From minority business owner to waste management powerhouse

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Maria Rios wears a lot of hats. Or she used to.

Then, she got “the call.”

That call awarded her a multi-million dollar contract to provide portable sanitation facilities to the City of Houston.

“In the beginning this wouldn’t have seemed like a reality when I was literally wearing every hat in the business—marketing, sales, accounting…you name it,” Rios says. “Now, I can focus on just wearing the hard hat.”

That call, only a handful of year ago, seemed unlikely to come at all.

A business woman and an immigrant from El Salvador, Rios has evolved her company – Nation Waste, Inc. – from a waste removal service to a waste removal solutions provider.

Rios came to the U.S. as a child with her parents in search of a better life and an education.

She found it.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston, but her calling would be found somewhere outside the classroom. Inside a trash can.

While attending college, Rios worked with a large company in waste removal. Upon graduation, Rios began Nation Waste, Inc by purchasing two waste removal trucks and with, she says, the intent to provide an optimal level of customer service, which would set her apart in the industry.

Recently, Rios realized her minority-owned business had the maturity and capacity to pursue certification and procurement opportunities with corporate and governmental sectors in Houston and the State of Texas.

One by one, she began compiling certifications.

Nation Waste, Inc. is now certified as a Minority Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) and as a Small Business Enterprise (SBE) with the cities of Houston, Sugar Land, and Baytown; as well as with the Port of Houston Authority, Metro, the Houston Independent School District, and the State of Texas.

Also, Nation Waste Inc. is a Historically Underutilized Business with the State of Texas.

Alongside pursuing certification and procurement options, Rios – who was selected as one of the 2013 Fortune Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs – focused her attention on growing her business and civic leadership. She assumed an Executive Board of Director position at the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HHCC), the largest Hispanic Chamber in the country.

In 2011 Rios was accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative, which was delivered through the City of Houston, Goldman Sachs, Houston Community College (HCC), the HHCC, the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), the University of Houston Small Business Development Center and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HMSDC).

“I was one of the first companies to participate,” she says of the program. “This program has been a catalyst for my plan to expand my business in Houston and across Texas.”

With confidence in her homegrown business swelling, Rios set her sights on the sought-after government contracts through the City of Houston.

“Since 2011, Nation Waste Inc. has grown 30 percent because of resources provided by the City of Houston and its partners,” Rios says. “I learned of the city’s commitment to creating a competitive and diverse business environment and how my minority and women status could help my company grow.”

Rios became certified as a Minority and Women Business Enterprise, and right away her company was listed in the City of Houston’s Online Directory of Certified Businesses.

“Shortly thereafter, the opportunities started coming my way in both public and private sectors,” says Rios.

Looking for resources to support her company, Rios began to add staff.

Looking back on her company’s growth, Rios is quick to acknowledge how far she’s brought the company, while never failing to appreciate where it all began.

“Every day, when I see my fleet of trucks, I never forget about the first two and the dreams I set out to accomplish,” she says. “Back then, I had glass ceilings that were miles up. Now, they are within reach, and I am thrilled that I shattered another one today.”