Diego Vergara '20 has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and learned early on to follow his instincts and seize every opportunity.
"I've just always applied the type of thinking that when there is a problem, I know there's a way to solve it," Vergara says.
His drive and determination have served Vergara, an economics major, well during his time at Pomona College. He has interned at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank; was a fund manager for Sagehen Capital Management; developed an app called Split Card, which helps couples divide expenses; and was mentored by Pomona alums in private equity and in the financial technology sector, commonly referred to as fintech.
"I've had so many opportunities, and I'm really grateful for them," he says.
When he was 8 years old, Vergara, his mother and younger sister immigrated to the United States from Colombia, settling in Miami. Their new life got off to a rough start, and after Vergara's mother left an abusive relationship, the family moved into a homeless shelter. At Christmas, there was a room filled with donated gifts, and Vergara remembers that instead of going for a bicycle or soccer ball, he became fixated on a jewelry-making kit filled with beads and elastic.
"I kept thinking, if I could make all those bracelets, that's $100 right there, and I can buy my mom a house," Vergara says. "To me, it was like the only way I could take back control over all these things that were happening. Through entrepreneurship, this was a way to change things and do a little bit better."
Vergara sold the bracelets at school for $1, and using those profits, started buying bracelets at a dollar store, which he broke down and remade, selling the new ones for $5. At the age of 12, he was going to bead stores to buy supplies, and learned how to negotiate prices. After taking jewelry-making classes, Vergara began charging $15 for each bracelet, and once his mom and sister started making earrings to sell, the family had enough money to cover rent for an apartment.
"I was hooked, because I saw I was able to change my life," he says.
During high school, Vergara's attention turned to real estate, and using their savings, the family bought a trailer for $6,000. He watched YouTube tutorials on painting and fixing floors, and then — on his own — sold the mobile home for $22,000. This continued throughout high school, with Vergara's family living in the trailers as he spruced them up and sold them for profit. All the while, he was enrolled in a high school that was inside a community college, so when he graduated, he had a diploma and associate degree.
Vergara was accepted to Pomona as part of the Posse Scholars program, which identifies, recruits and trains students with extraordinary leadership potential, and received a full scholarship.
"I am so thankful," Vergara says. "I don't know where I'd be without Pomona."
Through Sagehen Capital Management, Vergara immersed himself in the world of investment. This experience helped him during his internship at Goldman Sachs, where it was his job to have insights on which businesses had potential. In addition to his internships with Wall Street firms, Vergara also interned for two Pomona alums: Matt Thompson ’96 at Skyview Capital and Caleb Morse, founder of the fintech company Scratch.
Feng Xiao, assistant professor of Chinese, is Vergara's academic adviser, and pre-pandemic they would often meet for coffee to discuss entrepreneurship, with Xiao introducing Vergara to students and alumni in the financial realm. He is impressed by Vergara's ability to listen and learn from others, and admires his persistence, ambition, talent and sense of responsibility.
"He is resilient," Xiao says. "I always say if you know Diego, you know he is the kind of person you can trust."
Vergara found a mentor in Xiao and says he "has been the most supportive person at Pomona and the one that encouraged me to think bigger and apply to firms I thought I could not get into."
Vergara recently accepted a full-time job offer from Goldman Sachs and will be moving to New York City. As a private equity analyst, Vergara will work on co-investments, secondaries and manager stakes, and says his dream is to find a problem that has been vexing the financial world and build a solution.
"I am extremely grateful to Pomona College for giving me so many opportunities and being so supportive every step of the way," Vergara says. "None of this would have been possible without the Posse Foundation."