Nina Vaca, chairman emeritus of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, provided some insight into challenges faced by Latina entrepreneurs and what USHCC is doing to help them, as well as a look back into her own entrepreneurial beginnings.
Women’s Enterprise: What challenges do Latina entrepreneurs face as they try to grow their businesses?
Nina Vaca: The No. 1 challenge for entrepreneurs — both women and men — is access to capital. For Hispanics in particular, the obstacles are even greater because many of our entrepreneurs lack the networks that some of our counterparts enjoy. Those obstacles are why Hispanic entrepreneurs rely heavily on programs like SBA-backed loans, which facilitate capital for small businesses, and the USHCC, which provides greater access to strategic networks for our community’s business men and women.
WE: What is USHCC doing to help overcome those challenges?
NV: Last year, USHCC launched At the Table, an initiative that focuses on women entrepreneurs and, more importantly, equips them with the valuable resources and skills they need to attain higher levels of success and influence. At the Table provides Latina entrepreneurs with the unique opportunity to engage our network of female executives and national leaders and seek them out as mentors. We’re currently planning special programs that will be incorporated at our national convention in September.
We know that networking remains the chief component to young business development. We know that young entrepreneurs and professionals benefit most from establishing key relationships early on in their careers. With that in mind, the foundation’s site — http://www.ushccfoundation.org — features several stories and blueprints of inspirational Latinas who have navigated the small business system successfully. We also invite visitors to sign up, so they can be engaged in what the foundation and its partners are doing for small business. Perhaps most important is showing young entrepreneurs that in order to move forward, Latinas need to have access to and vie for meaningful contracts. This competing for contracts is a collective effort, one that requires the participation of established entrepreneurs and those up-and-coming as well.
The broader goal is, of course, to prepare more Latinas for positions of influence, like C-suite positions and corporate board service. An intended consequence of this effort is to
identify Latina talent and help ensure that it has every opportunity to earn a seat at the table.
WE: What advice do you offer to Latina entrepreneurs aspiring to entrepreneurship?
NV: Know your industry inside and out — know the trends, know your competition and, most importantly, know how your product or service is procured. You also want to build your own network of key influencers — those people you can ask to advocate on your behalf. But, be careful not to ask too much or to ask and then not deliver. Maintaining a stellar reputation is paramount, both with clients and business colleagues.
WE: What did your company, Pinnacle Technical Resources, look like in the beginning?
NV: It started in my living room with $300 and a phone. That was 1996 when the technology boom was underway. In those days, you were doing a little bit of everything — you were the
CEO, top sales person, accountant and HR department, all rolled into one.
Back then, we’d submit 50 requests for proposal, and we’d get two. But, those two were monumental to us, and we treated those with the same service and delivery that we do with our clients today. We’ve always been a scrappy company, and what I appreciate most is that we’re still that way — even with 4,000 consultants worldwide and recognition as one of the fastest growing IT firms in the country.
When I meet budding women entrepreneurs, I think it’s important to let them know that their idea doesn’t need to have brick and mortar around it to be viable. A living room and $300 is a good start.