Nathalie Molina Niño, renowned investor and entrepreneur, is on a mission. She wants to arm women, especially women of color, with the tools that will accelerate their path to equity and economic prosperity.
The statement from the World Economic Forum in 2017 that at the current rate, gender parity will take place in 170 years, drove her to write LEAPFROG, The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs (Tarcher Perigee, a Penguin Random House imprint), published in August 2019. Over a year later, the information in the book is still relevant.
The current reality is that 98% of US women entrepreneurs have hit a ceiling, missing the mark of leading a scalable business that exceeds one million dollars in revenue.
This means most women founders are stuck at the micro-entrepreneur level.
Women are starting more businesses than men
“Women are starting more businesses than men and they seem to know how to do the small business thing, so writing a book to help women do something they already know well didn’t make a lot of sense. Where the data shows that women struggle is in getting past that $1M ceiling and that’s what LEAPFROG is all about helping solve,” Molina Niño said.
Molina Niño attributes her entrepreneurial drive to observing her immigrant parents get ahead in the U.S.. Her mother is Colombian and her Father, Ecuadorian. They, like many Latino parents, wanted her to prioritize college. But Molina Niño dropped out of college in her early twenties when her digital business took off.
“Education has and will always be a great leapfrog,” Molina Niño said, adding that “It’s not the only one, but it’s a great one. Which is why 15 years later I went back to school and guess what, landed in an Ivy League college and managed to make so many of the wonderful friendships and connections that power my life and my business today.”
Her book LEAPFROG, capitalizes on her experience and that of her colleagues and peers. In the book, she shares fifty “leapfrogs” or clever shortcuts to overcome the hurdles that women founders may face, such as lack of family money, capital or connections.
Before compiling them in this book, Molina Niño taught these shortcuts to aspiring entrepreneurs at Barnard College at Columbia University and to entrepreneurs the world over.
VC funding is not the best option for women founders
LEAPFROG also dispels plenty of myths surrounding entrepreneurship and scalability. While many founders seem focused on the idea of securing venture capital, in her book, Molina Niño says VC funding is a terrible fit for the vast majority of businesses.
“Most business owners don’t want to give up ownership in their business and allow a third party the right to fire them. That’s fundamentally what you’re doing when you go down the VC path,” explained Molina Niño.
“It’s right for some companies and it was designed to help foment growth and innovation in tech, but it’s definitely not right for most. Nina Vaca, a leapfrogger profiled in the book and a dear friend, has grown Pinnacle Group [a workforce solutions provider] to nearly one billion dollars in annual revenues without ever taking a penny of VC dollars.”
Molina Niño assures it is possible to grow a scalable business with other forms of capital like crowdfunding, loans and even grants, which she says are increasingly available to women-led businesses from the public and private sector.
“The great news is that women of color are already starting more businesses than anyone else in this country and the task at hand is now to help those businesses grow to be the kind of enterprises that influence things like national and global politics and yes, even have the power to create strong lobbies that influence elections.
It might be a dirty game but it’s time we “get our own chips” as Nely Galan likes to say. As it is now small businesses are responsible for half of the country’s jobs, right now we could build strong alliances and start to make noise, it’s very much about getting organized and unified,” she said.
Standing by one’s values pays off
Molina Niño´s way of conducting business is aligned with her morals and values, and in LEAPFROG, she tells the story of how she handled an invite to a summit in India which would be hosted by Ivanka Trump, although the initiative was started by the Obama administration.
If she attended the summit, she would have to shake hands with Ivanka Trump. She declined the opportunity to attend the summit and potentially leapfrog and scale globally. She doesn´t regret her decision.
“We also don’t have to align ourselves with our own community members when they are on the wrong side of history. I’m not rubbing elbows with a Latinx politician who is complicit in the unlawful detention of children at the border nor with the Latinx who organized that incredibly misguided gathering that we all remember seeing with Ivanka and various Latinx leaders.
I think being united within our own community is important, but also knowing what we stand for and making sure we’re aligned with people who will fight alongside us for our basic human rights, whether they’re part of the Latinx community or not, is critical,” Molino Niño said, and added that she firmly believes Latinx should focus on building strategic alliances with those who have our best interests in mind.
“Sometimes that means breaking away from the people in our own community who are so blinded by the drive to assimilate, that they forget who they are. I’d rather look at those people with compassion and remember that what appears to most of us as “selling out” is really just a question of ignorance or sadly, low self worth,” she said.
Building bridges, not walls
Rather than attacking peers she disagrees with, Molina Niño focuses on building bridges with people who move the dial for the Latinx community in meaningful ways.
“[These are] people like Monica Ramirez, Ai-jen Poo, Tarana Burke, Saru Jayaraman, who fight every day for the rights of Latinx in rural areas, in domestic worker jobs and even in every restaurant we eat in. Our allies are all around us. It’s up to us to step up and support them in every way we can, and to build businesses that are run the way we’d like to see the world run, ethically and compassionately.”
Molina Niño is doing just that by donating all the proceeds of her book LEAPFROG to the organization VoteRunLead, which trains women to run for political office. According to Molina Niño, VoteRunLead has gotten more women, especially women of color, into elected office than any other organization in this country.
In an article in Forbes Magazine addressing this issue, Molina Niño stated: “It’s time [that as women] entrepreneurs, we faced the fact that getting women elected is the rent we pay for the privilege of making money.”
Nathalie Molina Niño is an investor focused on making a catalytic impact on women and climate. A technologist and coder by training, she’s a consummate entrepreneur, and a storyteller at heart, passionate about telling the often untold stories of women change-makers.