From Forbes: From Teen Mom To 3 MIT Degrees: This Latina Shares Her Secrets To Making The Most Of Your Career

noramayVivian Nunez, Forbes, Nov 17, 2016

Noramay Cadena is a #bosslady in all aspects of her life. As the daughter of immigrants, she understood the intricacies of growing up in a Latino family, the responsibility that it entails and the opportunity that living in the United States affords her.

As a teen mom, she understood that the example she set for her daughter would have ramifications beyond the short-term, day-to-day.

In addition to the skills she learned in her roles as daughter and mother, her time spent working through degree after degree at MIT (she has three) helped set the foundation for the entrepreneurship path she is on now.

“We set out to build the Los Angeles epicenter of hardware startups,” states Cadena, while explaining her work as the co-founder of Make In LA.

Make In LA is a predominately female-led hardware accelerator and early state investment fund, born of the idea that there was talent in the space that was just waiting to be discovered.

“[One of] our goals is to attract the best entrepreneurs and startups from around the globe and help them build successful tech-enabled hardware products,” explains Cadena. “This includes a deep focus on recruiting from under-represented communities.”

Here, Cadena expands on her work within the Latino community, how she navigated her own career and her advice to the next generation of trailblazers.

Vivian Nunez: When did you know it was time to leave your 9-to-5 to follow your own mission? 

Noramay Cadena: A few things happened — I realized that at my level, career growth was hindered by forces I couldn’t mitigate; I was trying to balance a career and a full time non-profit and was running out of time for my family and most importantly, for myself; and, I recognized I could do more and that it was time to do something for me.

Nunez: What would you say made your transition from a traditional career to entrepreneurship easier? 

Cadena: Muscle memory. Having made the decision to move from Los Angeles to Cambridge, MA with my 1-year-old to pursue an engineering degree helped me work through the panic attacks, fear and doubt. I reminded myself that this was only one decision and that the worst that could happen was failure leading to a decision point around follow-on employment. I typed up my resignation email quickly, took a deep breath and sent it before giving myself time to think about it again. It may sound crazy, but not touching something twice is rooted in lean principles .

Nunez: What’s your advice for rising Latinas in the corporate world? 

Cadena: First, be stubborn on vision and flexible on journey . The how is always a crappy “what reality looks like” meme compared to the direct line you set out to ride. Second, play the long game. Forget about work/life balance on a daily or weekly basis. Give yourself the opportunity to increase your period of performance to a month or greater chunk of time and then hold yourself accountable for balance over that zoomed out period. Third, heed the conservation of energy principle. When your work output is much much greater than the opportunities available to you under normal business conditions, it’s time to pivot.

Nunez: What’s your advice for Latinas who want to make the jump to entrepreneurship? 

Cadena: Wean. The reality of responsibility is no joke. When you have to help support parents or serve as in income source for family emergencies, the decision to lose financial stability is not always your own. It took me years to be in a place where I could cut my income in half and still feel like I could contribute when I needed to. There are simple and cheap things you can do to test the waters around your idea before diving in. Set up a landing page and gauge response. Talk to potential customers to learn as much as possible about pain points. Scope out your competitors – existing and potential. Build an ideal list of investors, advisors and team members and start meeting them or crafting a path to an introduction. Attend entrepreneurship events in your city.

Nunez: Co-founding the Latinas in STEM Foundation was your first foray into entrepreneurship. How did this come about?

Cadena: The women who co-founded the Latinas in STEM organization shared a tap on the shoulder experience that propelled them into an engineering career. Having experienced the opportunities, the options, and the change in quality of life our MIT academic careers afforded us, we all wanted to be the same tap on the shoulder for other young ladies in our communities. Our work experience in various industries amplified the need for diversity in the workplace, and we hustled to share our stories and demystify our jobs for both students and parents .

Nunez: Can you tell us why its mission is so important to you? 

Cadena: It’s a business imperative to build in capacity for STEM-related careers. Beyond the economics, we know that talent is ubiquitous yet opportunity is not . To have our workforce better represent our country’s demographics, we know we need by the community, for the community efforts in niche-underrepresented segments. The Latinas in STEM mission is to appeal to young Latinas and their families in a way that is information-based, relatable and actionable.

Nunez: How important do you think it is to create systems that push a ‘tap on the shoulder’ mentality for other Latinas? 

Cadena: It’s critical, but only as an inspiration starting point. Once we onboard young women onto the pipeline, we have to wean them from seeking inspiration only from others who look like them. To break barriers or push their own boundaries, they need to be able to seek inspiration from a variety of sources .

Nunez: What do you think are Latinas biggest asset when breaking out on their own? 

Cadena: [Have] relentless optimism. Believing in the inevitability of success does wonders for helping you trudge through the slow and rough patches …the mornings when you wonder what the heck you’re doing.

Nunez: Did you ever wrestle with impostor syndrome? If so, how did you tackle those moments? 

Cadena: All the time. It can especially rear its ugly head when in homogenous crowds, as are often found in the startup and venture capital scenes. For me, these moments of trepidation are best tackled by doing something for someone else. Finding a way to be of service is a gentle reminder that we all have value to give one another. The effect cascades into a solid reassurance of belonging and capability.

Nunez: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur? 

Cadena: Three big lessons — hustle trumps capability and capability trumps ideas; gold hunting in niches yields more than in crowded gold mines; and, raising money takes a long freaking time.

See full article here.