MENTOR SPOTLIGHT: SYDNEY SHERMAN DE ARENAS
When did you know you wanted to take an entrepreneurial path?
I don’t remember the exact moment, but my parents were entrepreneurs so at a very young age I was already set on this career path. Despite recent obstacles, I am dedicated to being an entrepreneur, I guess its just in my blood!
Tell us about your venture/work.
I have raised money, bootstrapped, lost a business, started 10, have restaurants, a window and door resale business, a brand that works with artisans in developing countries, and more! I am about to open a hostal in Guatemala that is decorated using ethically produced furniture and even has a bio filter that processes all of the water on the entire propoerty, including our restuarant!
How did you decide to tackle this particular issue?
Most recently, I had a business fail and it was the majority of my family’s income. My husband and I had to scrape our earnings together to finish building the hostal we started, to buy out his business partners in the restaurants he started, and to continue to meet all financial requirements of our other entities. It was very hard but we made strategic income decisions in order to make it all work. Now we are starting to come out on the other side and it feels so much more rewarding than when I built businesses with someone else’s money. Of course, there is a time and place for fundraising and I will certainly do it again, but I am a strong believer in getting as far as you can without raising money to prove out a concept before accepting investment as it goes much faster than you may think.
What do you enjoy most about being an impact entrepreneur? What’s hardest about it?
At the end of the day, I love having an idea and working to bring it to fruition. The hardest part for me is when things don’t work out, which is inevitable at some point, as its not just my livelihood that is affected but everyone’s that I work with. I don’t take income lightly and so when I have to let someone go or when a company fails, I take it very hard.
How do you navigate the space of being a founder and also being a POC/women/non-binary person?
I have a great support system with my family and their successful network of fellow entrepreneurs, but there was an interesting moment when my brother and I were both fundraising at the same time and our experiences were drastically different. He was challenged more in some ways by being asked more interesting business questions when I felt like I was fielding more personal questions. I also had an investor get wildly inappropriate which my brother never experienced. There was another situation when I was pregnant and was extremely sick throughout the entire 10 months, I worked with all men and it was hard to navigate keeping my personal life to myself while also having to excuse myself to get sick on nearly every call. I try to be realistic about the world we live in, I have worked with many great men, but even they have limits to what they can understand. When I need to vent I have spaces to do that where I feel the comraderie of other women. If I feel that someone isn’t safe, I will share that information with relevant groups so that I can protect those who might go after me. Most importantly, I am constantly trying to learn who I am and what my boundaries are so that I stay true to myself, regardless of what is happening around me. I once fired all of my lucrative clients because they were disrespectful to myself and my team. I feel that it is really important to act on my values more than I talk about them.
What advice do you have for early-stage impact entrepreneurs about using their time, relationships, and opportunities at The New School to prepare for this kind of career?
The last 10 years I have gained experience in a variety of different businesses and business situations and I would say go as far as you can while taking as little as possible from others until you are truly ready to cash in some of your resources. I don’t want people to isolate themselves, share your dreams, progress, and milestones with those in your support network! But wait to ask for their help until you are truly prepared for it. You will learn so much on your own and the help others give you will go so much farther and faster if you know what you are doing and where you are going before asking for it. Just like money, time and relationships will go quickly if you ask for too much, too soon.
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