As part of The Startup Magazine Female Founder series, we sat down with award-winning entrepreneur Elizabeth Colón. Ms. Colón is a Speaker, Contributing Author, & CEO of language services company, Metaphrasis Language and Cultural Solutions, LLC.
Growing up in a home with two deaf sisters and parents who spoke very little English, Elizabeth saw the many ways that language can be a barrier for individuals who do not have the means to communicate on their own. Her experiences inspired her to become a language advocate and provide a voice for individuals who may not have the means to communicate on their own.
With over 20 years of experience in the language services industry, Elizabeth garnered national praise for her leadership and expertise in her field with awards such as Negocios Now’s Latinas in Business Award (2017). She has been named Chicago Business Journal Woman of Influence (2016), the National Association of Women Business Owners’ Woman Business Owner of the Year award (2015), the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Person of the Year award (2014), and Enterprising Women’s Enterprising Woman of the Year award (2013).
In the spirit of giving back, Elizabeth is currently the Board Chair of the Norwegian American Hospital Foundation and was recently installed as the first Latina President of the National Association of Business Owners (NAWBO), Chicago Chapter.
Elizabeth enjoys sharing her success story with other female entrepreneurs. She works hard to provide women with the guidance and tools necessary to become vibrant leaders and build resilient businesses. In this, she also hopes to open the door for young women who aspire to be business owners. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, being outdoors, spending time with family and hosting her weekly BoricuaTALKS! Show. A show about nothing and a little bit about everything. The purpose of the show is to inspire and bring laughter to her audience.
Let’s learn more from Elizabeth in her own words…
TSM: Congratulations on being named the first Latina president of the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. To get us started, describe what the NAWBO does in 10 words or less:
Elizabeth: It provides women business owners with leadership, education and networking.
TSM: With a bit more detail, what does NAWBO do for its members from a benefits and amenities standpoint?
Elizabeth: An investment in a NAWBO membership provides a portfolio of benefits that propel business growth and fuel personal and professional development. NAWBO offers many benefits at both the national and local levels. By offering a community for female entrepreneurs, the ability to connect with other like-minded individuals for advice and education in a confidential and supportive environment is one of the largest benefits of the organization. But NAWBO also works tirelessly in Washington D.C. to advocate for the 11.6 million women-owned businesses it represents. The organization also offers leadership training, speaking opportunities and savings through our partner programs that will more than pay for a member’s participation each year. The resources and programs available to our members help female entrepreneurs level up their businesses at each stage of growth
TSM: What is NAWBO’s impact in the world in terms of its broader mission?
Elizabeth: Because we believe that by propelling women forward into social, political, and economic spheres of power worldwide, NAWBO is working to better the state of the world. We are the movement that brings to light the necessity of women in all sectors to create the balance socially, politically and economically that is needed for current times as well as future generations.
Our role within the international women business owner community continues to reach new corners of the world. Our partnerships with FCEM, the Global Summit of Women, and international sister organizations builds each year, and we are continuing to work with Opportunity International to work with women business owners in poverty-stricken countries who obtain micro-loans to build their business and communities!
TSM: You’ve become an advocate for women business owners as an entrepreneur yourself. Tell us a bit about your own company and its mission and impact.
Elizabeth: Metaphrasis Language & Cultural Solutions is an award-winning interpreting and translation company located in Chicago that I founded in 2007. We partner with healthcare organizations, government services, and corporations nationally to proactively enable growth through proper compliance, improved communication, and increase human connection. Our services include on-site, telephonic and video remote interpreting, as well as, document translation services in over 100 languages.
My parents did not speak English and my two sisters are hard of hearing. Growing up I witnessed how this impacted their lives. Language is a tool used to communicate between people. When people do not share a common language, it makes it difficult for them not only to communicate, but also navigate life. People lose the ability to understand each other’s words. People lose the opportunity to truly express themselves and that is why we exist.
TSM: It seems Metaphrasis is both a people business and a technology business. What are the disruptive factors in your industry that are helping you make the people-tech bridge work?
Elizabeth: Our method of providing interpreting prior to COVID-19 was sending interpreters physically on-site which is the preferred method and it also creates trust and a human connection that is needed to make informed decisions . When our state implemented the “shelter in place” , all of our appointments were canceled within 24 hours and we had to immediately shift our model to video remote interpreting (VRI). There are pros and cons to using VRI, but I will highlight the benefits.
Our clients were able to obtain an interpreter with less than 60 seconds and, in the healthcare space, every second counts. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that allowed for staff to use it when they needed it. The software is easily downloadable on cell phones, Mac and desktop computer and, to me; it is like having an interpreter in your pocket.
TSM: As your company grew, what were the primary challenges? Hiring? Tech development? Raising capital?
Elizabeth: The primary challenges were a few. The first is hiring the right person for our company who enjoys working in small teams and has the same values as our organization. We like to say that we hire, fire and breathe our values. The second is definitely technology. It is challenging to choose the right platform for your business when everything is evolving so quickly. When you think you have the right technology something more robust is made available. Finally, I believe that raising capital is a challenge for all small businesses. More needs to be done in the financial industry to address this issue because small businesses are fueling our economy.
TSM: Going back to your early career decisions, tell us what factors influenced your decision to be an entrepreneur and gave you your entrepreneurial passion
Elizabeth: Becoming an entrepreneur was the result of being passed up for a promotion. In my former job, I believed I was deserving of a new role that was created from what I was already doing. When I asked if I could apply for the job, I was suddenly unqualified for the position. With that, I decided to hand in my resignation without a plan, no money and no job. I only had $500 in the bank and needed to do something very quickly. When I realized that I had taken my previous employer from a $200,00 business to a multi-million-dollar company, I knew that I could do the same for myself and so I opened my business.
I also want to commemorate my entrepreneur spirit to my father. He spoke very little English but I remember when I was a child that my father would read the local newspaper every day. Until this day, I do not know if he was teaching himself how to read, learn English or simply scrolling the business section. Whatever the reason, he was determined. He never invested in stocks, but he knew his numbers and he went on to open a local mom and pop grocery store and his children were required to work at the store after school. Seeing him accomplish this, and having his children be part of it fills me with joy. His passion is the same passion I have for my company today.
TSM: Are there particular characteristics you have and that you see in women business owners that particularly contribute to an ability to jump from a startup success to a scale up success?
Elizabeth: I recently heard someone say that you need to look at your personal character to adapt in this world. I could not agree more. COVID-19 hit businesses very hard and if you do not have grit, I do not believe you will survive. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It requires long hours in the beginning, making tough decisions, wearing multiply hats and, most importantly, learning how to not undervalue the services you offer. Sometimes we want the business so badly that we lower our cost in order to get the business. This is a big mistake. If you believe in yourself, your business and you can honestly say you bring value to your clients; then there is no need to get just any business opportunity that presents itself. Women need to negotiate to their fullest potential and stand by what their true worth is.
TSM: What is one interesting fact about you that people may not know?
Elizabeth: To many, I appear to be serious and very forthcoming, but the reality is that I love to laugh, dance, and have fun. Once you get to know me, I laugh more than the average person.