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Latine Female Founders Discuss Breaking Barriers, Scaling a Business and More

In a panel hosted by DealmakeHers, female founders talked about their respective entrepreneurial endeavors and how to pave the way for increased visibility in the fashion, beauty and food industries. 

To close out Hispanic Heritage Month, DealmakeHers, an invite-only community of influential female executives, hosted a “Celebrating Latina Disruptors” forum moderated by MSNBC’s Daniela Pierre-Bravo and Forbes’ Maggie McGrath on Friday.

At the forum, six Latina founders, including Ceremonia founder Babba Rivera; Birdies cofounder Bianca Gates; Latin American Fashion Summit cofounder Estefania Lacayo; Curamia cofounder Dafna Mizrahi; Wondermind cofounder Daniella Pearson and Cuyana cofounder Karla Gallardo, spoke about their respective professional journeys, how they have scaled their businesses despite facing higher barriers to entry and funding and the path toward creating a business ecosystem with increased racial parity. 

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Kicking off the discussion, Pierre-Bravo spoke with McGrath with about her recently released book, “The Other,” which aims to serve as a guide for navigating the workplace as a woman of color, and was informed by Pierre-Bravo’s own experience advancing her career as a Chilean immigrant and DACA recipient who has endured microaggressions and inequity in the workplace. 

“My story is the story of a lot of young, hard-working women out there. Nobody wants to be called the ‘other,’” said Pierre-Bravo, adding that one of her most significant realizations to date has been that, in caving in to a false sense of unworthiness early on in her career and remaining silent during pivotal moments at work rather than voicing her opinion, she was doing a disservice to not only herself, but to others coming from similar backgrounds. 

“I realized it wasn’t just about me — that my ability to be in the room, and take up that space and use my voice, was about all of the generations after me,” Pierre-Bravo said.

This sentiment was echoed by the speaker panel, with many of the founders present emphasizing how significant a role the helping hands of other women have played in helping them to forge ahead in their careers. 

Before founding Birdies, Gates worked in marketing at Facebook for several years. She detailed how when she joined the company she introduced herself to the company’s then-chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and, much to Gates’ surprise, Sandberg immediately invited her over for dinner. 

“[Sandberg] had created these underground monthly dinner parties at her house, where she’d invite women in Silicon Valley to connect and have a conversation,” said Gates, adding that the effort was about more than networking — it was a space that cultivated meaningful conversations, and one fruit of that labor was a professional network that could be leveraged for future development. 

Babba Rivera
Babba Rivera Julie Stapen Photography

Rivera, too, emphasized the importance of developing supportive relationships with other female professionals, adding, “I find it interesting to have peer-mentor relationships, because those relationships are a two-way street. I might find it uncomfortable to be someone’s mentor, but I love being someone’s advocate and friend.” 

“Invest in the people next to you. Those are the future leaders,” echoed Lacayo, who also touched on the importance of not only being willing to take leaps of faith in one’s career, but working diligently to ensure they pay off once one does. 

That is exactly what Lacayo did when, after a college professor of hers told her it was unlikely she would be able to garner a work permit as a Nicaraguan immigrant, she cold-called Vogue Magazine to apply for an internship. 

Roughly 10 days after said phone call, Lacayo was on a bus from Boston to New York to embark on her new gig with the publication. Now a cofounder of the Latin American Fashion Summit, the executive aims to increase opportunities for Latine designers and brands, while elevating the talent in the community. 

When Pearson was a junior in college, she launched her newsletter, The Newsette. As the sole staff member at the time, she would work on the newsletter each morning before her 10 a.m. classes, and by the time she graduated, had accrued over 100,000 subscribers. 

Earlier this year, she cofounded mental fitness platform, Wondermind, alongside Selena Gomez and Mandy Teefey. Wondermind sends newsletters to subscribers featuring mental health and wellness resources, articles and more. 

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“We had a pre-launch valuation of $100 million,” said Pearson, who is now one of the richest self-made women in the U.S., according to Forbes. 

Rivera, whose father was a hairdresser in Chilé, and who, like many people of color who grew up in predominantly white areas, was not always comfortable in her identity, described how she now harnesses her business as a means to share that identity with the world. 

“I spent my entire childhood running away from my culture, and now I’m dedicating my adulthood to honoring it, owning it and sharing it with the world, and Ceremonia is my platform,” she said.

Gallardo, who cofounded accessories brand Cuyana, said that one key to her success has been focusing on building bestselling products, one product at a time. 

“We’ve always thought of profitability as our North Star,” Gallardo said. “We produce goods that sell through at a 90 percent rate, so we don’t have this big investment in inventory that we later have to liquidate and lose money on.”

Dafna Mizrahi
Dafna Mizrahi Julie Stapen Photography

Dafna Mizrahi, who cofounded tequila brand Curamia, described how she leveraged her culinary background and heritage to found her company, which she said contrasts from the prevailing cultural weather of celebrity-backed tequila brands.

“I am from Jalisco, Mexico, originally. We’re the kings of tequila — that’s where tequila was born,” Mizrahi said. “We’re female-funded and female-founded in a male-dominated industry, where [many recent tequila brands] have come from Hollywood; that’s been a challenge, but it’s also been exciting and we’re continuing to grow.”

The founders also touched on how crucial it is to partner with the right investors — a task Latine, Black and female founders are more likely to have a difficult time with than other entrepreneurs. 

“Angel investors played a super important role in [Ceremonia’s] ecosystem,” said Rivera, adding that angel investors can be especially beneficial for companies that are in their relative infancy, when larger venture capital funds are harder to come by.

The event was sponsored by Bank of America, Palladium Equity and Morgan Stanley.