Colombia: Summary of Interview with Jackie Krick

Jacqueline (Jackie) Krick was born in Bogota, Colombia. She grew up there until the age of 15 when she moved to Bolivia with her family and finished high school there. When she was 21 years old, Jackie migrated with her family to the United States. Since 2004, she successfully owns ECU Communications, an advertising agency that offers services such as brand development, social media advertising, audience engagement, and digital footprint. It is a certified Woman-Owned Small Business.

Jackie KrickLife before migrating

Jackie was born and lived in Bogota, Colombia until the age of fifteen. Her mother remarried an American diplomat and the family moved to Bolivia where they lived for six years. Jackie remembers: “Eventually my parents would come back to the U.S. because my father’s intention was to work overseas a couple more years before his retirement in the U.S. So, he was always telling me and my brothers that we have to start assimilating to life in the U.S. because this was where the whole family was moving. We were fortunate that we spoke English, and that’s due to attending American schools while still in Colombia and in Bolivia, so I knew how to speak English.”

First years in the United States

Thinking about her first years in the United States, Jackie highlights the importance of having a green card as it enabled her to assimilate quicker and easier: “Sometimes we don’t realize how valuable things are. When we came to the U.S., we had a residency, we had a green card because of my stepdad who worked for the State Department. He therefore was bringing his family to the U.S. and of course immediately we had our green card. Back then I didn’t recognize what it meant to have a green card, or the value it had when living in the U.S. as a documented individual. Later, when I started living here, I realized how important it was to have your documentation in order and realized what I needed to do was to become a U.S citizen. I applied for citizenship after being a permanent resident for five years. Having the ability to have legal status and later become a U.S. citizen was priceless.”

The first years in Florida were quite difficult, Jackie mentions: “I got a job working as a hostess at a restaurant and, when they asked me if I had experience, I said yes. My family always owned a restaurant in South America and that’s how I got a job working as a hostess, getting paid 4 dollars and fifty cents an hour. That was fine. My first job was tough, I didn’t have a car so I had to walk everywhere and it was a completely different environment, from getting to know different people, everybody sounded strange. It was hard –and granted I knew the language, the environment was still very different. Anyhow, soon after I got that the hostess job, I realized that job was not for me. I got into the tourism industry in Florida and I worked in a hotel chain that focused on bringing groups from Argentina, South America, into Florida and I was able to use both languages (English and Spanish). While there, I quickly started learning the business and administrative side of things and worked more in the areas that I had been trained.”

Jackie moved to the DC metro area in 1986: “When I moved here, I got a job working for a big computer company doing marketing. It was nice, it was almost like a new beginning as I learned how to do different types of work in a highly diverse metropolitan area.”

Thinking about this work experience, Jackie highlights how important it was in terms of the knowledge that she obtained and how it helped her to start her own business: “I think this job is one of the reasons why I am here today. It is the history that I accumulated over the years. From there, I went to work for another tech company for some years and later I worked for an advertising agency.  I learned many aspects of business, marketing and advertising that I apply to my work today. It was a small agency, specializing in federal government work, and I learned how to do that type of business including understanding federal procedures and contracting. I started managing a lot of contracts and doing business development. This was when I realized it was something that I knew how to do, I was good at and I wanted to do on my own. I wanted to break away and start my own business.”

ECU Communications, a certified woman-owned small business

I started my business in 2004. Currently, ECU Communications has thirty employees. Jackie mentions: “Right now, we craft campaigns that educate the public, and launch recruitment campaigns that help to recruit quality talent in government agencies. So that’s who we are, we’re a government contractor and a marketing communications agency. Currently, we work with a lot of contractors in the DC metro area but we also have a couple of relationships in different states; California and Texas for the most part.”

Jackie explains how her company initially started: “The federal government has different pillars of contracting, it has an open competition system which means that all companies that want to compete for a contract can compete for it, then they have separate contracts for small business competitions. There is also the 8a set aside contracts which are for minorities; women, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians. Those 8a contracts are only set aside for these minority businesses that have gone through the certification process. When I was learning all about the federal government, I learned a lot about 8a contracts and when I started my business, I designed it for 8a government contracts. After a couple of years of business, we applied for that 8a certification. It’s a whole process through the Small Business Association, you have to be certified to qualify for these contracts, and you have to provide reporting every year to make sure that you are meeting the requirements of the program. After nine years you graduate.”

Jackie mentions: ECU graduated from the 8a program in 2015 and we are no longer eligible for these type of contracts. However, we team with companies that are 8a. During the past few years, we have grown and with great success, we are hiring more people. Recently, after a very competitive selection process, we were successful in partnering with the U.S. Census Bureau to help them with their marketing and recruitment for their outreach and education campaigns. Competition among smaller businesses is huge and this is what we do. We always have to keep our eye out, be very proactive in going after businesses that are out there.”

Thinking about how she overcame any obstacles that got in her way, Jackie emphasizes: “Growing my business has been tough. But I think I am a very determined person. I have fallen down many times but I just dust myself off and get up and go, so I think that you really have to have determination and desire and be resourceful and resilient. If somebody tells me no, I am always going to be looking for the next way to find a yes. My advice is, ‘do not be afraid to go after those things, ask questions.’ It is just a matter of communicating things, it is just about opening up the conversation.”

Jackie also states the importance of having a wide network in setting up a successful business: “Finding the right networks is also essential. It could be a community network -I think communities are really important. It can also be a business network, it could be a church network or have all of them because like I said, each of these gives you a different type of connection and you learn from all these folks.”

Immigrants in the United States

Jackie says: “There are not many Colombians in this area. I do know some and when you meet somebody of course you gravitate towards getting to know them. I have a large group of Hispanic Americans who live in the area. We regularly connect and they are great. My network is made up from people of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico. It is a very diverse network and I like that.”

Thinking about the new immigrants today, Jackie mentions: “In my experience, one thing that is really valuable and important for people to do is to try to assimilate. I try to find people that feel I can mentor, and I provide advice. I say to them, if they don’t try to assimilate, they are always going to be in the background, in the shadows. Everyone that I meet who doesn’t speak English, I always advise them to learn English because in this society, although we have so much diversity, language barriers can deter from reaching their goals. So, when you incorporate language, or if you’re able to speak two or three languages then we are able to connect to others a lot easier.”

Another piece of advice for the new immigrants that Jackie also gives is: “In my world I have never thought, ‘Oh, I am a woman, I can’t do this,’ or ‘I’m a Latina and I can’t do that.’ Never. My parents never taught me that I had to be a minority, that I was a woman…that I was less. Never. This is what I always say to others, just blank out, value yourself for who you are.”

IMPACTO Youthimpacto

Jackie’s desire to continually give back to the community led her to IMPACTO Youth, a 501(c)(3) organization she founded in 2013 with the mission to “shape, advance and improve the lives of economically and socially disadvantaged youth through education.” “IMPACTO Youth’s purpose is exclusively to help underserved children, with education and leadership and STEM programs to help them push forward. Prince William County has a lot of Latino children but also schools with limited resources. This is the gap that we want to fill. As I said, I am fortunate that I am able to have grown a business and we want to give back to the community. Through the work that IMPACTO does, I want to give back to the community and to those kids that may have lacked the guidance and the instruction and the parental nurturing because the parents work two and three jobs. We want to give them the support to become self –providing individuals. We want them to have a goal as they graduate from high school, whether they want to go to college or technical school. We organize workshops where we teach children a variety of skills. Also, we work with members of the community who are professionals such as accountants, lawyers, and bankers to talk to the youth about what they do.” Jackie continues, “We also find large companies that are looking for talented youth with the right mindset. We connect those kinds with these companies. We also empower young girls to have more self-assurance and self-confidence. We try to craft programs to help them come out of their shells, they too can stand on their feet and be very confident also. Those are the kinds of things that really make me happy!”

Connection to Colombia and Colombian Culture

Thinking about her connection with the Colombian culture, Jackie mentions: “When you’re an immigrant you become your own product: you’re not American, you’re not Colombian, you are your own product and those experiences are what makes us who we become. I am a proud American, because I love this country –I would not change it for the world- but the cultures that are ingrained in me, being Colombian –I still have family in Colombia and I go back and visit- are also very important. So, I love Colombia. Am I attached to Colombia? Not really, it’s been too long. When I go to Colombia, people immediately know that I am not from there, even though I speak fluent Spanish. This is because I am a different product, I am no longer that person who lived there –and I am ok with that. I am happy to be who I am, I love who I am. I love having the culture and being here and enjoying all this. So, I think we are all our own products, all of us. You cannot compare.”

Jackie considers extending her entrepreneurial experience to Colombia in the future. She states, “ I have thought of starting businesses in Colombia, but every time that I inquire -maybe I have inquired with the wrong people- they tell me it is very challenging to set up a new business, and also I am very busy right now. I have come up with some inventions that I have not patented or marketed, but the idea behind if I ever pushed that through would be manufactured in Colombia. So, it gives the opportunity for people to have a job.”

Future Aspirations

Jackie is also a grandmother and says: “I am a grandmother now, two little girls, a two-year-old and a four-month-old, so they have changed my world. We haven’t had little kids for a long time and now I want to spend more time with them. At the same time, my business right now is thriving. So, I want to give it a good five to eight more years and then I want to dedicate more time to IMPACTO Youth because it has an important mission. There are always opportunities to help the youth.”