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Lina Gomez '01: Master of the Startup

How Lina Gomez ’01, a three-sport Potomac captain, became a globetrotting expert at launching new businesses and initiatives

Growing up, Lina Gomez waited eagerly for her father, Christian, to return from business trips. An economist with the Inter-American Development Bank, he traveled frequently to South America, particularly Colombia, where he was born, each time returning home to Northern Virginia with candy or trinkets for Lina and her older brother, Christian Jr.

Small as they were, these gifts helped plant the seeds of Lina’s future. Today, she has traveled the world, from glitzy Buenos Aires to rugged Iceland to war-torn Kurdistan. Working for media and communications firms, she has met and courted presidents, prime ministers and diplomats as she negotiated deals for countries to promote their major industries in the United States and elsewhere. At 30, she’s an expert at leading startups and making big things happen with a small band of colleagues.

A life of travel and deal-making wasn’t preordained. Lina and her brother were lifers at Potomac—Christian Jr. graduated in 1999—and Lina loved the School precisely because it felt like home. “Potomac is so nurturing,” she says. “It was a wonderful place to grow up.”

Lina didn’t stray far for college, enrolling at the University of Virginia and earning her bachelor’s in economics and anthropology. After her third year, Christian Jr. invited her to join him in Chile, where he was helping to build homes in rural areas. Six months later, she had set her sights on a career in international business or affairs. “I loved Chile, but I loved being abroad even more. I was experiencing new things and facing new challenges every single day.”

After graduating from UVA in 2005, Lina landed a job with International Biz News Services, an international communications firm in Barcelona, Spain. She was assigned to teams that put together deals in which countries bought advertising space in Time, Fortune and other major publications and published reports promoting their major industries. IBNS identified countries that might benefit from media exposure, courted key political and business leaders and helped assemble the reports.

Lina apprenticed with IBNS in Malta, Argentina and Spain and within a few months was heading up teams and leading meetings with key players. Her first project put her in Belize for about six weeks and netted a big success—a report in Business Week. She was on to Iceland, South Africa and more than a half-dozen other countries where she scored deals.

Lina left IBNS in 2007 but did similar work for other firms. Frequently she led polyglot teams of people from all over the world—Germany, Spain, Greece, France. To bridge the cultural divide, she threw herself into projects and worked harder than anyone else—a leadership strategy she developed at Potomac, where she was captain of the field hockey, track and squash teams.

“There’s a distinct American work ethic that you don’t always find in other cultures,” she says. “I had to show them.”

Even as she pushed her teams, she made it a point to help advance each person’s career. Liliana Ospina joined one of Lina’s IBNS teams in South Africa almost straight out of college and found her new boss an attentive mentor. “Whatever I did, Lina was behind me a hundred percent,” she says.

On occasion, clients were not pleased that a young woman was in charge. In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, officials refused to address her directly, and she had to turn over talks to a male colleague. “It was an adjustment for me, but it all worked out. We got the deal.”

In 2009, Lina launched her most ambitious startup: with two partners, she founded a media company to publish a luxury travel magazine for Cartagena, a booming tourist hotspot in Colombia, her parents’ homeland. She handled writers and photographers and managed a client roster of more than 400 hotels, resorts, restaurants and other businesses. Although Colombia’s notorious red tape created an avalanche of details to manage, she kept the staff focused on the big picture. “With a startup, it’s important that everyone sees the goal, and that everything done every day is working toward that goal,” she says.

The magazine gained prestige and advertisers, and the company launched a second edition, for Bogota. At the beginning of their third year, Lina and her partners were approached by a Dutch investor who happened to see the magazine in his hotel. He liked their business model and after a time asked to buy them out. With the startup now established, Lina and her partners sold the company.

Returning to Washington, Lina joined the National Geographic Society’s Geo-Education initiative to help lead a nascent effort to increase understanding of the world among young people. Though she’s left the business arena and is working on unfamiliar issues, one thing is reassuringly the same: she’s starting something new.

“There's a distinct American work ethic that you don't always find in other cultures. I had to show them."

Lina Gomez '01