do. 

I try to empower the guys that work for me too. They shouldn’t be in labor their whole life. So I work with them. I help them with their taxes and teach them about insurance. 

It’s hard to have a business. You gotta make money to cover yourself when it gets tight. If I’m running short one month, I’ll drive with Lyft to cover my employees’ pay. It all works out in the end.  

But I tell everybody: Don’t be afraid of failure. Because you’re gonna fail. You might fail 10 times before you get to that one. True success is believing in yourself. If you believe you can do it, then you do it. That’s a fact.

That’s what I tell people who try to start a business. That and to run it with compassion. You’ve got to be aggressive, but you’ve got to care about the people that work for you, because if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t have a business.