Nadia is a down-to-earth dreamer convinced that the sustainable, prosperous, equitable and fair world we deserve is achievable by harnessing the power of impact investing and social entrepreneurship to efficiently solve social and environmental challenges we face today.
Nadia worked as a Financial Innovation Coordinator, structuring more than 15 PE and VC funds in Bogota, Colombia. She changed her career after attending to MSc in Sustainability and Social Innovation in HEC Paris and became an entrepreneur.
Currently, she is the co-founder of The SASI Co, a company dedicated to helping corporate players to become sustainability leaders and the co-founder of GoLupa, helping entrepreneurs to find investors as well as helping companies embrace corporate venturing in am impactful way. She also teaches entrepreneurship in Colegio de Estudios Superiores de Administración in Bogota, Colombia.
How did you start your company? What motivated you to start it?
After HEC Paris, I came back to Bogota, and at this point, I had started two companies. The first company I started was with fellow students from the masters, and we literally did everything that everyone told us not to do, like having over 40 shareholders!
The second company was based on the corporate experience I had before leaving Bogota for my master’s at HEC Paris. I worked in private equity and venture capital as an investment analyst, as well as structuring funds. When I went to HEC, I already had this business idea about connecting entrepreneurs and investors, so I worked on the business model throughout my studies at HEC. All the classes I took were related to that, and at the end of the year, although I had a clear business model, I was a little scared to take the next step.
I had a very stable income for over 7 years, and entrepreneurship is entirely different. On top of it, people didn’t understand me…My parents, brothers, and friends would ask me why I would not take “a regular job.” People have different opinions about what is right and successful.
Right after the masters, when I arrived in Bogota, I had a big break up and was also having some pressure from my family. I had to rethink everything about my life and myself. I was super scared, and I was not sure about anything, which made the decision of becoming an entrepreneur quite unsettling.
I remember my first consideration of becoming an entrepreneur. It was around March 2018 when I was in HEC because that was the time when everyone was applying for jobs. I questioned myself a lot and I knew that I didn’t want to go back to working for a company. At that point, I made a decision to move back and build a new life.
Currently, with my two partners at GoLupa, we connect startups with investors and structure corporate venture strategies to help them become active participants of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. At The SASI Co. we design tools that make sustainability accessible to companies and individuals; and we’re currently in the European and Latam markets, with some initial activity in India..
Did you attend any entrepreneurial training?
There are different ways I learnt about entrepreneurship. Before HEC, I worked with a lot of entrepreneurs. I was going to all the entrepreneurial events when I was structuring alternative investment funds. So, I was judging their pitches and telling them how to improve, etc. When I shifted sides, and I understood that it was easier to give advice!
At HEC, I did a course called “Business Plan Workshop.” It was the best class I took at HEC. You either come up with your idea or join someone, and you develop that business idea all semester long. It really helped me to bring everything together. My teammates were French at the school. So when I came back to Bogota, I had to adjust the business model and make it more “tropical” to fit regional challenges and culture. Most of things we learned by doing… We had a lot of co-founder sessions to set and understand our identity as a firm: “who we are” and “what do we want to stand for as a company.”
Last and not least, I am currently teaching “entrepreneurial spirit” at a business school here in Bogota, and it is a great learning experience for me as well! Every class I teach, I am questioning my companies comparing with the theory I teach. Teaching is the next level of learning. My students became a constant source of inspiration, sort of like my private consultants.
In your opinion, what does success mean?
I grew up believing in a definition of success that I would never like to live now. Working from 7 am to midnight, having drinks with the client was a success to me at the time. I was thinking I made it. It just happened, I wasn’t as genuinely happy as I thought. So I chose to redefine success in my life.
Now my definition of success is centered on “how am I feeling about what I am doing.” If I feel happy, fulfilled, and excited every day to do what I am doing then I am successful. If I know that it is also contributing to the greater good, then again I feel I am successful. Success is not about how others think or feel about what I should do.
What was your biggest struggle so far in your entrepreneurial journey?
I would say that in both companies I co-founded, I had the same struggle. In the beginning, you start being too in love with your idea. Thinking “this is it, and this is how it will work.” It is an arrogant position as an entrepreneur. Because soon, you realize that what market tells you about what they want and their willingness to pay doesn’t really always match with reality.
For example, in The SASI Co, everyone loved what we were doing, and we were pitching to companies. We would pitch to a company, different teams and even the board of the directors for a month about how they can become a leader in sustainability, and they would say it is great, and they want to do it. When the time to close came, the CFO’s approval, they would tell us that they don’t have a budget for it. It was very frustrating for us…
How to read a market is really important, and it is not about what people tell you. Reading the market is not just about listening to what people say. It is really reading what they really need based on the clues. Understanding their actions and their motivations and knowing who the real decision-maker is and what drives him or her.
One solution to this problem I have encountered is co-creating with the client. When you involve your client in the solution and hold them accountable, then you can get to the root of the problem.
Another challenge we had was also differences in the team in my first startup. It was great to have a group of 40 people from different countries sharing the same vision. Handling such different personalities and styles can also be complicated. You have to know that these differences not always fall down to culture. That is why it’s important to know yourself and have each team member know themselves and what drives each other to act. For example, we did the MBTI test at GoLupa, and we shared the result with each other. Now, we know the strengths and weaknesses of each other by using this framework. It helped us to understand each other and work better together.
In your opinion, what is the most difficult thing about being a woman entrepreneur?
I went through a process where I accepted my femininity and my style of leadership. It did take me years to get there.
When I was working in finance, which is a very masculine environment, I was exposed to a very intense leadership style. I started leading a team at a very young age, and my managers would give me advice on how to lead. He would say “You have to be firm, and you have to be rigid!”, “You can not show any emotions because if you show them, that means you are weak.”. Everything was leading towards a perception that associates being successful with having a masculine leadership style. And I was following this style when I was managing two associates.
I am a very sensitive and intuitive person. I worked on accepting and embracing myself for years. I embraced myself through therapy, Akashic healing, and mentorship. These practices made me see my personality as a strength, and I realized the importance of being emphatic.
I believe in empowering people around me. And I think that we, as women, are much better at empowering as we are nurturers. The uncomfortable part is embracing yourself and your unique leadership style. You can be nurturing, empowering, and empathic. There is a value in being caring.
What would you do differently if you know what you know now?
Nothing. If I change anything in that journey, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today, and I wouldn’t know the things I know now. I am very happy with who I am. I love the person who I became! It took me a lot of time and learning to come to this point. Trusting my essence, my abilities, and everything I lived, brought me to this point.
In your opinion, what are the habits that helped your success?
I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome. The most important thing that helped me was understanding myself and being proud of who I am.
Therapy is now a part of my life. When I realized that I was following the definition of success of other people, my journey to find myselfstarted. The first thing that allowed me to be a good entrepreneur has started with having a good relationship with myself. I have a spiritual therapist, a coach to liberate emotions and another coach for Akashic healing. It may not be obvious at first. It is super important to accept your own strengths, gifts, and doing the things you are set out to do. Trusting yourself, even in adversities…
Taking some time off and having a balance are also very important. Today, I block my agenda for two hours of lunch. It is my moment to meditate, to have a lunch and to talk to people. It is important to have that balance.
Which woman inspires you? Why?
I admire all the women who show that you don’t need to sacrifice family and relations for their career and do it both at the same time. I believe that you can still be a great wife, nurturing mother, and a successful professional.
Can you recommend a resource, book/podcast/movie, for our readers?
I recently watched “Self Made” on Netflix, and I literally got goosebumps watching it! No one had done what Madam C. J. Walker did before her. What she did at her time as a black woman in America is really impressive. It really shows you that anything is possible.
If you would send a message to all the women on earth who are trying to build their companies, what would it be?
Be loyal to yourself, who you are as a person and who you are as a woman. We all have different definitions of success; so be loyal to yours.