Natasha Pongonis came to the U.S. as an exchange student attending the Ohio State University. A native Argentinian, she envisioned a brief stay in Ohio and then a post-college life pursuing an architecture career in Europe. But fate had other plans. At OSU she fell in love with an American. After Natasha graduated, they married and permanently relocated to Ohio.
Acclimating to the U.S. came with challenges. Natasha spoke limited English, but she discovered a wealth of English-learning opportunities in Columbus; she started taking free classes multiple times a week. When she encountered strangers at grocery stores or around her neighborhood and stumbled over her words, “everyone was so patient,” she says. “People would take the time to explain things slowly. They encouraged me as I tried my best.” Very quickly, Natasha mastered the language.
When Natasha was hired by an architect-design firm in Costa Mesa, California, the couple moved west. But it didn’t feel like home. They missed the diversity, family-centric lifestyle and opportunities for young professionals in Columbus.
After returning in 2008, Natasha co-launched Nativa, a data-driven communications agency that works with organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Procter & Gamble. The company helps its clients understand the changing demographics of the U.S. consumer market and tailor ad campaigns for diverse audiences for maximum impact. “We absolutely depend on a diverse staff to meet our clients’ needs,” Natasha says. “Fortunately, Columbus has the global labor pool we need.” In 2015, Natasha co-founded O.Y.E. Business Intelligence, a multicultural data analytics software that uses machine learning and face recognition technology to help organizations engage the faster-growing consumers in America, such as Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians regardless of the language they speak.
Today, Natasha’s Columbus-based companies employ dozens of people. She also volunteers with the Girl Scouts of Ohio and WELD, helping to mentor the next generation of female leaders. “I give back because I’ve received so much,” she says. “Columbus is extremely open-minded, supporting diversity, providing resources to entrepreneurs and helping new immigrants integrate quickly. I’m so glad I found my home here.”