Dominican Born, Fashion Design Entrepreneur, Cenia Paredes

Cenia Paredes on building her successful business and what it takes.

 

It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m headed right around the corner from my showroom to the FITDE space at 520 8thAve in the heart of  NYC’s garment center to interview fashion designer, Cenia Paredes.

So first of all if you don’t know what FITDE is, it’s the showroom space for the Fashion Institute of Technology Design Entrepreneurs Collaborative. This is a program that helps emerging designers grow their businesses.

The Collaborative offers the space at a less than market lease price and is open to graduates of the Design Entrepreneurs program of FIT.

The space is configured so that brands can showcase their merchandise and meet with buyers in a jointly shared open showroom space shared by 9 small businesses, each having their own small private office space as well. Each business schedules their appointments for the main showroom so that they can conveniently share the space.

The lobby of the FITDE Collaborative, a program that provides emerging and small business designers affordable showroom space in the city to compete in the retail market.
The lobby of the FITDE Collaborative, a program that provides emerging and small business designers affordable showroom space in the city to compete in the retail market.

Now, if you don’t know who Cenia Paredes is, I’m going to tell you!

She is a Dominican born entrepreneur who started her dress business in 2008 while she was working at another job and in 2010 she made the leap to run Cenia New York as her main form of revenue. Currently sells to over 100 specialty stores and has previously had her brand at HSN and in Macy’s.

She has been high-lighted on many television news segments and has been touted as one of the top emerging designers to look out for.

Fashion dreams started growing up in the Dominican Republic

Cenia tells me that her fashion dreams started while she was a young girl growing up in the Dominican Republic. Her mother was the seamstress for the town and Cenia would sketch dresses for her clients and imagine what it would be like to be a designer.

When she came to NY, she enrolled at FIT, and then got a job right out of school, but at the same time, she felt that climbing the corporate ladder in NY was very competitive. She says the school pumps out thousands of fashion graduates every year, and being an immigrant and a woman of color, she didn’t really see many people who looked like her in successful high level positions. She decided she wanted to control her own future and decide just how far she could get on her own.

A void in the market for designers

Cenia also felt that there was a void in the market for designers who understood the different variations of a woman’s body. She expresses that she is an island Latina and is very curvy.

She could never find a dress that fit her right. If it fit on top, it didn’t fit on the bottom and vice versa. She felt she could fill that void because she understood the female shape even more so because of her experience watching her seamstress mother fit women of all different sizes and that’s how her brand, Cenia New York started.

High odds of success

She initially started manufacturing domestically in New York City. Eventually she entered the The Workshop opportunity program at Macy’s with 900 other companies. Being 1 of 22 who were then chosen to attend, and then 1 of 4 who received the final award which was to launch their product in Macy’s stores.

Upon winning this award, she immediately needed to have her line mass produced overseas in China. She expresses current concern with the China tariff situation now because as a small business, every hit really makes an impact on her profit. She is looking into producing in other countries like Sri Lanka and also coming back to the US.

She designs anywhere from 25 to 40 styles per delivery  and produces around 50 to 200 units of each style for her specialty stores.

As we interviewed on Friday, her newest collection for Spring/Summer 2020 was on the road in Atlanta and then going to Dallas because the dress market is very busy in August. It will follow up with its next largest market in September.

Cenia says her biggest challenge as a small business is meeting minimums to make a cutting with a factory. She has to consolidate enough orders to make a cut so she tries to give herself about 3 months to generate enough orders and then estimate her cutting per style.

She sometimes has to take a gamble and guess  what the best sellers will be and then hold excess inventory to sell in season if buyers still have open dollars to spend.

A peek at some of Cenia’s current dresses for Spring 2019. You can see feminine colors and touches of lace and print.
A peek at some of Cenia’s current dresses for Spring 2019. You can see feminine colors and touches of lace and print.

 

Since the newest collection is on the road, she shows me some of her current Spring and Fall 2019 pieces to give me a feel of what her style is.

Cenia says that her philosophy is all about embracing femininity, being colorful, loving prints, and creating styles that enhance curves.

She says that her style is classy calling it “tastefully sexy”. Her dresses are for day to evening.

They can be worn to work and then by putting a pair of heels on, they are ready for the evening.

She also has some cocktail dresses and will be adding in evening gowns going forward.

Cenia believes in getting her product to trade shows to sell, hence why all the newest items are on the road.

This is her sole livelihood, not just a hobby. She says she doesn’t have the luxury to just be in a fashion show for the fun of it. Fashion shows cost money and she’d rather put her money into trade shows to grow her sales.

Having fun with Cenia in her FITDE showroom space. The dress I’m wearing is currently on her line and I love it! With it’s raspberry color and modern clean lines, this is absoluely my style.
Having fun with Cenia in her FITDE showroom space. The dress I’m wearing is currently on her line and I love it! With it’s raspberry color and modern clean lines, this is absoluely my style.

That being said she has had great brand exposure at many fashion shows and is getting ready to have her collection presented at the Voge Fashion Runway for this September’s fashion week. There will be lots of press, buyers, and celebrities there to help follow up with actual sales.

Always looking to expand her business, Cenia launched a very unique jean 3 years ago.

The Convi Jean was picked up by Russia’s home shopping network. It was shown during a prime time  slot and she sold every piece!

She knew she had a winner on her hands so after that success, she immediately got the jean patent pended and about a year later released it in the US market. It has been successful here as well with its zippered back darts that can accommodate women of many shapes and sizes. She was inspired to design this for herself because she literally says she had such a problem finding the right jean for her “small waist and big butt”.

This is a common problem among many women. Some women just live with this problem, some will try to tighten their jeans with a belt, and others will have them tailored at the back waist with 2 darts to provide better shaping.

The Convi Jean solves this dilemma. When the zippers are closed up, the Convi Jean fits curvy women who have trouble with this gapping issue because their hips and booty are larger than their much smaller waists. When the zippers are open, they are a similar size to market standard sizing of competitive jeans brands. The jean is offered in assorted washes, different distress levels and prints as well!

She is now busy designing a clean easy line of tops that can go back to her jeans line.

Patent pended technology, the Convi Jean is pretty miraculous with it’s “back dart” zipper feature helping to fit women of all shapes and sizes.
Patent pended technology, the Convi Jean is pretty miraculous with it’s “back dart” zipper feature helping to fit women of all shapes and sizes.

Cenia looks to her everyday life for inspiration and she also works with well known trend forecasting services to make sure her brand is in line with overall high level concepts being touted for the season. These services help make sure that she aligned with what’s going on in the rest of the retail mark

In addition to all of this, can you believe that Cenia also teaches a course at FIT.

She teaches Hot Topic non-credit courses. They are about tools of the trade that help entrepreneurs. From our interview alone, I can tell that Cenia puts herself out there for all kinds of opportunities.

She says that her mom raised her to think that “everything is possible and you can accomplish anything you put your mind to”. She says “she always goes for things, and tries new things, she knocks on doors, seeks new opportunities and doesn’t wait for them to come to her”.

I am so excited that she will be joining us at our Latin Biz Today Spectrum of Success Event – NY at CUNY Baruch College on September 17th. She will be featured in the fashion show finale.  You can get your tickets for our extravaganza of an evening…see the video and learn more here: bit.ly/LatinBizToday

You can also find Cenia’s dresses and jeans at www.cenianewyork.com

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Tina Trevino
Tina Trevino, Partner & Director of Community Relations for Latin Biz Today is President & CEO of Tocaya Design under which she does design consulting for major apparel companies as well as designs, manufactures and markets her women’s lifestyle brand, Tocaya. With 25 years of industry experience most recently as Design Director of KBL Group Intl. Ltd., she has managed large creative design teams. Trevino provides insight on upcoming fashion trends for each season collaborating with designers, merchants and product development teams to help develop brand appropriate apparel. She specializes in sweaters, knits and wovens. Having previously worked with private label brands for stores like Kohl’s, NY & Co, White House|Black Market, and Ann Taylor to name a few as well as brands like Lee jeans, Wendy Williams, Brooke Shields Timeless, Torn by Ronny Kobo, and Whitney Port, she has the ability to build brands from the design and merchandising process all the way through fitting, production, and marketing.

SANTIAGO TORREGROSA

DIGITAL STRATEGIST, WEB LEAD

Santiago brings a of depth of experience in as a digital strategist, SEO expert. He has honed his skills and knowledge working with companies in the U.S. and internationally. Santiago is also Partner & New Business Director at Punto Rojo. Santiago is an Argentinian- American.

TINA TREVINO

DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY RELATIONS

Tina is also the President of Tocaya brand clothing line, formerly Senior Design Director of KBL Group Intl. Ltd. in NYC, managing the large creative design team. As an industry veteran , her capabilities go beyond style to include sourcing, fitting, production and merchandising. Tina is a Mexican-American.

FERNANDO VALENZUELA

ED TECH, CORPORATE BOARD MEMBER

Fernando is currently head of Aspen Institute education program in Mexico and Partner at Global Impact Edtech Alliance. He was formerly President McGraw-Hill Education, Latin America. He is a recognized senior executive, entrepreneur, speaker and board level leader with international background. He has founded and led successful enterprises in Latin America for over 25 years. Fernando hails from Mexico City.

TARA ORCHARD

DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY AND PLANNING

Tara is a coach, trainer, consultant and writer who applies her insights into people. She has a Masters degree in psychology to facilitate performance improvements, relationships and communication for people and businesses.

BARRY MITTELMAN

PUBLISHER

Barry previously worked in publishing as well as positions in communications, competitive marketing, and sales leadership at IBM, Prodigy, CMP, Cox Interactive, PGA of America, and Deloitte.

RICHIE FERNANDEZ

LEGACY BRAND LEADER

Richie, son of Dr. Les “Coach” Fernandez, served as an instructor at “EduCage” charter school where is father Les was founder/executive director. Richie then spent the next 20 years as a White Plains, N.Y. police officer, president of the White Plains PBA and a Detective 2nd grade. He currently runs a construction business. Richie is a Spanish-American.

DON HABAS

CIO, DIGITAL STRATEGIST, USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN

With nearly twenty years in the industry, Don has achieved success with a number of Fortune 500 companies as well as small businesses, leading innovative digital transformation and user experience initiatives.

ROBERT GOODMAN

LEGAL COUNSEL & LEGAL EDITOR

Robert serves as Latin Business Today Legal Counsel and Legal Editor for International and Domestic Commercial Law. Robert also provides general counsel services to entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

MIRIAM GODERICH

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Miriam is a partner in Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC, a well respected, New York based literary agency with an impressive client list. She is involved in developing new projects and taking them from the conceptual stage to publication and her areas of interest include literary and commercial fiction as well as some genre fiction, narrative nonfiction, pop culture, psychology, history, science, art, business books, and biography/memoir. Miriam is a Cuban-American.

CLAUDIA GIOIA

CHEF MARKETING OFFICER

Claudia founded Wenbrands Consulting, also lead multi-market teams and client work for companies such as Ford, Intel, HP, Nestle, Unilever, Danone, Sony, Accenture, Goodyear, HBO and FedEx among others. Claudia is an Argentinian-American.

Tony Jimenez

President and CEO MicroTech

Tony’s personal story is as dynamic and inspiring as his achievements. Since founding MicroTech more than 10 years ago he has grown MicroTech into a multimillion dollar company with more than 100 contracts supporting Federal, State, and Local Governments and Fortune 500 companies. Several national organizations have paid tribute to MicroTech including Inc Magazine, Digital Software Magazine, Deloitte, Washington Technology, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, and National Veteran-Owned Business Association. Tony’s been named “Entrepreneur of the Year,” “Small Business Person of the Year,” “Executive of the Year,” and “CEO of the Year” by several national organizations. He’s also been named to the list of “Most Influential Hispanics in the Nation” by the Hispanic Business Magazine, “50 Most Influential Virginians” by Virginia Business and “Veteran of the Year” by Veterepreneur Magazine.

Jimenez is the award-winning Founder, President, and CEO of MicroTech, a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), His company is an industry leading prime contractor on over 100 Federal projects and holds more than 25 procurement vehicles, offering access to 2500 vendors and over a million technology products and services. The nationally recognized company is also certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). MicroTech offers Technology Integration, Telecom & Cloud, and Product Solutions commercial enterprises, as well as the public sector — managing over half-a-million tech users daily.

Since founding MicroTech in 2004, Jimenez has grown the business into a profitable multi-million dollar company with highly skilled professionals across the U.S. MicroTech supporting over 100 prime contracts with civilian and defense agencies of the Federal government and providing IT and network support to numerous Fortune 500 companies around the globe. MicroTech’s suite of services and solutions has ensured that clients in government, education, and the technology industry accomplish their mission while simultaneously maximizing their return on investment (ROI) and lowering their total cost of ownership (TCO). As a result, customers continuously realize the business advantage of utilizing MicroTech and its innovative and reliable solutions and processes.

Ross M. Weale

LOREM IPSUM

Ross M. Weale is an Assistant District Director for SCORE (Counselors to America’s Small Business) serving the Chapters in the Hudson Valley. He retired just last year as President of The Putnam County Economic Development Corporation, Carmel, New York, after serving in this capacity for 7 years.

Mr. Weale, prior to his Putnam County assignment, successfully co-founded Country Bank in Carmel, New York in 1988 and managed its growth to a level of $75MM in assets. As President & CEO of Country Bank, Mr. Weale served the needs and financial requirements of small business and entrepreneurial ventures in the Putnam/Westchester marketplace. During his tenure with Country Bank, he successfully co-founded and chaired the Putnam Business Connection, a 2-day economic development conference for small businesses focusing on business retention issues in Putnam County. Prior to the successful start-up of the new commercial bank venture, Mr. Weale had been associated with The Bank of New York for 23 years serving in a number of senior level positions, including the Presidency of the Bank’s Westchester/Putnam Division.

Mr. Weale maintains numerous Directorships on Boards, including ReliaStar Life Insurance Company of New York, and had served 10 years as Chairman of New York State’s Small Business Advisory Board within the Pataki Administration. He currently serves on the boards of The Hudson Valley Cerebral Palsy Association and is the immediate past President of The Westchester-Putnam Boy Scout Council.

Mr. Weale holds a B.S. in Finance from Nichols College and completed The Advanced Management Program, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration.

Daniel O. Vargas

LOREM IPSUM

Daniel O. Vargas is CEO and President of Vargas&Amigos, based in Atlanta. His experience in advertising started on Madison Avenue, New York as an Art Director at William Douglas McAdams, Shaller Ruben, Avon Products, and Wells Rich & Greene. Vargas became Executive Art Director at BBDO Atlanta, Georgia where he was brought in to work on the Delta Airlines account. Dan later became a principal in Rafshoon, Shivers, Vargas, Tolpin, the agency that put President Jimmy Carter in office and where he designed the Georgia Peach logo. Known for opening the first Latino advertising agency in Georgia, serving accounts as HUD, the CDC, the National Arthritis Foundation, AMI Hospitals, Tobacco Use and Prevention, The Army, The Marines, Pizza Hut, General Mills and has just added to the list the Atlanta Visitors and Convention Bureau. Dan’s work can be viewed at the Pentagon, hanging in the Hall of Heroes, a painting honoring Hispanics in Americas Defense created for the Coca-Cola Company. He’s earned national and international creative awards including Se Habla Español, Clio’s and National Addy’s. Mr. Vargas was honored last year in Washington D.C. by the head of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller, who presented him with the Director’s Award for Community Leadership. His most recent accolade is being profiled on the American Express Open Forum.

Miles A. Slater

LOREM IPSUM

Miles A. Slater is a former President and CEO of Salomon Brothers International, Ltd. and also served as a member of Salomon Brothers’Brothers’ Board of Directors. Mr. Slater began his career in investment banking working at the Federal Open Market Committee Trading Desk and held senior executive and board positions with several Wall Street firms globally. He also has been Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Swiss private bank Julius Baer. Since his retirement from Salomon Brothers, Mr. Slater has served on numerous private-company and not-for-profit boards and has taught leadership at the graduate level. Mr. Slater holds a degree in Finance from New York University.

Mara Perez, PhD

LOREM IPSUM

Mara Perez Is Founder and Principal of Mara Perez, Fund Development and Planning Services. Mara provides fundraising and strategic planning services to non-profits and educational institutions. She has helped nearly eighty organizations obtain millions of dollars in funding, design innovative work strategies, establish high-impact visions and missions, and execute growth plans. Mara holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago.

Mara writes for Latin Business Today, and has published for other entities, including Stanford Social Innovation Review and Grassroots Fundraising Journal. She has also written articles, book reviews and contributed to chapters in books in academic publications. Her writings are about immigration, social change, fundraising, the Latino population in the U.S., the non-profit sector and philanthropy. She has also conducted fundraising workshops in the U.S. and abroad.

Community service includes: 2010-present Board Member of Marin General Hospital (Greenbrae, CA); 2002-2012 Board Member Canal Alliance, and twice Board President (San Rafael, CA). Mara has been serving on Boards since 1995. In 2005 she received the Spirit of Marin Award and was named Business Person of the Year by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Marin. In addition, Mara was a Coro Leadership Community Fellow in San Francisco. Born in Argentina, she resides in Northern California.

Adam Padilla

LOREM IPSUM

Adam Padilla is the Co-Founder of BrandFire and Chief Creative Officer. A celebrated branding expert, Adam lends his insight, tactical intelligence and abundant creative talents to his clients. He has been working with his partner Jesse Itzler since 2007, directing projects for ZICO, NetJets, Pretzel Crisps, Tom Brady and RUNDMC.

Padilla has been working with his partner, Jesse Itzler, since 2007. He has directed projects for ZICO, NetJets, Pretzel Crisps, Tom Brady and RUNDMC. His expertise in branding and popular culture has led him to appear on programs WPIX, FOX Nightly News, Bravo and CNBC. He is also a regular contributor to Adweek, The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company.  Adam is frequently called on to comment on branding and popular culture on WPIX, FOX Nightly News, Bravo and CNBC. He is also a regular contributor to AdWeek, the Wall Street Journal and Fast Company.

Aside from his professional accomplishments, Adam is also a celebrated illustrator and content creator.

Kiki Melendez

LOREM IPSUM

Kiki Melendez is an award-winning comedienne, actress, writer, and producer Kiki Melendez grew up in New York City of Dominicandescent. She spent her childhood watching classic televisions shows such as The Brady Bunch and Bewitched during the day and Spanish telenovelas at night. As a teenager Melendez’s family moved to Miami. She went back to New York to get training in the performing arts. She studied at the Lee Strasberg Theater, The New York Film Institute and TheHerbert Berghof Studio.

She started her career in show business as a morning radio host for stations such as La Nueva FM, 105.9 in New York and KRLA, Groove 103.1 in Los Angeles.

In 1998, Melendez successfully transitioned from radio to television. Her first pilot, Salsa desde Hollywood was acquired by Galavision Network. Following its success, Melendez went on to create America’s first bilingual variety show Kiki desde Hollywood, which became the highest rated entertainment show on the Galavision Network. Melendez has also been an entertainment reporter the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and other international media outlets.

Maria Hernandez

LOREM IPSUM

Maria Hernandez is Chief Innovation Officer for IBM- Latin America, where she’s a visionary leader and evangelist in driving innovation with IBM’s largest Strategic Outsourcing clients in Latin America, opening doors to new business and increasing client satisfaction through innovative technologies and solutions. Prior to this role, IBM was spearheading the strategy and transformation of IBM’s Business Partners in North America around key growth initiatives such as Cloud Computing, Business Analytics, and Smarter Cities. She has also been a worldwide leader for IBM’s Corporate Strategy team responsible for business development initiatives in the emerging markets. In her 20+ years in the IT industry, Maria has demonstrated her leadership and technical knowledge in a broad spectrum of experiences ranging from sales, marketing, growth businesses, technology research and development.

She has expanded her leadership into the entrepreneurial space by launching StartupFlorida as one of the first States to be part of the StartupAmerica initiative bringing together the private sector, incubators, investors, and other organizations to support entrepreneurs who leverage technology to drive innovation. She was also the thought leader and catalyst within the So. Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem to conduct the first IBM Smart Camp event for Healthcare in Miami aimed at identifying early stage entrepreneurs who align to IBM’s Smarter Healthcare vision. Given her entrepreneurial accomplishments, Maria was selected as a core team member of IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge team in Malaga, Spain working with the City government and other key stakeholders to recommend best practices and ideas to drive economic development and job growth through entrepreneurship. Maria’s entrepreneurial ability coupled with her cross-IBM experience have given her the experience to lead teams and organizations to develop breakthrough ideas, solutions, and technologies across global markets.

Maria is the founder of Madrinas, a first of its kind virtual network and non-profit organization for Corporate Latina leaders with a track record of accomplishments in networking and mentoring. Maria has received recognition for being a Latina role model and is a frequent speaker at women conferences and university events.

Luis Gallardo

LOREM IPSUM

Luis Gallardo is a global brand and marketing leader and expert in the areas of strategic brand management, brand engagement, brand expression, marketing, communications, business development, and reputation management. Former managing director of global brand & marketing at Deloitte, Luis provided leadership to Deloitte’s member firm network of more than three thousand marketing and communications professionals. Author of the book: Brands & Rousers, The Holistic System to Foster High-Performing Businesses, Brands and Careers. Luis is the founder of Thap Group, a multinational consultancy focused on brand, marketing and communications strategy, and he sits on the advisory board of several high-growth organizations.

Bob Dorf

LOREM IPSUM

Bob Dorf is among the most knowledgeable Lean Innovation and Customer Development experts on the planet, second only to Steve Blank, who developed the methodology and spent a decade extending and refining it. Together with Steve Blank, Bob published The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company, the seminal text outlining every step of the lean customer development process. After two years of near-fulltime research and writing, it became Amazon.com’s #1 Business/Entrepreneurship bestseller, with some 400,000+ copies in circulation in more than 17 languages worldwide.

Bob has trained and coached scores of established companies, and literally more than 1000 startups. He’s worked with GE, Merck, NewsCorp, and Carvajal SA; and intimately with six established, growing Latin American Companies in the ECLA program at Columbia Business School, where he’s an Entrepreneur in Residence. In his world travels, he’s coached scores more on behalf of the governments of Colombia, Mexico, Russia and the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, which he’s keynoted four times. His coaching focus centers around refining and optimizing business models(often with “pivoting”) and particularly on scaling sales and marketing activities(which has been the heart of his 40-plus year startup career).

Entrepreneurial from the age of 12, Bob received his last W-2 some 40 years ago, when he left a great news editor’s job at WINS Radio in New York to launch his first startup. Since then, he has personally founded seven companies, including—as he puts it—“two homeruns, two base hits, and three solid tax losses.” His 27 personal investments included 7 IPO’s, six colossal failures, and–­as he puts it—“everything imaginable in between.” here’s shorter. edit as needed…

Bob Dorf is among the most knowledgeable Lean Innovation and Customer Development experts on the planet, second only to Steve Blank, who developed the methodology and spent a decade extending and refining it. Together with Steve Blank, Bob published The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company, the seminal text outlining every step of the lean customer development process. After two years of near-fulltime research and writing, it became Amazon.com’s #1 Business/Entrepreneurship bestseller, with some 400,000+ copies in circulation in more than 17 languages worldwide.

Bob has trained and coached scores of established companies, and literally more than 1000 startups. He’s worked with GE, Merck, NewsCorp, and Carvajal SA; and intimately with six established, growing Latin American Companies in the ECLA program at Columbia Business School, where he’s an Entrepreneur in Residence. In his world travels, he’s coached scores more on behalf of the governments of Colombia, Mexico, Russia and the Global Entrepreneurship Congress.

Debra Cruz

LOREM IPSUM

Debra Cruz is a VP in Global Brand & Marketing at MetLife. She has over 20 years of experience in Customer Experience Designwith a focus on Digital. She joined MetLife in 2000 where she led a major redesign for MetLife’s Corporate website, formed their first User Experience team (which included a strong qualitative research function) and eventually acquired and led the full digital team as Director of eBusiness.

Debra was part of the original innovation team that created the US Direct Distribution business at MetLife, and in 2010, she launched a Global Social Media Program at MetLife. Today she is focused on rolling out a framework to support a consistent Global Digital Brand for MetLife. In 2014, she took on a temporary assignment in Japan to support the local market with a rebrand effort and Digital Strategy.

She has a professional and personal interest in supporting her global partners with Digital Marketing best practices as well as motivating, educating and building the next generation of leaders at MetLife. She is an Advisor to the Global Multicultural Professionals Network, which helps to foster awareness, respect and inclusion, and was a member of the MetLife US Diversity and Inclusion task force.

Debra started her career at Prodigy Services Company – where she designed digital experiences to generate leads and sales across industry verticals from Travel to Entertainment and Finance to Real Estate. She then moved on to IBM Global Services where she was responsible for one of the largest global content databases designed to enable IBM Global Business Partners to access the information needed achieve and maintain success.

Carola Otero Bracco

LOREM IPSUM

During Carola’s tenure at Neighbors Link, the number of programs offered and individuals served has more than doubled. She is now focused on strategically replicating the Neighbors Link programs and model in interested communities to further our mission of healthy integration of the whole community.

She serves as a Trustee on the Board of Directors of Northern Westchester Hospital and is a board member of Non Profit Westchester and the Emergency Shelter Partnership.

Her awards include the 2007 “Woman of the Year” Award from the Westchester Community Federation of Women’s Clubs and the 2009 “Circle of Giving” Award from the Westchester Community Foundation. She was an Honoree at the 2009 Westchester Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 20th Anniversary Awards Gala. In 2014, Carola was named by Westchester Magazine as one of the top Women in Business.

Brenda Bazan

LOREM IPSUM

Brenda Bazan is an experienced CEO and Founder with deep corporate operational experience. She is a proven international sales and marketing strategist in multi-national corporations, social enterprises and tech startups. She is also an experienced innovator responsible for company-wide business transformations, executing large scale marketing projects and leading cross-discipline teams.

Ms. Bazan presently serves as President of EPSoft Technologies, a Dallas-based company specializing in Big Data Management and Robotic Process Automation. Additionally, Brenda serves on the board of a cybersecurity technology company and is the operating director of a private equity fund, TWV Capital, that invests in high-growth, women-led businesses.

Ms. Bazan has held CEO positions in technology companies in the cybersecurity and telecommunications industries. Additionally, she has consulted in turnaround engagements for companies to identify strategic opportunities to protect, grow and expand their brand influence in the market.

Ms. Bazan previously served in a marketing and development position in an international microfinance non-profit organization where she launched educational programs and raised funds to start hundreds of women’s businesses in Africa and the Middle East. Later, she worked as a consultant to women business owners in the U.S. and founded a crowdfunding platform focused on women-owned small business.

Ms. Bazan’s career started at IBM, where she held many executive positions in the U.S. and Europe focused on the small business sector. She received multiple marketing industry awards for her innovative programs and has been featured for her marketing leadership in Time Magazine, Forbes and Business Week. She was responsible for the global marketing strategy for IBM’s small business sector which has been a consistent growth engine for the company.

Brenda has six children and a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in Art History.

Marjorie Weber

LOREM IPSUM

Marjorie Weber has been educating entrepreneurs and guiding them in their search for capital for the past 16 years: combining business training programs with one-on-one mentoring. She was Chair of SCORE Miami Dade from 2010 to 2014 and is currently a financial advisor for SBDC/FIU. She also serves as an advisor to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program and the SBA Emerging Leaders Program and provides training for Veterans seeking an entrepreneurial path upon retirement from the service. She has been facilitating workshops under the auspices of Miami Bayside Foundation for the past 3 years.

She commenced her career as a real estate investment banker in New York and Miami.She uses these long term relationships to assist her clients in accessing capital. She knows both the process and the people and has assisted in providing financing for hundreds of businesses in Miami Dade.

Gabrielle Y. Vázquez

LOREM IPSUM

Gabrielle Y. Vázquez has mediated a variety of commercial disputes and has experience mediating those involving breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraud, real estate, licensing, construction, discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination.  While she is flexible, Gabrielle’s preferred approach as a mediator is facilitative.  She sees her role as a mediator as that of a third-party facilitator in a negotiation between the participants rather than a decision-maker or evaluator of the parties’ positions.  Gabrielle brings a decade of commercial litigation experience to the mediation table, including as an advocate in several mediations.  In addition to her own mediation experience, Gabrielle has shadowed over a dozen top mediators in New York and attends continuing education courses on commercial mediation on a regular basis.  Her mediation clients have described Gabrielle as an excellent listener who is light-handed and uniquely adept at guiding participants to their own best-negotiated resolutions.

Elaine M. Vasquez

LOREM IPSUM

Elaine M Vasquez is the owner of Broward’s first bilingual newspaper, El Heraldo de Broward, publishing since 1974.. She is a seasoned public relations and marketing executive who pioneered the cable television industry in Broward County from 1970 to 1985 having co-owned a company that eventually became Comcast Communications.

She previously owned a multicultural communications company, Latin Power, Inc. and presently owns a special events company, We Do Events, Inc. which produces the annual Hispanic Women of Distinction charity luncheon, Fiesta! Fort Lauderdale, Viva Broward! Calendar of Events for Hispanic Heritage Month and over 200 galas, outdoor fairs and festivals, private fundraisers and political activities. Elaine’s pioneering ventures inspired her to develop a unique set of skills that formed the backbone of her story and still makes an impact on her business and social life today.

Elaine has been active on numerous non-profit boards, some of which have included: Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, Community Foundation of Broward, March of Dimes, United Way, Broward Sheriff’s Explorers, Boys & Girls Club, Florida Humanities Council, Broward Library Foundation, Broward College Community Board, Communities in Schools, Broward Center for the Homeless, Broward Education Foundation, Governor’s Mansion Foundation, Diversity Committee of Broward County Schools, Girl Scouts of Broward, Meals on Wheels, Foundation for Florida’s Future, First Call for Help,(211 Broward) the Riverwalk Trust and Light of the World Clinic.

Elaine’s achievements have not rested here. She continues to work to combat stereotypes, empower minorities, mentor young students and educate the public for better access to education, healthcare, business and services. Her greatest gift and joy of all is – her 3 daughters, 4 granddaughters and grandson – her family is woven into every aspect of her life.

Fernando Valenzuela

ED TECH, CORPORATE BOARD MEMBER

Fernando Valenzuela is recognized as one of Latin America’s most capable digital transformation catalyst with direct influence over hundreds of institutions and thousands of solutions, that have impacted millions of users in over 25 countries Trilingual senior executive, entrepreneur, consultant, speaker, with Global multi-industry and multi-cultural capabilities. Expert in Latin America and Hispanic content markets. Able to work in the US, Europe & Mexico. Lived in Miami, Sao Paulo, Medellin, Mexico.

Has decisively accelerated digital transformation, with deep understanding of the needs of new generation digital natives, by re-envisioning seemingly disconnected delivery models, designing data driven engaging experiences, capitalizing diverse formats-devices-digital assets. Brings broad perspective and inspirational leadership skills, a culture of global high performance executive teams within complex environments, dealing equitably with people.
Track-record of setting & implementing breakthrough strategic agenda both for creating and growing new businesses as well as for transforming under-performing organizations into collaborative environments.

Successfully delivering profitable multi-million, complex projects in high profile situations of multiple stakeholders, broad segments and diverse portfolios.

Strategic thinker able to drive change with creative ideas implemented in efficient ways. Possesses a strong personal drive, integrity and focus. Sustains a valuable global network of high level contacts. Gifted communicator, receiving recognition as featured on media, from his speeches and publications, on such topics as: Learning Experiences, Future of Education, Technological Innovation, Education for Sustainability, Gamification, Global EdTech. Ex-professional soccer player and Professional Soccer coach creatively uses competitive leadership lessons from the sport world to motivate and develop talent.

Joe Steranka

LOREM IPSUM

Following a 34-year career in professional sports, the final seven as the PGA of America’s Chief Executive Officer, Joe Steranka is enjoying a much earned sabbatical from the corporate world. The 55-year-old SOJ graduate continues to give back through his involvement with numerous philanthropic organizations including Children’s Healthcare Charities of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla, and the Folds of Honor Foundation of Owasso, Okla, for whom he chairs the Board of Directors.

During his 25 years with The PGA, Steranka guided the world’s largest working sports organization’s efforts to grow the game of golf and its biggest professional tournaments domestically and around the world. In addition to his duties as PGA CEO, he served as Chair of the World Golf Foundation and as a member of the leadership teams for the World PGA Alliance and the International Golf Federation’s work to return golf to the Olympic Games. More recently, Steranka steered a new industry government relations program We Are Golf, designed to achieve legislative and public affairs goals on behalf of the $68 billion a year golf industry.
His stewardship produced long standing broadcasting agreements with CBS, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting and others to distribute the PGA’s premier events including the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship to record worldwide audiences. He also cultivated a relationship with Leo Burnett, leading to popular public service announcements for PGA members and steered an unprecedented new media alliance with Time Warner establishing PGA.com as a leading golf destination on the Web.

A 1979 graduate of West Virginia University with a B.S. in journalism, he and his wife, Joann, live in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Elias Mendoza

STRATEGY LEAD, CORPORATE BOARD MEMBER

Elias Mendoza is a  Senior Managing Director at Siris Capital, LLC.  He is a  global leader with a strong technology background and experience in global strategy, business development, and all aspects of M&A execution. He defined, built, and managed successful business efforts globally within large multinational companies, as well as in smaller, entrepreneurial settings. Specialties: Global Strategy and Business Development, Global Mergers and Acquisitions, Technology Sector Mergers, Acquisitions, and Integration, Worldwide Operational Excellence, Teambuilding and Leadership, Global Corporate Finance and Capital Markets and Entrepreneurship.

Teresa Hernandez

LOREM IPSUM

Teresa Hernandez is a proud, third generation Boricua from the Bronx. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Marymount Manhattan College with a major in English Literature and Secondary Education where she graduated with honors. Teresa later pursued a career in healthcare management. She went on to complete her MBA at Mercy College and ranked top in her class graduating with honors. Teresa is currently a Quality & Safety Administrator at NYU Langone Health. In 2019, Teresa was the Executive Vice President of Prospanica New York. Along with the New York Chapter President and board members, she helped lead the way for the chapter to be recognized and earn the 2019 Chapter of the Year Award. In 2020, Teresa became the President of the New York Chapter. Teresa is also a fellow with Leaders of Color Initiative (LOCI) Education Reform Now. The vision and commitment of LOCI is for the Black and Latino communities to have representation by elected officials who not only look like them but are tireless advocates for quality education. In November 2020, Teresa was asked to join the Board of Advisors with The American Dream School. Their mission is to develop academic excellence for grades 6-12 in both Spanish and English and prepare them for college.

Oscar Hernandez

LOREM IPSUM

4X Grammy Award Winner Oscar Hernández has long been considered one of the most gifted and prominent pianist/ arrangers on the contemporary Latin, Latin-jazz and salsa music scene. He has achieved legendary status for his prolific career spanning now over 40 years. Oscar’s career as a professional began in the 70’s performing and recording with such seminal artists as Ismael Miranda, Ray Barreto, Celia Cruz, Conjunto Libre, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez & Grupo Folklorico. Oscar was responsible for charting the musical course of the Rubén Blades Band. “Seis Del Solar”. Increasingly in demand as a pianist, arranger and producer, the Bronx native has produced such artists as Ruben Blades, Paul Simon, Willie Colón “Carabali”, Daniel Ponce, Rafael Dejesus, Eddie Torres, Phil Hernandez, Steve Kroon, Juan Luis Guerra, etc. and than made a more personal statement with the debut CD’s “Decision” and “Alternate Roots” by his band Seis Del Solar the Rubén Blades Band sans Rubén, and now with his 3X Grammy Award winning band, Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

Chuck Garcia

LOREM IPSUM

Chuck Garcia is an author, executive coach, keynote speaker, and CEO of Climb Leadership International. He coaches executives on public speaking and leadership communication. A 25-year veteran of Wall Street, he spent several of those in leadership positions at Bloomberg, BlackRock, and Citadel. He is also adjunct associate professor at Columbia University where he teaches leadership communication in The Fu Foundation Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science. He leverages his business leadership experience, as well as his hobby of mountain climbing, to provide an effective teaching narrative for professionals applying his tools and techniques. In his book A Climb to the Top, an Amazon best seller, draws on years of coaching and consulting experience to explain how you can become a powerful and persuasive communicator. Chuck is a graduate of Syracuse University and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership.