Building the American Dream: How Minority Entrepreneurs Are Beating the Odds at #Latism15

Moderated by Ximena Hartsock, the four panelists at LATISM15 shared insight about their journey to successful businesses as a minority entrepreneurs in the United States today.


What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned?

Aaron Suanders, Clearly Innovative – “Learning to believe in myself.” Saunders shared that he only regretted that he had waited as long as he did. He encouraged young people who are excited about coding to find their own place where they can be excited and not shamed about what they do.

Tanya Menendez, Maker’s Row shared that she landed a job with Goldman Sachs even though she had a sociology degree. So, the idea of her starting a tech business with no tech degree was not a challenge for her. She knew that she had a lot of hustle.

Thomas Sanchez, Social Driver, went from not knowing what to bring to the college dorms to being invited to be the Spring Commencement Speaker at his alma mater.

“If you live like now one else today, you can live like no one else tomorrow.”

He started Social Driver with no outside debt and is now one of the fastest-growing digital agencies in U.S. And he is prould of their philosophy: THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT.

Vikrum Aiyer, White House shared a story that many minorities can relate to when they pursue a career outside of ‘traditional’ successful careers. Instead of his mom saying ‘Oh congratulation!’ on his latest achievement, she replies with ‘Wouldn’t life be better if you were a lawyer?’

The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that x never leads to y which never leads to z. He also believes that any chance that has ever been gotten has been because of the power of chance and friendliness of strangers. And he encourages everyone to not be afraid to tell others who you are.

When it comes to diversity in tech: The onus is on us to make a big stink about it. @VikrumAiyer

Consider that in this modern day, technology could be a form of service. If you know how to use it, take a moment to help business owners and organizations to get up to date.

A great question from the audience was asking panelists to share how did each of them made the transition from high school to college.

Thomas Sanchez said that going to college wasn’t discussed in his home and even seemed like a burden to the family. So he encouraged students to find people in their life who have gone to college. We need to break the cycle. As college graduates, we should even find kids who don’t have

“Entrepreneurship 100% starts when you are a kid.” Thomas Sanchez, Social Driver

“There’s not business built with four walls. Every business builds on a network. Start networking when you are young.” Thomas Sanchez, Social Driver

Nancy Menendez, founder of Maker’s Row, said that it was her responsibility to pay for my her college so she had to make the most out of it. She focused on getting the most work experience as possible.

“Seek out really relevant opportunities.” Tanya Menendez, Founder of Maker’s Row

Advice from Vikrum Aiyer for students transitioning from high school to college includes:
1. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do.
2. Play to your strengths.
3. College can feel scary and like a tough leap but know that you will never actually fully feel like you are a college student and that’s okay. It’s not pressure but opportunity to be yourself.

A second audience question was: How did you overcome big challenges as an entrepreneur?

Aaron Saunders says that this still comes to simple points that were covered and still important:
You must believe in yourself.
Network, network, network. You need social capital.
Focus on your communication as you will need to ask for help.

Tanya Menendez shared a great piece of advice “I’m going to sacrifice myself now so that I can win later.” She was talking about the things she had to give up like going out so that she could focus on her business.

Overall, the panelists were very open and wiling to share insight on what it really took them and I took away that to be successful, you must stay true to yourselves and own ideas, believe in ourselves and connect with a community who will help you succeed.

Here are a few tweets from the session. Follow hashtag #LATISM and #LATISM15 to continue the conversation.