Juana-Catalina Rodriguez, Founder, JnC Nova, Co-Founder, Circular Disruption & 2X Award-Winning Author

Juana-Catalina is a serial corporate innovator, entrepreneur, and two-time award-winning author of ‘Unsettled Disruption.’ On her twenty-eighth birthday, she immigrated from Colombia to the United States, living and working in several countries since then. For the past two decades, Innovation, Disruption, and Sustainability have been Juana Catalina’s strong suits, creating value, driving change, and developing breakthrough offers.

Currently, Juana-Catalina is the founder of JnC Nova, a consultancy firm helping corporate changemakers and entrepreneurs to foster innovation and drive transformational change and beterre, an early-stage startup that aims to raise awareness of plastic pollution and share simple ways to reduce plastic waste.

She is also the Co-founder of Circular Disruption Think Tank, a community of learners, doers, and thinkers committed to creating a regenerative future. This community provides resources and space for business leaders and professionals to learn about the circular economy, acquire the skillset for change, and collaborate with others to discover new possibilities.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Juana-Catalina shared the inspiration, mission, and vision of JnC Nova, insights on the importance of diversity and inclusion, the top qualities, skills, and knowledge required to become successful entrepreneurs, significant career milestones, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Juana-Catalina. What was the inspiration behind establishing JnC Nova? What is its mission and vision?

For more than twenty years, I’ve navigated the challenges and rewards of the corporate innovation journey.

Seeking a deeper understanding, I embarked on a research project to explore the struggles faced by fellow corporate changemakers. This journey revealed a common thread: despite the rewarding nature of our paths, we encountered similar obstacles on our way.

Motivated by these findings, I began sharing my experiences and those of others, soon realizing the wealth of insights and expertise we had to offer to help others.

At the end of 2019, I stepped away from the corporate sphere to pursue a greater mission to help changemakers navigate these challenges and advocate for purpose-driven innovation.

Thus, I founded JnC Nova, a consultancy firm driven by a desire to help innovators drive change and overcome struggles. We are convinced that with the right guidance, anyone can embark on this journey. Learning from mistakes is valuable, yet access to advice, support, and tools can be transformative.

In 2020, the pandemic presented an opportunity to extend my support to entrepreneurs and founders, reinforcing my belief that the innovation journey is difficult without adequate support.

With our experience bridging the gap between ideas and reality, I’ve developed a knack for nurturing startups and fueling corporate innovation across diverse industries: financial services, construction, consumer goods, retail, technology, and social innovation.

Our approach centers on strategic guidance, unwavering support, and practical tools to make innovation accessible.

These experiences profoundly impacted me and those I collaborated with, allowing me to compile our stories and expertise into my first book, ‘Unsettle Disruption,’ and most recently, my second book, ‘Unleash Intrapreneurship,’ which will be published in 2025.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?

When we work with companies to foster innovation and drive transformational change, the essence always comes down to people and their power to collaborate effectively.

Diversity and inclusion are transformative core values. Embodying these principles makes a real difference, moving beyond mere programs or talks.

I remember a pivotal moment in my career that illustrates this point.

One of the most enriching chapters of my professional journey has been collaborating with cross-cultural and international teams.

From the bustling cities of North America to the diverse landscapes of Africa and the vibrant cultures of Asia and Latin America, I was tasked with driving innovation across my organization since the beginning of my career.

It was during these experiences that a profound realization dawned on me: the diversity of perspectives, cultures, and insights was the driving force behind a significant shift in our problem-solving approach.

We began to assemble international teams rich in diverse backgrounds and perspectives, fostering an environment where the best ideas could flourish. This wasn’t just a strategic move for our company; it sparked a wave of continuous learning and engagement among our employees, who thrived on the new challenges and perspectives.

Today at JnC Nova, our mission is to take this philosophy to new heights. We’re not just advising companies; we’re embarking on a transformative journey with them.

By developing internal programs that champion diversity and inclusion and empower innovators, we’re helping organizations create a culture where collaboration bridges gaps, solves complex problems, and gives a voice to those who, in many instances, might not be heard.

These initiatives are not just about fostering a positive workplace environment; they’re about unleashing every individual’s potential to contribute to something far greater than themselves.

What are the top qualities or skills you believe entrepreneurs need in order to be successful?

Every entrepreneur I know possesses a distinctive blend of qualities, skills, and knowledge, crafting a unique identity that underscores their strengths. This cocktail is what sets them apart, offering a mosaic of perspectives fueling their journeys.

What I see after working with many of them are some common threats that empower them to achieve their goals across various ventures, whether it’s launching a startup, managing an internal project, or writing a book:

  • Persistence is a daily chore, executing strategies, marketing their products or services, motivating their team, and making a difference for others. Persistence is what sets them apart and keeps them moving forward.
  • Focus and consistency, entrepreneurs need to have laser-focused clarity on their goals and vision. Getting pulled off track by an endless stream of ideas or the next shiny business opportunity is extremely easy.
  • Self-awareness, one of the most challenging aspects of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing when to stop. Understanding personal strengths, limitations, core values, and aspirations is crucial. This self-awareness gives the clarity to overcome doubts and make confident decisions.
  • Long-life learning and growth mindset, which includes learning from mistakes; entrepreneurs always look for new ways to expand their knowledge to be more effective and efficient.
  • Then, self-confidence— resilience in the face of failure is essential; you have to fail to learn, so you need to keep bouncing back.

If you could have a one-hour meeting with someone famous who is alive, who would it be and why?

My experience is that great ideas are valuable, but their execution is the key to innovation and effecting real change.

Thus, I am eager to connect with anyone striving to challenge the status quo.

I am passionate about engaging in conversations with a diverse range of people, as every interaction brings forth new opportunities, opens up possibilities, and fosters learning. I firmly believe in the power of cross-pollination as a transformative and evolutionary tool for creating a better world.

Hence, I keep my calendar open to anyone seeking advice or simply wishing to chat.

A friend once shared that she embarked on the “TOP 100 coffee challenge before writing her book.”

Inspired by her, I began my own challenge this year to learn from changemakers driving innovation or, at the heart, the sustainability revolution.

I set an ambitious goal to have 1,000 virtual coffee meetings over two years.

So far, the learning experience has been incredibly enriching.

The choice of virtual meetings expands the range of possibilities even further.

This experience confirms my belief that everyone has the potential to make a difference.

From individuals dedicated to restoring our agricultural ecosystems and reducing plastic consumption to intrapreneurs transforming their organizations with a focus on digital transformation, shaking their business model, or onboarding on the impact and sustainability path.

So, if you’re interested in a chat, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and book a time in my schedule.

When it comes to individuals who are widely recognized or tagged as “famous,” I would love to chat with J. K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter.

I’ve been astounded by the power of human imagination. Stories have the capacity to change the world, and talented writers magnify the beauty of creating them.

I started immersing myself in the Harry Potter universe with my son a couple of years ago.

Taking J. K. Rowling’s book as an example, the series does more than generate commercial success; it invites children as young as seven to dive into her world, inspiring them to imagine the impossible and onboard into the pleasure of reading a book.

This is the kind of impact and transformation we should aspire to achieve.

Writers inspire us beyond our own imagination. From fiction to nonfiction books, they have the capacity to drive change.

Now, I am working towards being part of this transformational process at every level possible through my ventures JnC Nova, Circular Disruption, and beterre, and my writing with my coming book “Unleash Intrapreneurship” and as a co-author of “Impact.”

How do you keep your mind healthy and stay resilient?

Someone told me once that the key lies in 3 actions: moving, eating well, and sleeping every day.

I believe loving what you do and finding the right balance are key. I keep this balance by journaling, practicing gratitude, and savoring little joys every day.

And how do you motivate your team?

The starting point is empathy and how we understand motivations, values, and desires that drive us and others.

Recognizing these motivations allows for empathetic interactions, effective communication, and the creation of meaningful incentives for engagement within a team.

For example, while some individuals are driven by a desire to accumulate power, others find their motivation in helping others or learning.

Consider my son, who delves into a book, captivated by the fantastical worlds of Percy Jackson or Harry Potter. His drive is a passion that needs no external rewards.

Of course, I could not get him to read ‘Matilda,’ even if I tried. I could try a reward to force him to read it, but if I want him to be passionate about reading, I need to find a book that he wants to read that will be a long-lasting gift.

This intrinsic motivation is powerful, leading to enduring commitment without the need for external incentives; this is a strategic element that drives the team’s motivation.

My work is about helping people drive change to make the impossible possible within their organization and venture. Teams of innovators are formed of passionate people who want to go beyond borders. When harnessed, this intrinsic motivation can enhance satisfaction and elevate performance.

How else could we explain the firefighter risking their life, the tennis player enduring pain for training, or the corporate entrepreneur or startup founder facing long hours and intense pressure?

Motivation lies in understanding the broad spectrum of what people value and desire. While we might align on some values, others necessitate compromise. Often, there is a tendency to overestimate the importance of our own motivations while undervaluing those of others.

I fell into this trap in my youth innovation path, wishing everyone shared my perspective.

Thankfully, that was not the case.

The diverse motivations and orientations contribute to the rich complexity of our world. By appreciating the underlying values and desires that drive us and those around us, we become more effective communicators and more understanding individuals and leaders.

What is your favorite quote?

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

And many other bright minds that remind us of the need to change and evolve, like,

“Everything is possible. The impossible just takes longer.” Dan Brown —this is the lesson I was led into at the age of nine after reading David and Goliath for the first time and now in my daily work with changemakers.

Here’s a brief summary of the story that I pointed out at the end of my book Unsettle Disruption.

Goliath was the giant of the Philistines. He was the champion who challenged the Israeli fighters to wrestle him and decide the country’s fate in a single encounter instead of the constant war. None other than David dared to step ahead and face the forbidding giant. David remained undismayed about Goliath, the giant’s fighting skills, and full-armed support.

What’s even more interesting is that David only brought a sling and a stone-filled pouch against the giant’s relentless sword and elephantine shield. Goliath was the first one to charge in the field. At that moment, David located an unshielded spot in the giant’s armor and threw a stone at it with all the power he had. That extremely accurate shot to the head was enough to knock Goliath out, giving David a clear path to victory. David marched in and won the war.

These past few years, I have seen many Davids emerge and disrupt several industries, defeating their Goliath with strategic and unconventional approaches that the giants didn’t see coming. These disruptors are redefining the rules of the game and restructuring businesses, sectors, and industries.

What is one accomplishment you’re proud of?

When starting my entrepreneurship journey, I read Adam Grant’s “Give and Take,” which reminds us that gratitude is a two-way street—the more we give, the more we receive. Whether a simple act of kindness or acknowledging someone’s impact on our lives, every act of gratitude enriches our journey.

So, one of the everyday accomplishments I am proud of is empowering people to grow, whether mentoring, coaching, teaching, or working as an advisor.

I am proud of the hundreds of thank-you notes I have received since I started this journey when people reflect on how I helped them.

This creates an amplification effect when I deliver a keynote, someone reads my book, or when working with a cohort of changemakers because I know that we are making a difference and uplifting their progress.

What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?

For me, work-life balance is about finding what you love to do for a living, your purpose, and seeing how you can integrate it into your life.

I wrote an article about this some time ago when starting my entrepreneurial journey.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting out in the tech industry?

Start with the user, the problem you want to solve, not the technology. Technology is an enabler and accelerator, but be driven by the problem you want to solve.

Your idea might be unique. I’m not saying that it isn’t. I know many fantastic products that didn’t work, and I guess you also know them.

Feature obsession is a problem that plagues many startups and corporate innovators. In their eagerness to create the perfect product, companies can sometimes forget why people use products in the first place.

They think they must pack every feature under the sun into their product because more features = better.

But, unfortunately, that’s not true.

Customers aren’t interested in how many features your product has; they’re interested in whether or not it solves their problem.

Observe, interview them, and get into their journey to understand every aspect of their struggles.

What problems are they facing?

How are they currently solving those problems?

You don’t have to know everything from the beginning, so be sure to learn across the process. How? Prototype, test, and iterate.

The entrepreneurial path can be isolating. It’s vital to have a support network, whether through mentorship, coaching, or a community of peers who understand the entrepreneurial journey’s highs and lows.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

What we do today will come back to us later.

The choices, decisions, strategies, and channels we use to meet our ends today will determine their usage, availability, and effectiveness in the future.

That’s how we write human history, which unfolds over time.

I firmly believe in our capabilities to create a sustainable yet viable future. Although we often feel despair, staying optimistic and focusing on the target can help ignite unimaginable creativity and innovation.

One of the most prominent innovations these days is companies’ incorporation of societal needs into their corporate objectives. Purpose-driven innovation is no longer an Exception but a Rule.

Given the significance of a sustainable future, the next big question is how to achieve it.

It is difficult to channel the existing corporate world’s disruption potential and redesign the economy to attain sustainability. This makes bridging today’s reality with tomorrow’s opportunity “the elephant in the room.”

There are so many Davids fighting the Golliats around, and many of them are still in the making. The world is on the edge of the Disruptive and Sustainability Revolution, and we are and will be part of this movement, helping changemakers toward this transformation.

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