Believe in yourself, Especially as a woman — Becoming a business owner as a minority woman entering a male-dominated field could have seemed a little daunting; however, I always believed in myself and was supported by my family. Once I entered the business world, the sky was the limit and the only thing that could have held me back was myself.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanesa Ellis, multi-unit franchise owner of Conserva Irrigation, the only national outdoor company founded on the concept of water conservation, and Mosquito Squad, the largest and most trusted mosquito and tick control franchise in North America. A first-generation immigrant, Vanesa started working outside the home at the age of 15 and continued up until she gave birth to her two children. After a ten-year hiatus from the working world, Vanesa was ready to get back in the game, this time owning her own business as a franchisee with a proven business model and the support system behind it. In a short amount of time, Vanesa worked her way up as one of the top-performing territories at Conserva Irrigation, paving the way for women in the male-dominated landscaping and outdoor services industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and grew up in a small town called Quequén just outside of the city. I am the youngest of three children and experienced a wonderful childhood surrounded by my parents, family and extended family. I would not trade it for the world because it made me who I am today. My parents had initially moved as children from Italy to Argentina in the 1950s, but it was always my father’s dream to move to the United States. He knew there was endless opportunity in America if you worked hard and he saw limitations on achieving that same quality of life for his family in Argentina.
Was there a particular catalyst that made you immigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
Like I mentioned above, no matter how hard you work, it was more difficult to reach your full potential in Argentina. When I was about six years old, my father immigrated to the United States. I have an incredible amount of respect for my father because he did things the right way. Although it took much longer to go through the legal process, it was well worth it for him and our family to seek out his dream. Five years later, my mother was able to join him. I stayed back in Argentina and lived with my older brother and sister before I could officially join my parents in the United States at the age of eleven.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the United States? What was that experience like?
Having only ever lived in a small town in Argentina, moving to the Bronx in New York City was a huge culture shock to me. On one hand, it was refreshing to see the melting pot of cultures that I could relate to and on the other hand, it was overwhelming and all so new. I greatly missed my family and friends in Argentina, but knowing that living here was my father’s dream, I grew to love it too. The Bronx was a tough area — they love fiercely and protect their own. With that said, I was a new kid from another country and being teased for being different became par for the course. I grew to have a thick skin and my very strong family foundation helped me to weather that time. One of my first friends was Priscilla who only spoke Portuguese because she was from Brazil. We were able to communicate as I spoke Spanish and a tight bond formed between us. I also picked up English within my first year of living here and started to help my parents navigate the language as well. As the youngest child in our family (my siblings are 10+ years older), I spent the most time with my parents and assisted them in many ways. Most often, I was their translator and even accompanied my dad on trips to the dealership to negotiate the purchase of a car. It not only helped me fine-tune my English, but also began to spark my interest in business and as a tough negotiator!
After living for a few years in New York, my family moved to South Florida where I graduated high school. After graduation, I moved to New Jersey and attended Fairleigh Dickinson University. I was one of the first people in my family to go to college and had to support myself. During the day, I worked full-time at a bank while attending night school. I worked consistently for five years to earn my degree. Working provided me with an extreme sense of accomplishment, as I did not have to rely on anyone to achieve my goals.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My family, especially my older sister and brother have made a huge impact in my life. Besides my parents, they were my biggest supporters while adjusting to living in a new country. I must mention my upstairs neighbor Lucia though. She took me under her wing and became a mentor and confidant to me. Lucia was in her 20s, genuine and kind, which meant everything to me as a kid. She helped me with my English and Italian, school work, gave me her old clothes and she even bought me a bike! We still remain in touch and I am forever grateful for her friendship.
So how are things going today?
At age 15, I started working as a cashier at Winn-Dixie. Fast forward to now and I own territories with multiple franchised concepts including Conserva Irrigation and Mosquito Squad. So, things are going great!
When I finished college, I continued to work at the bank and was introduced by a mutual friend to my amazing husband Chris. We married and quickly began to grow our family. I always wanted to stay home with the children when they were small and luckily, I was able to for the first ten years. As they grew older and more independent, I was ready to get back to business! But this time, I wanted to be my own boss. Franchising was an attractive option to me because the model helps you get your business up and running at a predictable cost with support. Then, my husband and his brother mentioned Mosquito Squad. I looked into the company and the rest is history! Once I had the entrepreneurial bug, I was eager to grow and Conserva Irrigation was the perfect fit. My husband is an environmental consultant, so the eco-friendly aspect of the business model was attractive to me. I opened my Conserva territory of Northeast Florida in Ponte Vedra Beach in 2019 and have worked my way up to becoming a top performer in the network. As a result, I’m proud to say I’ve achieved 278 percent YOY sales growth, despite obstacles thrown our way during the pandemic.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My family has given me everything and I’m now working to give it back. Between my two businesses, being a mother, and caring after my own mother as she gets older, I have very little time for myself at the moment. But, that is okay. I like to stay active and help the ones I love. As you can see, my life today is made possible by my family so there’s no question that I want to step up for them. As my kids get older, I hope that my story and experiences serve as a guideline for them to achieve their dreams because they are my entire world.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
- The biggest thing that impacted my family was being separated. I wish there was a way to help families move together or make the time that they are separated shorter.
- Doing things the right way takes a very long time. I hope that after reading this, U.S. natives can understand the struggles immigrant families face when trying to transition to living here.
- Likewise, it can be tempting to not pursue a legal path of immigration because it takes so long, but it is well worth it for your family and helps things run smoothly. Therefore, I hope that families immigrating also see the advantages of pursuing the legal path and my hope is that the transition becomes a smoother process overall.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Working Hard — As mentioned, in many other countries, no matter how hard you work, your efforts just won’t get you as far as you can go in America. So, if you move here and work hard, the world can be yours for the taking. I started at Winn-Dixie and I am now a business owner whose dream has come true. My story is shared by many people in this land of opportunity.
- Look forward, Don’t look back — Your past is a piece of you, but does not define you. Integrating into another country and way of life is an incredible experience and only makes your global perspective stronger. Use that experience as a strength that is unique to you which you can use in any path that you take.
- Be Positive — I’ve experienced so much growth in my life from watching my family achieve their dreams and from them helping me achieve mine. I’m a positive person because I’ve been given something to believe in since day one. That optimism has fueled my success today.
- Believe in yourself, Especially as a woman — Becoming a business owner as a minority woman entering a male-dominated field could have seemed a little daunting; however, I always believed in myself and was supported by my family. Once I entered the business world, the sky was the limit and the only thing that could have held me back was myself.
- Have Confidence — Having confidence directly correlates with how you view your strengths. What you might think weighs you down is actually an advantage you hold over others. Whether it’s being bilingual, experience working in another country, or having international connections, be sure to have confidence in your ability to achieve your goals.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
My experiences from my first day in this country have continued to keep me optimistic about where we’re going.
- This is the land of opportunity. No matter what, families can work hard to achieve a better life for their loved ones. Experiencing life first-hand in another country showed me this is not the case everywhere else. As a woman business owner, I am especially grateful to be where I am today and have the chance to own my own business.
- From my family to my neighbors and friends, I have always had a strong foundation and network of loved ones in the United States. This is my home and the people I’ve met along the way have become part of my extended family. They have always given me hope and believed in me and I’m grateful.
- I am hopeful for my children, of course! Seeing their lives growing up versus mine is an inspiration to me. They’ll grow up to provide an even better life for my grandchildren and, so on. My kids are my inspiration and the foundation my parents laid made that dream come true for generations to come.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lopez! As a Latina woman from the Bronx, she’s always been a huge inspiration to me, transcending across cultures. JLO has literally done it all. From music to movies, to owning businesses, to living a healthy lifestyle, her capabilities are endless and have given me so much confidence. She is especially a great role model for women, proving that we can be strategic business owners and achieve success no matter the obstacles.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow my business on our Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/ConservaIrrigationNortheastFlorida/.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!