Ana Roca Castro, Premier Transmedia, Proud Latina, Woman Entrepreneur

ImagesAna is one of the most charming, endearing, warm energetic human beings I have ever met.  In many ways, her entrepreneurial spirit is just part of her DNA.  She followed her instincts throughout her career. Her journey is how she found herself doing her own thing and touching many people along the way. 

Ana is the founder of Latinos in Social Media (aka LATISM).  She came to speak to me about Latino entrepreneurs and how there need to be more.  She asked me to sit on a panel to talk about raising money from angels. She puts this event on a few times a year across the country.  Her enthusiam and her story just blew me away and I could only say yes.  She also has her own development company called Premier Transmedia but we will get to that.

Ana grew up between the Dominican Republican and Washington Heights.  Her mother had moved to the US before Ana. When Ana came for the first time at 13 she had no desire to stay.  She returned to DR to live with her Grandmother and attend Catholic school.  At age 15 Ana was kicked out of school for blowing up a condom into a balloon in religious class.  There is no doubt that Ana had a mind of her own from the get go.  Whether she liked it or not she was being shipped to the US to live with her Mom and finish HS. 

She was enrolled in Kennedy HS located in the Bronx.  Not a stellar school.  Only 14% of her class graduated.  The good news was that she was an incredible volleyball player and that was her saving grace giving her an immediate social circle.  She quickly became the star player.  She went from rebelling in a strict Catholic school to walking through metal detectors every day to go to school.  Her past schooling gave her the education to get straight A's doing very little once she landed at Kennedy.  The coach basically adopted her and so she went from being a rebellious student to being a straight A star athlete.  In the end, moving to the US was the right move. 

Ana was offered a full ride scholarship to both Suny Buffalo and University of Florida.  Her mother faked that she had a heart disease so Ana would not go away which she found out later.  Instead she went to City College until a year passed and then she moved out on her own.  In order to pay for school and housing she had to work full time while going to school.  Ana worked from 11pm -7am in a hospital taking care of babies with AIDS at the Incarnation Childrens Center.  This was when AIDs was really exploding.  It was 1987.  Financially she also had to help out her Mom.  It was tough and would have certainly been a lot easier had she gone to one of the schools offering her a full scholarhips but everything happens for a reason. 

When she had first moved to the US she had met a priest who became a mentor.  They used to close the streets in the summer evenings and play volleyball.  When Ana was sixteen he asked her what she planned on doing for the summer.  He asked Ana to go to Calcutta for the summer and work with Mother Teresa.  She went to Calcutta at age 16 spending the summer taking people who were sick from the streets and bringing them back to Mother Teresa's hospital to take worms out of their skin to help them have a peaceful death.  Needless to say that was life changing. 

Every summer she would go with a group of volunteers to a different country to help people.  She went to Peru, Afghanistan and Albania.  Mother Teresa's group realized how responsible Ana was and at age 17 they would ask her to go frequently to the United Nations to speak to people, have dinner with them and get a check for a donation to the organization.  It was all of this that started Ana's journey into International affairs.

Ana graduated college and landed a job at Columbia University as the Project Manager for the Pregnancy Protection Program in the community.  She went from City college working every night to make ends meet and still doing volunteerism for the sisters on the side to a Columbia University with a good job, a decent salary and she got to be the boss.  Perfect.  Ana was running junior high school and high school outreach clinic programs.  She had 22 people working for her and four social workers. 

Then an incredible opportunity came along. The school for public health at Columbia sent out an email asking for a volunteer to go to Italy to manage the finances of a research program there around diabetes.  That person had to leave the next day.  Ana got on the plane. 

She was 24 years old, living in Italy, working for Columbia University manging the finances of a $7-10 million dollar projects.  It was a huge responsibility.  Columbia wanted to make sure there was no corruption taking place which is why they brought someone over from the states.  She was young and tough and she made sure that they got what they paid for. Ana worked on this project for 7 years until the fund finished.  She wanted to stay in Italy.  She had not only fallen in love with the country she fell in love with her husband-to-be. 

Not surprising, Ana found another job there where she would manage recruitment, development and benefits for the human rights division of the United Nations.  The key was she had experience using Oracle. The job was for the sustainable development of food and agricultural division of the United Nations.  They wanted to integrate Oracle systems into the existing system.  They wanted to make sure the tech did not take over the human aspects of the procedures.  It was a huge undertaking.  It was that job where she discovered her inner geek.  

Ana had three children while she was in Italy.  She was managing 200 engineers to implement this program.  Many times she found herself writing code herself so she could explain what she meant.  She says she became a developer out of despair.  Her supervisor was impressed and asked Ana if she wanted to take a masters class in ERP development while doing her job and raising 3 kids.  She did.  Between that, traveling sometimes 70% of the time, the kids and the nannies, she finally said enough.  It wasn't working for her.  She decided to take a sabbatical and the family moved back to the US.

Her husband was thrilled as he always wanted to move to the US.  They had a few real estate investments in Rochester, NY so they decided they would settle down there.  The idea was that Ana would take off a year to settle in before she did anything else.  Her plan was to take cookies, join the PTA and be a really involved Mom.  She said that lasted two weeks when she thought about baking the kids with the cookies. 

The Grandparents in Italy wanted to connect with their missing grandchildren so Ana build a small application for the diplomatic community.  It was basically a social network.  In four months, over 10,000 families had joined.  She decided she would start to sell some products on the site.  She would put up educational products that the kids would want and then the Grandparents would buy it for them.  It was essentially a small retail mall inside the network.  This network did not have easy access getting the products, shipping etc so through this business everyone benefited.  Then she got a call from Walmart.  After living in Italy all these years she did not even know who Walmart was.  This guy calls and says to her we see your transactions and traffic and we would like to explore a partnership with you.  She immediately said no but thank you because this is just a fun experiment.  15 minutes later she is on the phone with her lawyer who explained to her the possibilities with Walmart. She calls the guy back and goes to Arkansas to seal her first deal.  Then ToysRUs, JCPenny and others  become part of this network. 

An ambassador can go on to her site and buy something that is secured which makes the marketplace unique.   The UN had approved the app.  She is growing and making over $20k a week with 5 engineers on staff.  The tipping point is when she gets a call from the Secretary of Interiors office who wants her to kick out the unfriendly diplomats to the US.  She said no because it wasn't the diplomats but their wives doing all the shopping.  So the UN said they would buy the business from her.  Ana sold and put a nice amount of cash in her pocket.

Ana took that concept and started to build internal social network apps for large companies.  The first one was Federal Express and then Best Buy but she found her heart was in education.  It was her knowledge of Oracle and ERP implementations that gave her the ability to build for all these businesses. 

Last year she took a leap of faith and decided to focus on what she loves.  She only wanted to build apps for education clients.  She had built an app for a bank, an English and Spanish app. The Spanish app was really bad.  They wanted Ana to find all the influential Latino bloggers to write about this particular app.  She started putting the word out on twitter to see if there were any Latino bloggers out there with the hashtag Latism.  It was through this that her non-profit was born to help Latinos create a community in social media bringing together business leaders from each vertical to meet their peers in the Latino community.  Latism has over 180,000 bloggers connected to her organization.  This year LATISM is going on the 5th year. 

Her personal company is Premier Transmedia.  She has built an educational platform for Latino kids to provide online tutoring with 35 bilingual teachers.  There is a SMS piece so parents can text with the teachers to understand the homework they are doing.  She wants to help the Latino population in this country get their kids get educated and understand what their kids are diong and learning. 

Honestly keeping up with Ana is almost a full time job.  She has four kids who are 10, 7, 6 and 3.  I am pretty damn sure that Ana finds time to bake cookies with the kids while juggling everything else she does.  One smart lady who has incredible energy and through her leadership she has really made an impact in the Latino community.  Just waiting to see what she does next.