In an unexpected first on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” bold entrepreneur Sandra Velasquez left investors with no room to budge on an offer — but for good reason. 

“This is a brand that is about self-worth. My ancestors are whispering in my ear, and they say, ‘Mija, no te desprecies,’” said Velasquez on the show, after declining offers from Kevin O’Leary and guest shark Daniel Lubetzky to invest in her cactus-infused bath and body brand, Nopalera.

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She presented Nopalera to the sharks on the season 14 premiere of the series last month, standing firm in the worth of her company, and by extension, herself. Velasquez spoke to mitú about her experience preparing for “Shark Tank,” and expanding her luxury business.

Growing Nopalera

After starting Nopalera during the height of the pandemic, it didn’t take long for the products to start being sold in her dream retailers, like Nordstrom and Free People. It wasn’t something Velasquez expected to happen so soon, but everything quickly aligned.

“I had the idea when I was 43 years old, and unemployed with no savings,” said Velasquez. “It was a very bold move to decide and declare that I was going to build a high-end Latina brand. I never gave it a second thought or doubted because I could feel in my gut that the time was now and I was the person to do it.”

Growing past the hurdles was something she was determined to do, no matter what got in her way. She acknowledges that with running a business, there will also be problems you have to solve. 

“In order to grow your business you have to grow your mindset,” said Velasquez. “Your biggest limitation is usually you.”

An opportunity of a lifetime

Velasquez applied to be on this season of “Shark Tank” early last year, and it stretched out into an 8-month long process. During this time, she was in multiple accelerators to acquire resources to grow Nopalera, and starting to fundraise for the first time. 

Conveniently enough, juggling all these responsibilities helped Velasquez know her business inside and out when it came time to prepare her on-air presentation. Plus, her experience as a musician helped, because she thought of it like a gig.

If you’ve seen “Shark Tank,” you know how intimidating it can be to stand in front of people who could change your life and your business in an instant. Velasquez said she did several exercises to prepare emotionally.

“I called upon the family on my father’s side and my mother’s side and imagined them walking into the tank with me,” she said. “My ancestors’ journey led me to this moment.”

ABC/Christopher Willard

As a brand, Nopalera and its botanical symbol — the cactus — is all about resilience, not devaluing or assimilating to fit in. Velasquez’s initial offer was $300,000 for a 5% stake in the company, so, when O’Leary and Lubetzky made offers with a much higher stake than Velasquez expected, she said she “felt a pull” from her ancestors.

“If I had come this far and they were not willing to rise to my opportunity, I would find the money elsewhere,” said Velasquez.

After the Tank

While she couldn’t make a deal on the show, Velasquez was able to secure $2.7 million in seed funding elsewhere a few months after the taping, proving that things can and will always fall into place. Nopalera even released a limited edition commemorative “Shark Tank” bundle of their best sellers, which has since sold out. 

Velasquez admits that she felt nervous watching the episode for the first time, even though she knew the outcome. She received an outpouring of support for her confidence after it aired.

“This moment has galvanized our community and amplified our mission as a brand: to stand in our worth,” said Velasquez. “It is one of our core values. We live it. If we can inspire others to do the same, we are succeeding.”