Natasha Pongonis is the Co-Owner of Nativa, a multicultural communications agency with offices in Columbus Ohio and Phoenix, Arizona; and is the CEO of OYE! Business Intelligence, a technology startup that provides data analytics on the Hispanic demographic. Natasha is a business communications expert with extensive marketing experience. She has developed key digital strategies for many organizations and Governmental agencies engaging the diverse Hispanic audiences through her understanding of communication between cultures, traditions, and regional variations of Spanish. She is a native from Argentina who has worked with companies in Europe, North and South America developing a strong sense of understanding the client’s needs and creating culturally relevant online presences. Natasha served in the Board of Directors at the Girl Scouts of Ohio, at the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (Prospanica), the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus and in the Advisory Team for Mayor Coleman’s Small Business Conference. Natasha is a former mentor at the Latina Mentoring Academy of Columbus, OH and currently serves as Chair for the Marketing Committee at Women for Economic Leadership & Development (WELD).
In 2016 Natasha was accepted into the prestigious Stanford Latino Entrepreneur Leaders Program to focus on strategic scalability and economic growth and was also named on of twelve women “Women Welding the Way 2016” by WELD receiving a recognition from the Congress. Last March 2015, Natasha received an Honorable Mention at the Enterprising Women of the Year Award, Orlando, Florida. In 2014 Natasha was the recipient of Entrepreneur of the Year by Latina Style Magazine and was invited by the U.S. State Department Civic Society 2.0, Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas Initiative to join the TechCamp Global program in Cali, Colombia representing American female entrepreneur. Natasha started her Architectural studies while living in Belgium, and continued her degree at the Catholic University of Cordoba, Argentina. She concluded her thesis studies in Urban Planning at the University of Venice, Italy where she found her passion for multilingual marketing communication solutions while working for a European firm. Being fluent in Spanish, English, French and Italian has always enabled her to reach out and connect with a diverse digital audience across the globe.
“Understanding how the Hispanic demographic evolves and how these dynamic changes affect digital conversations and the use of the many different platforms are key factors to ensure our success and that of our clients.” Pongonis said in an interview for the Columbus CEO magazine. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and two children and she’s a proud holder of the “hockey mom” title.
La Cocina VA is a workforce and small business development social enterprise that provides vocational job training for the food service and hospitality industries, English language training and job placement for the unemployed, serving at the same time private companies with access to a qualified workforce. Through La Cocina VA Paty has been able to help many immigrants and low-income Virginian’s get the necessary skills to pull themselves out of poverty. The future expansion of La Cocina VA through a Social Food Incubator will support entrepreneurs to start food-related small businesses by providing infrastructure for local food production, as well as business development training.
I started the organization because the sum of all parts didn’t exist under one roof at that particular time. I wanted to solve the challenges that our community faces to achieve success, to find employment and to create financial independence. I wanted to transform their current realities into stories of success, into new ventures that inspire, equip and mobilize our people to drive positive change. To date we have helped women survivors of domestic abuse, human trafficking, chronic unemployment and poverty to start new careers in the food service industry, to obtain sustainable incomes and to create a future as entrepreneurs. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of knowing that you’re responsible for the success of others. That our ideas provided them the opportunity to earn a living, provide for their families and fulfill their own dreams. I was driven to build a business with an impact that supersedes my own personal ability to contribute. My goal now is to keep encouraging and supporting our community to pursue entrepreneurship as a way to create their own destiny. I have learned that “to compete at any level, you must compete at every level”, you have to be prepared to face the challenges as a women entrepreneur and to be aware of what you need to meet your goals. Successful women professionals are seen as exceptions. There is no society anywhere in the world that has not changed except by its most exceptional. Believe it.
Paty began her career in business development in Peru where she grew up. She earned her degree in Business Administration with a focus on Marketing at Universidad Ciencias Aplicadas in Lima, Peru. She began working in international development at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC in 2010. It was there she found her true calling as a catalyst for social change. Paty’s commitment to helping those in need is unparalleled. Her vision and leadership in creating La Cocina VA exemplify that she cares deeply about her community and has proven that she will work tirelessly to help those in need.
Paula Celestino is the Co-founder and Chief of Business Development at Crea7ive. At Crea7ive, Paula works with clients to provide consulting on branding and creative vision. She has worked directly with many of the agency’s high-profile clients including Wendy’s and Pizza Hut, Armani Casa and coaches team members to successfully plan and execute creative development. Paula is the founder of Kloset Karma, a fashion exchange app, winner of the 2014 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge and 2014 TECH Cocktail's Hottest Startup in Miami. Her startup journey inspired her to create the women in tech panel series called "A Conversation with Innovative Women" with the purpose to empower women to become entrepreneurs and to create an environment to foster mentorship and collaboration. She's also a Startup Weekend organizer, facilitator and community leader for Techstars in Miami. Paula holds a Bachelor’s Degree in PR Communications and Marketing from Florida International University.
2015 Small Business Winner
DYAN MEDINA GIBBENS
Energy & Environment
Trumbull is a veteran, woman, minority owned small business. Each teammate is a veteran, pilot, engineer, and UAV operator. We transfer our strong aviation safety culture from AF pilots and Naval aviators. At the Air Force Academy, I learned to fly, then I served as an engineer and program manager in the USAF and supported Global Hawk and Air Force One in the private sector.
“For advice to young women, I would assert if you are working for the right reasons smart, hard work pays off. For takeaways:
- Anything worth doing is challenging
- Don’t let anyone hold you back, including yourself
- And it’s okay to be the only woman in the room
In closing, I wanted to share how my family emphasized the importance of education and its impact on me. Both grandfathers served in World War II and supported their families with only 3rd and 9th grade educations. Both grandfathers worked incredibly hard; my mother’s father served as a meat-packer for decades. My entrepreneurial father’s father started a restaurant--Medina’s Mexican Restaurant and salon he called the Beauty Shop.
Previous generations set the example of hard work and perseverance. At the Air Force Academy, I learned I could do anything for one day, and extrapolated that mentality to everyday. My experience at the USAF Academy, serving in the military, earning an MBA, and PhD coursework complemented my decade of aerospace work experience providing the unique skillset to serve our clients.
2015 Social Business Winner
@DoTheSwift | @TriciaTita
Swift's mission is to develop a system that introduces 2 billion unbanked individuals into the formal banking sector. Currently, nearly one third of our global population has no access to formal banking, savings, credit, or insurance products, which research shows is a big contributor to social mobility and escaping poverty. People in emerging markets often keep the little cash they have at home, literally under the mattress. Swift is a for-profit impact company providing financial support to the unbanked in emerging markets through a mobile banking solution. As a financial management tool, Swift enables users to save for their monthly expenses while tracking their daily spending habits.
“Growing up the youngest in an immigrant family full of determined women, I experienced and observed real world problems from a different lens. As an American, I was privileged to have access to my basic necessities- education, quality healthcare, and economic opportunity, but as a Mexican I was exposed to the disparities and hardships many immigrants, especially women, face every day— prejudice, gender violence, and financial insecurity.
From a young age, I knew it was my responsibility to solve these problems because if I didn't who else would. Swift truly encompasses everything I am passionate about in life and my experiences as an entrepreneur have led me here today. This last year has been the most rewarding experience of my life and I continue to be convinced that women are the solution.”
“The most important advice I can give to any woman entrepreneur, especially a Latina entrepreneur, is to persevere and ALWAYS have your game face on. We have to work 10 times harder than male entrepreneurs from fundraising, to partnerships, to team building, anything. Often times people don't give us the credit we deserve until we finally make it happen. I have learned to rise above the doubt because it gives me more strength to push harder and make this a success.”
2015 Technology Winner
ANA JULIA BERMUDEZ
San Diego, CA
Science & Technology
TAGit is owned by Get TAGit Inc., which was founded by Ana Bermudez. Ana is a business leader with over 9 years of experience, including executive management. Her entrepreneurial, tenacious spirit with the ability to lead companies from start-up to profitability have helped her co-found and lead AWM Global Advisors – a registered independent wealth management advisory firm in San Diego, CA. Ana is a creative innovator and an award-winning, dynamic public speaker with exceptional communication and problem-solving skills. She uses her strengths to lead TAGit as CEO, and on her spare time she serves as President of the San Diego High School Foundation – a 501(c)(3) whose mission is to raise funding for scholarships for students in financial need. Additionally, Ana Bermudez is a member of the University of Notre Dame Council – Institute for Latino Studies.
TAGit is a free iOS mobile application (""app"") that allows TV viewers to buy items from their favorite TV shows. With a complete integration to social media, TAGit allows TV viewers to instantly purchase the items they desire, and share their items with their social media friends.
“My entrepreneurship experience is a product of my life experiences. As I reflect on my past, I realize now that it was the adversity that my family and I overcame that helped me overcome some of the challenges I face as an entrepreneur. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Finance, I quickly became partner on the wealth management team I joined as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch. As a financial advisor, I was able to afford helping my mom and her kids move out of the impoverished Barrio Logan community of San Diego, and into the suburban Del Cerro neighborhood of San Diego where I bought my first home at the age of 24. This was very important to me because I wanted to ensure that my mother’s youngest children didn’t experience the violent and gang infested environment that exists in Logan Heights where I grew up.”
“Tenacity and perseverance are two key traits every entrepreneur should possess. My entrepreneurial journey has certainly included positive and challenging moments.”
“The advice that I often share with female entrepreneurs is to not allow their circumstances, trials, and tribulations define them. Women are just as intelligent, strong, and capable of accomplishing their entrepreneurial goals.”