Latina trailblazer Nina Vaca resurrected her failing tech company and turned it into a major industry player.
It may not be the sexiest idea ever, as Nina Vaca is the first to admit, but the business of outsourcing tech staff has been incredibly lucrative.
As the child of immigrant parents who both started their own businesses in America, entrepreneurship runs deep through Vaca’s veins. She got her business chops – and passion for technology – while working at her father’s travel agency as a teenager.
But at 17, tragedy struck, and Vaca and her sister took over the business after her father was murdered in a burglary.
I knew entrepreneurship would be difficult, it would be like a mountain. But my father and mother always taught me to dream big.
“That year was probably the most pivotal in my life. I learned that it’s in your darkest moments where you find your most inner strength,” Vaca tells The Story Exchange.
Vaca ran the business for a year, before it was sold. She then attended university, becoming the first in her family to graduate.
By 25, Vaca had started Pinnacle Technical Resources from her living room floor with $300 in the bank.
Today, Pinnacle is part of the estimated $56 billion that Latina-owned business contribute to America’s economy each year. In fact, Hispanic-owned businesses are the fastest growing segment of American enterprise, with Latina entrepreneurs leading the way by starting companies at six times the national average.
“I knew entrepreneurship would be difficult, it would be like a mountain. But my father and mother always taught me to dream big,” Vaca tells The Story Exchange.
Vaca says she’s had many ‘lean in’ moments over the years but reinventing her business after the September 11th terrorist attacks brought her company to a standstill, is probably one of the biggest.
With a liquidation plan in place, business consultants had told Vaca it was time to “wrap it up” because corporations had stopped hiring contract labor, the very thing her business was focused on.
“It was a very difficult time in my life where my business was collapsing,” Vaca said. She also had two babies at home under 18 months, having delivered her second child just two days after the terrorist attacks.
But as someone who sees the glass as half full, Vaca dug deep and told herself that ‘failure is just not an option.’
She met with customers to find out what they were interested in buying if they were no longer interested in hiring contract workers. Turns out, in a fragile economy, they were interested in project-based work, looking for complete technology solutions rather than individual workers.
“We had to be innovative, we had to be creative, we had to listen to our customers and that’s what we did,” she says. Vaca recruited a number of new employees, including her siblings and her husband, and rescued her business by essentially reinventing it.
And the rest, as Vaca puts it, is history. A little more than a decade after almost closing Pinnacle, the company has grown to 4,000 employees across Canada and the U.S. This past year, Pinnacle diversified into the software industry by acquiring a Silicon Valley-based technology company.
A role model for Latinas
On a personal level, Vaca hopes that her story will help young women, especially young Latinas, see that they can come from nothing, overcome obstacles and thrive.
Her hope is that role models like herself can help reduce the alarmingly high rate of Latinas attempting suicide.
According to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13.5 percent of Hispanic female students in grades 9-12 admitted to attempting suicide, which is significantly higher than their black (8.8 per cent) and non-Hispanic (7.9 percent) peers.
“It is important for them to hear even at their young age, what their potential is and what they are capable of,” she says. “I happen to be Hispanic and I happen to be a woman. Therefore it gives me a great opportunity to go out in the community, share my story and inspire others.”