Meet 5 Incredible Latina Entrepreneurs Leaving Their Mark On The Startup Ecosystem
The story of Latina entrepreneurs is not just one of diversity but growing opportunity and promise. By joining forces and connecting across the ecosystem, we can bring attention to every founder's story, especially those who don't conform to the standard "startup" mold. Of this group, Latina founders are often overlooked, receiving 0.04% of venture funding while comprising 9% of the U.S. population. Diverse perspectives breed strong businesses and better returns, a topic that is well documented by Harvard, McKinsey, and Kauffman. It's time to celebrate Latina founders and their success as they leave their mark on the entrepreneurial ecosystem we're all building together.
Meet 5 incredible Latina entrepreneurs leaving their mark on the startup ecosystem:
1. Sofia Hernandez Founder of Josefa Cajeta
When you think of Mexican food, what comes to mind? You might think of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, or a lovely homemade tortilla. These are all some delicious Mexican foods. But have you ever heard of cajeta? Cajeta sauce is a slow-cooked Mexican caramel sauce made with goat's milk.
Sofia Hernandez is the founder of Josefa Cajeta. Bringing a piece of Mexico to the U.S., this delicious 90-year-old recipe stands on its own. Despite only launching in 2021, Josefa has had tremendous success. What started as a project with four other women during her MBA program at UCLA became a lifelong mission for Sofia, who runs distribution in Los Angeles. She is the first woman in her family to bring this recipe from Mexico to the U.S.
Sofia said, "My family has been making cajeta (goat's milk caramel) for four generations. My great-grandparents started making it in 1927, and 90 years later, I have decided to continue with my family's heritage. Josefa was born out of the desire to celebrate my heritage and share cajeta, Mexico's most cherished treat, with those around me. Working on this product that I hold so close to my heart has been the most thrilling part. The excitement I receive from customers and buyers when I tell them about Josefa, my family, and cajeta encourages me to keep on going and overcome challenges."
2. Vanessa Torrivilla Ariel, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of Goldbelly
Recession. Pandemic. Shelter-in-place. What do these things have in common? Unresolved feelings of distress and anxiety, not to mention craving some of the things that make all of us feel good — like takeout, hitting the bar, and shopping. Goldbelly has been around since 2013, helping food lovers procure authentic artisan foods. Vanessa Torrivilla Ariel is the co-founder, Chief Product Officer, and one of the founding members. Goldbelly is an online platform to discover, buy and sell the best handmade food from the country's top food makers and artisans.
The site has seen accelerated growth since shelter-in-place rules took effect. It's one of the few success stories in the food world during the pandemic. The service currently works with some 500 vendors. You can find meal Kits by celebrity chefs such as José Andres on the website.
Vanessa said, "Growing up in Venezuela, I was taught that to be successful in a career, I needed to be either a doctor or an engineer. I chose engineering. After college, I fell in love with art and design and realized that it was a feasible career. Had I known that earlier, my eyes would have been opened to design at a younger age. However, I am happy my path has led me to both."
3. Lisa Feria, Managing Partner and CEO of Stray Dog Capital
At Stray Dog Capital, they believe in the future of alternative meats. As a woman-founded and led venture capital firm investing in the future of animal-free meat, they are inspired by companies that are improving the health and sustainability of our food supply. Lisa Feria is the managing partner and CEO of Stray Dog Capital. Lisa has an MBA from the University of Chicago, where she was voted "one of the 25 most influential MBA students," and a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
She is a seasoned business manager with over 15 years of experience running organizations and businesses. She has worked with blue chip companies such as Procter & Gamble and General Mills and on businesses ranging from $350 MM to $2.5 BN. Lisa has led investments into some of the food tech world's most notable pioneers, from Beyond Meat to Miyoko's Creamery.
Lisa said, "The investment and venture capital community is grossly underrepresented by women, by people of color. For me, as a Latino woman, I was in an event a few years back, and they said that there were only five Latinas leading funds over US$50 million at that point. I was one of five in the whole of the United States. That's not something I am proud of. That's something that makes me sad. I can't even imagine what the numbers are for African American women. While I see an increased level of focus and scrutiny, I'm still waiting to see the results. It's great if everybody's saying it's a terrible problem. But you have to fund us when we are fundraising. You have to help us find great deals. That's how you help, not to say it's a problem, someone has to fix it, and then stand back."
4. Yola Jimenez Founder of YOLA Mezcal
Handcrafted and organic, YOLA Mezcal follows a distinctive recipe from 1971 passed down by Yola Jimenz's grandfather.
They preserve the 400-year-old tradition of artisanal mezcal making and distilling on the premises of their namesake farm. Yola grew up visiting her grandfather's farm in Oaxaca, Mexico. What's unique about YOLA is that it's founded and run by women. YOLA Mezcal's all-female hand-bottling facility offers direct pay, and they are proud to promote autonomy and economic independence for their partners in Oaxaca and across borders. They faced a lot of sexism at the beginning of their 14th year in business. So they instead focused on reaching out to women in investors.
"The economic power and shift that can happen in a community by employing women and paying them fairly can really change the world. It's changed developing nations," says Yola, whose concern now is growing the business fairly and creating a sustainable, zero-waste mezcalería in Oaxaca, where her international community can visit and exchange experiences and ideas with the local community she employs. We want a bigger space so we can hire more women."
5. Daniella Senior Founder & CEO of Colada Shop
Reach for a cup of delicious Cuban coffee. Stay for a snack. The Colada Shop is committed to providing its patrons with quality products, excellent service, and unparalleled hospitality. Daniella Senior is the Founder and CEO of the Colada Shop.
Her love for food and hospitality began at the early age of 13 when she founded a successful catering business from her home in the Dominican Republic. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a Certified Sommelier, she has cooked in some of the most incredible kitchens in the nation, including Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin. She has also led superb restaurant management processes in venues such as Jose Andres' Zaytinya and served as regional director for Richard Sandoval Restaurants.
Daniella has been deeply invested in the professional growth of her team, women, and minorities. She serves on the boards of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and RAMW and is a James Beard Women Leadership Program Fellow and mentor.
The Colada Shop has since expanded to retail and has multiple stores in the DMV area, serving as a gathering space for good food, coffee, cocktails, and conversation. Daniella said, "If banks were more flexible and access to more funding were flexible, then ultimately the people creating the businesses would keep more of it." Although she's very thankful to all her investors, she also said, "The system is broken, is what I'm trying to say. The system needs to be more friendly toward women, more friendly toward people of color."
These entrepreneurs show that diverse perspectives can lead to better businesses. So as we look at the Latina community of founders, we must do our part to highlight each mission-driven women founder and tell her story of innovation. More than just being a woman or Latina, they are entrepreneurs building companies that will change our world.
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