Support system — It is extremely hard to do things alone, which makes a network of people essential for growth. With a support system that believes in your mission, you can continue to move your foundation/company in the right direction.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lilly Travieso.
Lilly was always athletically inclined and played different sports from a very young age. Over the years, she became passionate about playing softball and aspired to play softball in a top university. This required her to embark on an extraneous physical, mental and academic journey. She faced many challenges and adversities but learned to become a leader in and out of the field and traveled throughout the United States and internationally, such as Cuba to play softball. She also had the honor to play for Puerto Rico’s Junior Olympic team.
Lilly is thankful for all the opportunities that have come her way and the immense support and guidance her parents provided for her. She would like young athletes and Latina athletes like herself to have the same opportunities and support. Therefore, the idea and vision of ELLA was created.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’m a first generation Hispanic American, raised and born in Los Angeles, CA, with a multicultural background: Salvadorian, Puerto Rican, and Cuban. As a young Latina, I always dreamed of playing college softball in a top university. I began playing softball at the age of six. From the moment I held the glove in my hand, I felt a special connection to the game. As years passed, I played different sports, but overtime, I developed a true passion for softball. Being an athlete at a young age provided me with many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. When I was fourteen years old, I traveled to Cuba to play softball against the Cuban Olympic team and participated in a cultural exchange program. I represented Puerto Rico in the Junior Olympic National Team in the Women’s World Cup 19U Division when I was seventeen years old. Playing sports from a young age has taught me work ethics, discipline, patience, and resilience. My parents always taught me that nothing in life is handed in a silver platter. However, this shouldn’t stop me from having dreams and setting goals because hard work pays off. As a daughter of an immigrant, I’ve learned to cease every opportunity that comes my way.
Through my athletic journey, I realized the many disparities that Latina athletes face culturally and economically. ELLA wants young female athletes and Latina athletes like herself to have the same opportunities, but most of all, she wants all young female athletes to have the mentorship and support they need as they embark their own athletic, academic and professional journey. Thus, the vision and mission of the ELLA Sports Foundation was born!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most interesting stories that happen since I founded the ELLA Sports Foundation is the day I met one of my professional softball icons Lisa Fernandez. I had the pleasure to present to her The Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the ELLA Sport Foundation. I have looked up to Lisa Fernandez for being one of the first Latina pioneers in women sports. Her drive, passion and unbounded leadership qualities are admirable.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
At the beginning of starting up the foundation, I used to go by Ms. Travieso. One time, I called a Latino owned company, and they returned my call unsure whether my call was real since my last name means Naughty in Spanish. Even though I love my last name, I now go by “Lilly” to avoid any confusion.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m extremely grateful to my parents for always supporting my development as an athlete but most of all for believing in me and my ideas. From day one, my parents have been my financial supporters but also have instilled in me to always give back and share my wins as well as my struggles of my athletic journey.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I believe that cultural and societal misconceptions regarding educational and career advancements of women in the United States is what is currently holding women from founding companies. Women are not empowered from a young age to become leaders of tomorrow. Instead, they are often set to follow predispose roles to fulfill societal, cultural and gender norms. Culture must be embraced and respected but should never hold back an individual from growth.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Our government and communities need to work on empowering and preparing women leaders that will impact their communities from a young age. It is important to encourage young girls to pursue playing sports because it allows young girls a medium to imagine, aspire, dream, explore all possibilities, and to engage with other girls with similar passions, qualities, to develop leadership skills, and to be a team player. It also empowers young girls to aspire a TRUE, yes you can mentality by experiencing firsthand opportunities that sports can bring to their lives, which will ultimately impact their future.
This is the reason why I founded the ELLA Sports Foundation. Our mission is to support young female Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence. We work on developing leadership in Latina athletes through education, training, mentorship, and advocacy in the sports community.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I encourage women to become founders to help expand relationships with our communities. This will increase awareness and knowledge in leadership development for our young female generation. The ELLA foundation works on bridging this gap of knowledge with the ultimate goal to create more educated Latinas in order to have a better outcome in life by breaking cultural conformities.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Some of the myths that I heard along the way of founding the ELLA Sports Foundation is that you need to have a lot of money to get started. However, the truth of it is that all you need is a vision, mission, desire and people that believe in you. Once you get a following and expand awareness on your goal, people will gravitate towards it.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Not everyone needs to be a founder which allows others to pursue jobs of equal or higher importance. Specific traits that are essential to be a successful founder are commitment, resourcefulness, teamwork, persistence, and leadership. These are traits not only found in successful founders but can be acquired by many.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A vision — Everything starts with an idea; it is what you do with that idea that matters
- Support system — It is extremely hard to do things alone, which makes a network of people essential for growth. With a support system that believes in your mission, you can continue to move your foundation/company in the right direction.
- Awareness — We strive to bring awareness to our foundation by serving local, national, and international Latina communities. Through grassroots, social media, and other media outlets we hope to eventually create a recognizable brand, reaching additional supporters.
- Risk taking- Risks are required to undertake huge ideas. As with all sports, failure is a part of the game. You will never succeed if you are afraid and don’t take the first step.
- Knowledge- The more knowledge you have, the less costly mistakes will be made. Mistakes are inevitable, but they serve as learning opportunities.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
That’s the goal — making the world a better place. I’m working with the ELLA Sports Foundation to expand relationships with the Latino community by increasing awareness and knowledge in leadership development and higher education through sports. There is a huge misconception among the Latino community about being able to afford private high schools and or top universities. We are working to bridge this gap of knowledge with the ultimate goal to create more educated Latinas in order to have a better outcome in life by breaking cultural conformities.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The movement that I would like to create is for women to have a YES I can mentality without having to settle for cultural, gender and community norms. Let’s ignite women, specifically young women to think outside the box, to imagine, to dream and pursue their dreams.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
One person that comes to mind is Eva Longoria, the founder of Eva Longoria Foundation. She was raised to give back to her community, like myself, and has made significant impacts by empowering young Latinas through academic and career success. She is a role model to me, and I would love to collaborate to expand our vision.
Jessica Mendoza is another empowering Latina who was a collegiate athlete like me and is taking strides to inspire young women in the career field as a recognizable MLB/Sports analyst and broadcaster.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.