Daniela Blanco obtained her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from New York University (2020) and is the co-founder and CEO of Sunthetics. Her vision is to build a more sustainable chemical industry. At Sunthetics, she develops ground-breaking machine-learning platforms that accelerate the development and implementation of innovative and sustainable chemical processes. Daniela has multiple patents on sustainable chemical technologies and has been named Forbes 30 Under 30 in Energy North America (2021), Top Innovator Under 35 in Latin America by MIT Technology Review (2020), Top Female Founder by Inc Magazine (2020), Top Graduate Inventor by Lemelson-MIT (2020), Global Student Entrepreneur Champion (2019), and Brightest AI-CI Mind by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (2019).
Her vision for the future of chemical manufacturing has earned her invitations to speak at multiple panels and conferences, including the 2019 International Entrepreneurial Summit for the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations. Her story and vision led her to co-start National Geographic’s recent documentary, Own the Room, available to stream on Disney+.
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Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Daniela Blanco: I was born and raised in Venezuela, a country that fully depends on oil. I dreamt of becoming a chemical engineer since I was kid, knowing I wanted to contribute to the growth of the petrochemical industry. The chemical industry makes pretty much everything around us, but we don’t realize that making all these useful products (e.g. our desks, clothes, phones) has a huge harmful impact on our planet.
My dream was to make the chemical industry more sustainable, and I hoped I would be able to do so in Venezuela. However, the political situation in my home country did not allow me to stay and grow my professional career. I came to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at New York University. I dedicated my Ph.D. to develop more sustainable technologies to manufacture chemicals and during my first year at NYU, I made the decision to take my research one step further, ensuring that my work wouldn’t only go to a manuscript or a research lab. I co-founded Sunthetics to commercialize these technologies and bring their impact to the chemical industry.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Daniela Blanco: When I first came to the US I had a lot to learn. I was coming from Venezuela, where the university didn’t have many resources due to the political and economic crisis in the country. As soon as I walked into the chemical labs at NYU, I realized that I didn’t know the name of any of the instruments around me – I had never seen them before!
I was surrounded by brilliant Ph.D. students who were outstanding in everything they did. They seemed to know everything. I, on the contrary, felt behind and out of place. I had to work twice as hard to catch up with everyone and then build my career. Those first few months when I felt so behind were very hard. I did ask myself if I actually belonged there if I was crazy to even pursue that path. I am glad I didn’t let my fears come in the way of my dream. I learned, and one step at a time I built the path that took me to where I am today.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Daniela Blanco: The worst advice I received was to try to change who I was to fit the stereotype of what others may want to see in my role. I was told I was too girly, too happy, too naive to achieve any change in the chemical industry. I was told I needed to be different to fulfill my dream.
I soon realized that it wasn’t true. My story and personality are what make me fight for my dream and believe in it. Trying to change that, won’t make me comfortable, won’t make me honest, and won’t make me genuine. Being honest about who you are and what you want is so powerful- so powerful that it is the only way to be both successful and happy.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Daniela Blanco: Resilience to me is the ability to adapt. To refuse to quit.
I believe life has a way of showing us that unexpected changes are the rule. Things are almost always better or worse than we anticipated. When they are better, it’s easy to celebrate, but when they are worse, our pessimistic side can get a hold of our thoughts and feelings. The pandemic was a great example of this. It took all of us by surprise and what a curveball that was! Resilience is knowing that although plans A,B,C, and D have failed, we will find a way to get back up and find a new plan because quitting is not an option.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Daniela Blanco: Our organization is committed to building the right team to make the chemical industry more sustainable. Our technology is disruptive and risky, which is why we value our people above all, as only the right team will be able to make it happen. Honesty and commitment to Sunthetics’ vision are most important to us.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Daniela Blanco: I am honest. I am honest about who I am, what I know, what I look for, and what I think. People working with me can trust that I will tell the truth and will lead our company with honesty.
I am responsible. I take my responsibilities and promises very seriously, which means that I will do absolutely everything in my power to come through every time. I think this is particularly important when working in teams, as I know my team can trust I will always do my part.
I am an optimistic doer. I work extremely hard with an optimistic mindset. I pay special attention to tiny things that go right and I celebrate them. Recognizing every small success that comes from hard work is what keeps me and my team motivated!
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Daniela Blanco: Our personal brand is extremely important to our company. I believe in being absolutely honest about who I am so my values reflect those of the company. I want people to know me and understand why Sunthetics is what it is.
There is always a link between our brand and our company. We build a company with a vision that is strongly tied to our values and story. The key is that when we acknowledge this link, we can finally understand the WHY behind our mission – we understand WHY why we won’t give up on this dream. The secret is that only when investors, employees, and partners see that WHY, only then, can they truly support us and our dream.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Daniela Blanco: I like leaders who are mentors, those that manage the right balance between friendship and supervision. I always aim to be the type of leader that feels like a friend, as I want my team to feel comfortable around me and trust me enough to be honest at all times. I like to supervise and guide while always being empathetic and freely acknowledging my mistakes when I make them.
A leader is not supposed to feel unreachable, but instead, be someone we can relate to and empathize with. We are a team, and that means that we are all there to learn and grow, including the leader.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Daniela Blanco: Find the right balance between being overconfident and underconfident! Don’t fake it, just find the balance that works for you and represents who you truly are.
Entrepreneurs tend to think that we need to know the answer to every question, but anyone who is truly smart knows that there is no such a thing, because we are ALL learning. Don’t be underconfident, because everyone else will doubt you, so it is your job to recognize your strength and believe in yourself. However, don’t be too confident, to the point where you stop learning and listening to advice because you think you know it all. Be confident enough to show that you are competent and prepared to face the challenges ahead of you. Be honest, be you.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Daniela Blanco: One of my favorite quotes is “One day or day one, your choice”. It reminds me that it’s up to me to choose when and how I will make a difference in my life. Day one might sound scary and discouraging with so much work ahead, but it’s so full of opportunities, that we should never forget how inspiring and exciting it is to be on the so-called “day one”.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Daniela Blanco for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Daniela Blanco or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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