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Storytelling by Ellen Iones

Nuria Santamaria Wolfe has made a career out of making her own way. From her bicultural upbringing to founding a media company, Wolfe has carved her own path and made space for others like her.

“We came from El Salvador in the middle of the civil war,” said Wolfe. The conflict, which raged from 1980 to 1992, claimed the lives of over 70,000 civilians, not including an unknown number who disappeared during the war. Wolfe said her mother realized El Salvador held “really no future for a young girl,” so the family came to the United States, settling in Los Angeles. 

“I grew up bilingual and bicultural; at home, everything was Latino,” said Wolfe, describing the code-switching familiar to many young immigrants. That childhood experience of dancing between cultures and worlds was deeply influential for Wolfe; “I saw opportunity from a business perspective going into college,” she said. 

At Stanford, Wolfe majored in economics, with a minor in Spanish. Although she grew up speaking the language, she wanted to be able to use her mother tongue in business and academic contexts. “I didn’t know what it was going to turn into, what it would become,” she said, but she knew she needed to focus on the large and growing Latino market. 

From Stanford, Wolfe entered the tech sector with a job at Accenture. When she was put on a project overhauling Kaiser’s interactive voice response system, she saw an opportunity to use her experience to improve the product for a multicultural audience. “I raised my hand and said, ‘I speak Spanish, I can help with this,’” Wolfe said. She ended up being a leader on the project; similar opportunities with Kraft, Coca-Cola and Target followed.

Wolfe knew that the Latino market was not a niche market, though it was still being treated as such; after stints at AdTech and with her own consulting company, Wolfe met the head of sales at Twitter. After pointing out that Latino audiences are huge consumers of media and technology, she asked, “What are you doing to attract ad dollars for Hispanic markets?” He asked her to follow up with some suggestions.

Push play to learn more about Canticos: Latino nursery rhymes brought to life through apps, books, videos and more.

Instead, Wolfe followed up with a job description. “I used the Twitter font and everything,” she said, laughing. She ended up creating a hybrid role that necessitated a knowledge of the market as well as a deep understanding of Spanish language--her dream job at the time. 

“Looking back, I had always been doing these entrepreneurial things,” Wolfe said. While at Twitter, Wolfe became a mother and germinated the seed for what would become Encantos Media. “It started as a moment. When your kid is born, you sing to them,” she said. Instead of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” though, Wolfe sang “Los Pollitos Dicen”--the same song her own mother sang to her as a child. 

Wolfe noted that a quarter of infants born today are born to Latina moms; yet, “There just wasn’t a lot of content for me as a Latina mom.” With the rough shape of Encantos already in her mind, Wolfe heard from an old colleague of her husband’s, who was compiling Spanish-language nursery rhymes into a book. “That’s what I as a mom would want to buy, and that’s what the market needs,” Wolfe remembers thinking. 

“Part of what I’ve faced is because of my area of focus--these big companies still think of the Hispanic market as a niche market.” But Encantos is now a mobile, global, Latino-inspired, multilingual brand encompassing books, apps, and video. They have a partnership with Nickelodeon, books in Target and in Costco in Puerto Rico, with products like clothing, toys and bedding coming in spring 2019--all within a year and a half of launching. 

The thread throughout Wolfe’s career path has been a trailblazing, entrepreneurial spirit--something she credits to her mom. In addition to being Wolfe’s biggest champion, her mother instilled in her the immigrant mentality of “making something where there was nothing.”

“Her influence has been so invaluable,” said Wolfe. She describes her mother as a risk-taker, “although she probably wouldn’t think of herself that way.” But to leave everything you’ve ever known for a chance at a better life for your children, the chance to make your own American dream, is one of the biggest risks imaginable.

Wolfe has learned some of her own lessons along the way, too: “Don’t wait until you become an expert in the field. There’s a lot of value in just starting,” she said. Raise your hand, put together that proposal, apply for that position--“Don’t just think about that entry-level job. Think about being the head of your department, or running the whole company.”

This last point is perhaps the most important, said Wolfe. “The bigger you dream, the bigger you’re going to act, the bolder you’re going to be.”


You can learn more about Nuria Santamaria Wofe here.

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