Whether it’s a partner, spouse, family, friend, mentor or mom, having a support system is key to any entrepreneur’s success. For Nina Vaca, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group, she attributes much of her success to the role models in her personal life, business and education, who have fueled her growth and lifted her up along the way.
Nina started Pinnacle Group on the floor of her apartment. Today, it’s a billion-dollar-plus workforce solutions provider. Her growth is a big deal for any women business owner where less than 2 percent of women-owned businesses in the U.S. surpass $1 million in annual revenue.
I had a chance to talk with Nina before Startup Week about growing up as a daughter of immigrants, her inspirational role models, championing STEM education, overcoming challenges as a minority entrepreneur, supporting women in business, and finding the courage to tackle challenges and strive for success.
Being a daughter of immigrants, what are some key things you’re doing to impact the next generation of minority women entrepreneurs?
As an immigrant, a Hispanic, and woman, I’ve had the opportunity to break so many glass ceilings, and for more than 17 years, I’ve leveraged that success to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. Being a role model is important to me because I truly believe that you cannot be what you cannot see. My own role models showed me how much I could achieve by blazing my own trails. I hope to do the same by sharing my story with young leaders.
Besides being a role model, I’m also committed to helping the next generation prepare themselves for valuable careers. That’s why Pinnacle Group has partnered with the Dallas Independent School District and the Dallas County Community College District for the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program, which enables high school students to get both a high school degree and an Associate Degree in STEM fields at the same time. Ninety-seven percent of the students in the Early College High School are minorities and the vast majority will be the first in their families to attend college. This program will have one of the greatest impacts on our city’s workforce. It will change the face of Dallas forever, so it’s something that I’m extremely proud of.
What needs to be done to support more girls entering and staying in STEM?
It’s imperative that we create awareness of the opportunities that a STEM career offers. A lot of young girls today don’t understand STEM or don’t think it’s for them. So, the first step is creating awareness of what it is and why it’s an important vehicle for their future.
The second step is one I’ve mentioned before – we need more role models because you can’t be what you can’t see. We need to see more profiles in the media of women who are scientists, technologists, and engineers, so girls and young women see that it’s attainable and rewarding to be a woman in STEM.
The third step is programming. I’m a true believer in services that reach the ground because that’s where the rubber hits the road. Once women have access to STEM education, they need resources to support them and open the door to high-demand careers.
How did your focus on education impact your success?
Education has always been, and will continue to be, the equalizer in America. My focus on lifelong education, well beyond my bachelor’s degree, has been key to my success. Growing up, I watched my parents constantly work to better themselves as business owners and community leaders. Their example has always shown me the importance of education.
Does the hustle ever really end for entrepreneurs?
No, never! As an entrepreneur, the hustle continues because the goalpost keeps moving. Every time you achieve something, you set your sights higher or in a new direction. It takes perseverance and dedication. One of my biggest assets is my work ethic – it’s very hard to outwork me. It’s about grit, something I was taught as early as 10 years old when I started working in my father’s travel agency. I had a front row seat to watch my parents achieve their American dream through entrepreneurship. Regardless of the struggles they faced, they chose to be resilient and persevere.
Entrepreneurship means going through peaks and valleys. Do you have any special passages, phrases or sayings that keep you going?
There are several sayings that keep me going no matter what hurdles I face! One of my favorites is, “Leadership takes courage. It isn’t always easy. Lead anyway.” Another phrase that I always share is, “Failure is never an option.”
How have family and mentors helped you reach your achievements, and why is it important to have this support system when building a business?
I come from a family of five siblings, where we learned the value of family, faith, hard work, and entrepreneurialism at a young age. I hold everything my parents gave me with gratitude and absolute respect and I cherish the lessons that we continue to pass down through future generations.
I also learned that it’s important in life to not just have mentors, but to have sponsors. Sponsors are those people who are willing to cash in their personal, social, and political capital to open the door for you or to help you move up. They’re people you know believe in you, whom you’ve built credibility with. Sponsors and family have been the cornerstones of my success.
How do you balance family life and work?
In my case, the birth of each of my children made me feel blessed, not only because I always wanted a large family, but it also helped strengthen my determination to create and run a successful business. I learned to be brave. I set out to conquer the world for my children and family, with a solid foundation and unwavering values of integrity, love and respect. Each adventure that I live as a mother gives me the strength to draw from when times get tough. I always have a reason to go the extra distance to fight for my family and my company.
Any parting advice?
One of my biggest pieces of advice is surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed.
With that in mind, I launched NinaVaca.com last year to serve as a source for inspiration and information. Beyond sharing my own story, I’ve also shared some of the organizations that have been invaluable resources for me. They’re wonderful ecosystems that can help women and entrepreneurs receive the support, guidance, and relationships that they need to excel.
Read more inspiring interviews on TechCo
This article is part of a Techstars Startup Week content series brought to you by CHASE for BUSINESS. Techstars Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe. CHASE for BUSINESS is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services. Find business news, stories, insights and expert tips all in one place at Chase.com/forbusiness. Read the rest of our Startup Week series on TechCo.
Photo: Nina Vaca