Nina Vaca on Inspiring Young Minds at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Entrepreneurship Summit

As the daughter of immigrants and the first person in my family to graduate from college, I was honored to speak at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s (HSF) Entrepreneurship Summit last month in San Jose, California.

The annual conference is a very special event that brings together entrepreneurs and HSF scholars – Latino students who are leaders both within their schools and their communities. Most haven’t been handed advantages in their lives, but through grit and determination they’ve excelled. Instead of letting their circumstances define them, they’ve viewed them as an opportunity to blaze their own trails.

It was a privilege to dialogue with them about the power of using an entrepreneurial mindset in college and beyond. The thing is, these students are already using it – they’re taking chances, stepping outside their comfort zones, and putting in the work to get to the next step. My message? No matter what career you pursue, it’s imperative to continue using entrepreneurial skills to face challenges head on and look for solutions to overcome them.

No matter what happens, entrepreneurs always find a way. That’s what the entrepreneurial mindset is all about.

If you’re struggling in class, get a tutor. If you’re not accepted into an internship, double down and try again. If you’re looking to network but can’t afford to attend conferences, volunteer at them.

Dedication and the belief that failure isn’t an option will continue to pay off time and time again.

It was very meaningful to share these messages and my own story at the Entrepreneurship Summit. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund has been dear to my heart for a long time. Eighteen years ago, I started partnering with them to raise funds Hispanic students to go to college. HSF is not only empowering young Latinos, they’re cultivating the next generation of servant leaders, providing them with the tools they need to succeed and instilling in them a great sense of civic responsibility, so they continue to reach back and open doors for others.

Few things as powerful as contributing to an ecosystem of eager students looking to take on the world and leave it better than how they found it. My hope is that these young leaders left empowered by my personal and entrepreneurial story. When I was their age, I wouldn’t have believed what the next few decades had in store. In fact, it’s statistically improbable. For an Ecuadorian immigrant to build the fastest-growing woman-owned company in the U.S., to serve as one of the few Latinas on corporate boards, to be appointed by the White House as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, it’s extraordinary. But it happened.

When I started Pinnacle Group on the living room floor of my apartment, I was just a few years older than the HSF scholars. There was no big budget, no investors to rely on. But what I did have was confidence and determination.

Every entrepreneur – and every person – experiences adversity throughout their life. No amount of money will take that away. You’ve got to get through it by harnessing your entrepreneurial mindset. Failure is not an option. In those early years, instead of focusing on the negative, I doubled down on my strengths to get crazy good in my industry and once I landed a client, I made sure to deliver exceptional service.

Some days were tougher than others. Throughout it all, though, I knew that I was never alone. Family has been integral. Growing up, my parents showed me the power of resilience and taking chances. They moved to the U.S. from Ecuador in search of the American Dream through entrepreneurship. My company has been built with my family and I consider all of our associates Pinnacle family. Today, we’re opening our arms to people around the world as we continue to expand globally. It’s the proverbial last step in an entrepreneur’s journey – going from a living room, to an office, to growing the company nationally, and entering new countries around the world.

Whatever goals you have, the takeaway is the same: Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed and no matter what comes your way, find your own way to success and in the end, you’ll achieve the extraordinary.