Latina Leaders: investment banker helps other women become entrepreneurs
by Kristina Puga
Patricia Lizarraga is not only a successful businesswoman, she helps other women become successful entrepreneurs. The Yale and Harvard Business School graduate has more than 20 years of merchant banking experience and is also a founder of several successful companies. Currently she is managing partner of Hypatia Capital Group, an investment bank which builds relationships with the top female executives of the Fortune 1000. She’s also an investor at Golden Seeds, an investment firm dedicated to the empowerment of women entrepreneurs.
According to a recent report, firms owned by Hispanic women in the U.S. in 2013 generated an estimated $65.5 billion in revenue. Lizarraga says that number will only continue to grow, and she’s excited to be in the business of helping to make that happen.
Where were you born, and when did you come to the U.S.? I grew up in Lima, Peru but was born in La Oroya. My mother is from San Francisco, and my father is Peruvian — it was expected that I’d come to the U.S. for college, and now I’ve been in New York City for the last 12 years.
What attracted you to the world of business and banking? I thought I was going to be an archaeologist, but during freshman year of college, I took an economics class, and I loved it. As a junior, I took a class in financial markets, and the professor — David Swenson — really made finance feel so exciting. He taught us to read The Wall Street Journal everyday. I decided to do that after college and never looked back. David Swenson ended up being one of most successful investors in the world and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. My roommates and I would always sit in the first row in class and hang on every word he said.
What is a typical day like for you? Everyday in finance is different. The most important thing for me is meeting as many female CEO’s as possible — maybe one or two a day — and talk to these executives about the different programs our company offers. We talk about what they are trying to build, and then sometimes I refer them to Golden Seeds — an investment firm focused on early stage companies. Investment banks work with $20 million-level companies, Golden Seeds works with companies that are just getting started.
What do you love most about your job? What I love the most about my job is the people. Since we focus on the top female executives in the U.S., it is inspiring to help these female leaders reach even higher in their professional lives. I also love the team that I work with and that we are all dedicated to women and furthering them.
Why do you think studies are showing that Latina-owned firms are growing so rapidly in the past few years? Many years ago, it was very clear that that the Latino community was going to grow in the U.S. Today, it’s such a large part of our culture — which means that there will be more opportunities for Latinos to succeed. The more Latino-owned businesses exist, the more possibility that one will be successful.
Education and capital are an integral part in building businesses, but I also think that there’s something called grit, and that transcends education and capital — that yearning, coupled with education and access to capital, will probably lead to even more success stories.
As the founder of several successful companies yourself, what is the most important piece of advice that you give to women when they have a business idea? One of the most important things is to be aware of is how hard it is. It’s not easy, and results are not going to be fast. Be prepared that it might take a lot longer than you think. We all know that tenacity is one of the most important traits of successful people.
I also think business is about optimism. I believe ultimately that optimism is human and everyone has it if they want to feel it. If you are optimistic, you can figure out the way to turn a bad experience around and make it into a business opportunity.
What’s the first step in starting your own business? The initial investments come from friends and family, or people very close to you. An early stage investor really wants to see a company that is not necessarily profitable yet, but that it has a product that can be bought and has proven that somebody wants to buy that product or service.
How do you predict which type of business will do well? I think most investors have their own set of investment criteria. Personally, I tend to shy away from an entrepreneur who spent years in one field and wants to switch to another without knowing the business. I think that there are all sorts of businesses that are successful and unsuccessful — look at the rise of Facebook and fall of MySpace for example. I think it’s more about the executives than the business itself.
Advice you would give another Latina who would like to follow in your footsteps? If you are a young woman wants to get into finance, read an article every day from The Wall Street Journal — just one article.
If you want to start your own company, be aware that it’s harder than you thought and get relevant experience in what you want to do. If you want to start a restaurant, work in one for three years. If you want to create an internet startup, work in one for three years. You’ll contribute and think how you would do it better, or differently.