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Paula Mora Arias

Alumni Story

Paula Mora Arias is a social entrepreneur with a background in international business. She is a founding member of Symba, a venture backed and all-female founded tech start-up focused on the future of work. Prior to joining Symba, Paula worked at the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. Paula completed her graduate studies at IE Business School in Spain and holds a BA in International Relations from Florida International University. Paula is passionate about professional development for at-risk-youth, immigrants, and people of color. In her free time, Paula enjoys cooking and yoga.
Current Location

Washington, USA

SPECIALITY

Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships at Symba

Program studied

MIM 2020

Q&A WITH PAULA

So, first of all congratulations, star person of the hour, celebrity by excellence at South Summit. How you carry that title of being such a celebrity in this entrepreneurship ecosystem, congratulations Paula! We are super excited for you and we’re super proud of you as a community and super proud of the work you have, done it’s impressive. So, I first wanted to know what inspired you to start this company like how was that moment?

So, before I answer any questions, I love to just thank you guys, like IE has been such an awesome community for me and for our team. We did the MIM back in 2019-2020 and just being part of that ecosystem has been so helpful for everything we’ve done right so that’s one thing and then in terms of our company and where we started. I’m first-of-all proud to be part of this amazing badass female-founded team. We’re all women, we’re all daughters of immigrants or immigrants, so I moved to the US when I was nine.

Our mission really focuses around access to the workforce, so basically, if we provide companies the tools to help them attract more talent and really manage that experience, that’s really where we focus. So really the passion comes from all of us being daughters of immigrants and immigrants ourselves and navigating how to find a job and like how to stand out in the job search, so that’s really what brought us together and we’re really proud to be in this journey.

I am sold already! This is great, very, very exciting. Now I know that companies change so much in the process. So, when you first started Symba, if it was called Symba, is it what you’d imagined it would be right now? Like how has this transition been?

It has been a rollercoaster, so you’re right there’s like ups and downs and pivots and turns. So, we did start Symba, but the social mission has always stayed the same. It is the core. We have this idea, and we know that we cannot move away from the core. We might move away from how we get to the end goal, but the core has to be there, right, so that has always remained. which is opening up the workforce, access to opportunities. This has always been there. Initially, we thought we were going to be a matchmaking platform. We thought we were going to get awesome students and we were going to connect them with amazing companies and then all the magic was going to happen, right. Then we realised that, first of all, that space is a little bit more saturated. There are more companies doing that already, so for that one part, we were thinking how do we make ourselves different, how do we stand out from all of these companies that are doing this and then we realised, “hey let’s talk to the employers.” What do they need, what are they lacking, and that’s when we realised that they don’t have the tools to actually manage the experience side of these programs. They can get all the talent, they have the recruitment platforms, but once the talent comes to the company, it’s like OK how do we make sure they have a great experience? How do we make sure we onboard them? How do we make sure that we manage their projects correctly? So, that was a headache and there was no tool to serve that part, so we were like this is it and that’s what we did.

This is awesome because this what we try to teach all the time in our programs. Please find a niche market or like things change, plans change, you were expected to be a matchmaking platform and then all of a sudden, you are fulfilling this market and I think that’s something that it’s proud for me to hear you, as alumni, say that because I hope that we had something to do with that in a way of your education hopefully.

100%

But also, I’m not sure if you know this, but you’re the second IE Alumni in history that has won this competition, no other IE Alumni has won this and you’re the first female. The first male was Alejandro Artacho with Spotahome a few years ago and you’re the second female alumni.

Amazing! Wow I had no idea! That’s so amazing!

Congratulations again! How do you think your time with us help you get here?

So, when I first started the MIM program, even before starting the MIM program, one of the reasons that really drove me to IE was the entrepreneurship component. I have done my undergrad in the US and have grown up there and of course there’s like amazing schools and great opportunities there, but I was always just driven to this entrepreneurial ecosystem. I also did international relations in my undergrad, so like the international component of going to an international school and having that aspect of it was also very important for the decision. In terms of the company itself, we started in 2017 and I went to do the MIM in 2019. We had already our core team, we had already our initial pilots, and we had started already developing our platform, but we hadn’t taken off 100% already. We were making strides to get there. I think where, you know personally, I was able to contribute back to our team and our trajectory, was bringing back a lot of the things that we were learning in the classroom straight into the company. A lot times we were doing case studies and learning about other start-ups and I was literally just doing that in our company. It was just going back right after school and implementing things. And on top of that just being really aligned and connected with the IE start-up ecosystem. Paris from the venture lab, he’s one of our mentors and he has been amazing and has given us so much guidance. It’s just been an awesome community for us.

Thank you and we’re happy and I think this is what we strive for. We always mention that sometimes we’re so far away from the students when we’re marketing, because we don’t see them every day, so once we see that it’s amazing that the work we do has an impact. So, based on that do you have any main takeaways from the MIM that you recall that sort of made an impact on your development at Symba?

I definitely think just feeding off of the energy of all the students and all the ideas that they brought to the table were amazing. As I mentioned to you, I was one of the few that had already come to the program with kind of an established idea, but just seeing everybody else’s dreams and aspirations and how hard they work, even from scratch. Like we had already been there, we had already begged, you know, got down on our knees, like please try us and seeing students have to go through that process and to see las ganas, las ganas de comerse el mundo. Like they just want to go out there and do something that was just really inspiring.

This is amazing, I also love the Spanglish. So, I love something you mentioned about the positive impact because, of course, I think that that is ultimately what your company does. It’s establishing a positive impact in the experience of students. So, this concept of positive impact for me is interesting because I mean they said it over again about how social impact is key to start-ups. I came to this event four years ago and this wasn’t part of the conversation. It’s changed so much, and you know having a purpose and working towards something that is out there for the common good, and I think that’s just changing how we’re behaving. Also, after a pandemic, I’m pretty sure we all want the world to be better for all of us. So, I think that’s also shifting. Do you think that every start-up should incorporate this or is it something that you think is changing, is it the key for success, the secret spice?

I think so. I think it has to be at the centre. We were just talking with some of the finalists and I think every single idea that was on that stage had some sort of social impact even if at first glance you don’t think so, like the guy doing satellites. You think like okay this is techie, like what does that have to do with me, but there’s so many things that we take for granted on a day-to-day basis that requires this technology that requires things working and aligning and if there’s not that human element to it, then why are you doing it? What is the reason behind it?

I agree, there’s something that I was so excited when I learned that you won. I mean female empowerment is something so important to me, being born, raised, professionally trained by females, I’m of course embracing my femininity in a lot of ways. I think something that I value a lot and I’m proud to see powerful Latinas out there changing the world. So, I first want to congratulate you for that, but also, I think you’re such an inspiration to young girls that are growing up and never thought this would be an option. I mean I never thought honestly that I would be able to live in Madrid when I was growing up in Puerto Rico, in a small town, in the middle of the jungle. So, I think that when we’re changing this type of thing, you serve as a model of inspiration for younger girls. Maybe you don’t feel it, because at certain points you don’t think that’s going to happen, but what would be your advice for little girls like you that are out there?

Don’t doubt yourself. Everybody else is going to doubt you, everyone. Even if you think they’re your supporters and even if you feel like there’s a lot of support, there’s always going to be outside scrutiny. It’s going to be there, so if you yourself allow that to be something that you’re being harsh on yourself, giving that self-scrutiny, that’s the first wrong step. You gotta be your biggest best friend, you gotta be your biggest ally, and you gotta just believe in your talents, believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will.

I have a rapid question, like a speed dating type of thing, so can you tell me if you had a billboard you could display to the entire world what would you put on it?

I would put on it the faces of girls from different ethnicities and the billboard would say “You are seen, you are here,” because something that we’re so proud of in our company is that we all look different, we all come from different backgrounds. Our founding team we’re from India, we’re from Iran, Colombia, China, we have team members from every corner of the world and if we could only incentivise other companies, other schools, other institutions to look like that from the top, we could begin to inspire from the bottom. So, that would be billboard, calling out for that amount of diversity, in that amount of visibility for women that look very different from all corners of the world.

Oh my God! Yes, please! I don’t know what follow up question to ask after this one, but I’ll try. Where do you see the future of Symba going?

This is my favourite question! I’m so happy you asked because when I was pitching on stage, I really wanted somebody to ask me that question. I’m like I’m gonna rock this question!

So first of all, Symba is a movement, right. We’re not just the company, we’re not just selling to employers. As I mentioned to you, social impact is at the core, so we’re movement and what we see is that we’re not just simply connecting a student that graduated with a company and we’re not just building that capacity for the employer to bring those types of people in. What we really see is that we’re giving employers and we’re giving organisations the power to really have more diversity, open up doors to individuals that look differently, that are not just the typical student, that can be the mom or dad returning from their parental leave, the veteran returning from war, the person who’s transitioning their career and wants to try a whole new different role. It’s the talent development, the early understanding of where can people fit in outside of just the trajectory of “go to school, go to college, get an internship, get a job, get married,” there it’s so much more than that it’s not linear. There are many doors, there are many ways, and we want to be that engine — we want to power that and have those doors open.

Preach to the choir! It’s been amazing getting to know your mind that it’s so inspiring and I’m left super inspired and full, not just because you’re an IE Alumni, but because it’s great to see that there are people doing what you’re doing out there and fighting for a better world.

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