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Lots of hard work, a modicum of luck, and a talented team spells success for entrepreneurial alumna
by Mary Denny
Tiffany Chimal, a first generation American whose father emigrated from Mexico at age 21, describes herself as a social butterfly—“I love networking events and meeting everyone in the room,” she says. But you’d be more likely to call her a worker bee. She had 16 jobs and had been fired twice (“Restaurant jobs!”) before co-founding and becoming chief operating officer of an international company. “Actually being fired was one of the best things that happened to me because it put me out of my comfort zone and forced me to react quickly and come up with a new solution.”
Hailing from Lake Jackson, Texas, Tiffany transferred to Trinity as a junior thinking she might go into medicine. She’s grateful for her advisor, biology professor Jonathan King, whose “candid advice helped guide me out of medicine and pivot later to business.”
Graduating amidst the 2008 financial crisis when good jobs were hard to find, Tiffany landed an administrative residency with a Dallas hospital and went to school full time at night, earning both a master’s in health care administration and an MBA from the University of Texas, Arlington. When finances forced the hospital to end its residency program, Tiffany took off the last semester of her MBA program to study Spanish in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There she “learned the tango, ate lots of dulce de leche, and caught the travel bug.”
Ever resourceful, Tiffany found the antidote to that bug with AIESEC, an international organization that arranges internships and social projects for young people abroad. She landed an internship in Naples, Italy, to teach English. The internship ended after nine months, but her desire to remain in Italy did not. She accepted a job at a hospital in Milan as managing director of a new state-of-the-art neurological center and administrative coordinator of an E.U. research grant. She also began contemplating her next move.
“I knew I wanted to start my own business and I knew I had the scrappy experience to do so,” she says. There was just one problem: “I did not have the ‘big’ idea’ I needed.” That came from Alessio Iadicicco the idea man” whom she’d met in Naples and shared his vision with her for what would become their business.
In late 2015, Tiffany moved to Brooklyn and started a men’s clothing line called Babilonia from the ground up. When she wasn’t waitressing in Manhattan or managing a yoga studio near Times Square, she sold suit samples sent to her from Italy door-to-door. Deeply engrossed in the entrepreneurial lifestyle in New York, she also began going to as many tech events as she could and learning all she could about the clothing industry. While calling on menswear boutiques in New York City and Dallas, she noticed that many owners were interested in products made in Italy that they could sell under their own label, but they either didn’t know any manufacturers or if they did, they were reluctant to place the requisite large orders upfront.
“Fortunately, Alessio’s family had an established network of Italian manufacturers and we decided to connect those manufacturers with the boutique owners I was meeting to get Babilonia off the ground.” As word of mouth spread, she and Allesio recruited Babajide Okusanya, a full-stack developer from Nigeria whom they had met through AIESEC, to start building a website and the B2B platform that became MakersValley, which the trio co-founded on April 5, 2016 in her Brooklyn apartment. The online platform connects boutique owners, designers, and fashion entrepreneurs, directly to more than 150 Italian clothing manufacturers with no minimum orders, no markups, and a dedicated account manager.
As COO of the small but growing company, Tiffany typically “does it all” which includes accounting, creating marketing content, and seeking out potential new sales and partnerships. But her most important job is guiding the operational strategy and managing the orders from customers worldwide. A dedicated entrepreneur, she also writes a bi-weekly column for Entrepreneur Quarterly that explores the innovation taking place in the retail industry worldwide and aims to inspire those at startups to grow their companies.
“Having the variety of experiences and education I had helped me along the way,” she says. An infusion of capital from startup accelerators such as Parallel 18 Puerto Rico ($40,000), Arch Grants St. Louis ($50,000), and Mass Challenge Texas in addition to profits from her Babilonia line provided needed ballast.
Today, as she bounces between Italy and the U.S., Tiffany likes to go to Trinity alumni meet ups in various cities she visits to “feel instantly connected to the city.” In her rare moments of free time, she enjoys running, reading, and catching up with friends. To potential entrepreneurs with an idea, she recommends talking to as many people you can about it, getting feedback, and seeking out those with similar interests with whom to team up. “Your best asset,” she says, “will be your team and the skills they bring.”
You can contact Tiffany at tiffany.chimal [at] hotmail.com