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Navigating Entrepreneurial Perseverance and Success: Diana Villegas and Nova Driving School

January 18, 2024 | By ICIC

Diana Villagas, Director of Nova Driving School

Diana Villagas’s journey as an entrepreneur is inspiring, marked by perseverance, innovation, and a strong commitment to giving back. As an owner and partner in five businesses, Diana’s entrepreneurial spirit is evident in her various ventures, ranging from a limousine company and restaurant business to e-commerce and professional services outsourcing.

Her primary focus is on Nova Driving School, a family business offering driving education that was founded by her parents in 2003. What began with a single vehicle has now grown to include a fleet of 60 vehicles equipped with the latest technology, including GPS and video monitoring for driving behavior correction.

A strong work ethic, which is deeply rooted in her upbringing, drives Diana’s resilience and success. Growing up in Ecuador, her mother was a relentless entrepreneur, engaging in various businesses to provide for the family. From breeding bunnies to managing a manufacturing company and clothing store, her mother’s work ethic left a lasting impact on Diana.

Diana noted “In my entrepreneurial journey, resilience and innovation have been my guiding lights. From managing a limousine company to diving into e-commerce, each venture reflects my unwavering commitment to success. The work ethic ingrained in me since childhood, shaped by my mother’s diverse business pursuits in Ecuador, fuels my perseverance in this ever-evolving business landscape.”

Making a Positive Impact on the Community

Nova’s hands-on approach and dedication to quality and safety set it apart in the industry. The business isn’t just about profit; it’s about making a positive impact on the community. Nova’s goal of becoming a socially responsible organization is deeply rooted in Diana’s values as an immigrant entrepreneur herself, and as the daughter of immigrant entrepreneurs. She understands the importance of giving back to the community that has contributed to their success. The business has donated time to organizations such as Feed My Starving Kids and provided essential items to orphanages in Ecuador. A recent campaign encouraged driving school students to donate clothes, offering a discount on the program in return. The donated items were then given to immigrants in need, addressing critical issues like homelessness in Chicago. The staff at Nova is not just motivated by profit but by the satisfaction of helping others, creating a positive and rewarding work environment.

One of Nova’s key differentiators is its commitment to working with underprivileged communities. The driving school actively engages with federal organizations, serving troubled teenagers, high schools, and juvenile justice programs. Nova believes that driver’s education should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or past mistakes. By focusing on this mission, Nova has seen a significant increase in demand for its services, with a 20-50% growth rate.

Lessons from the ICCC Latinx Program

Participating in programs such as the Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) Latinx cohort has been pivotal for Diana and Nova Driving School. She learned the importance of self-motivation, recognizing your successes, and providing employee support from her participation in the program. She highlights the unique advantage of the ICCC Latinx program being offered in Spanish, allowing the Spanish-speaking community to offer valuable ideas that have helped with Nova’s strategy.

Diana stated “As Nova Driving School paves the way forward, our commitment to quality, safety, and community engagement remains steadfast. Reflecting on the guidance and education from the ICCC Latinx cohort, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of self-motivation and employee support. Our journey isn’t just about business growth; it’s about making a positive impact. Our dedication to underprivileged communities, showcased through our different partnerships, echoes our values and guides the direction we envision for Nova’s future.”

Award-Winning Success

Since 1999, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) has been dedicated to identifying and celebrating annually the 100 fastest-growing businesses in under-resourced communities across the U.S. through the Inner City 100 (IC100) awards. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the IC100, highlighting the remarkable achievements of businesses that serve as catalysts for job growth and contribute to the prosperity of their communities. Nova Driving School received the prestigious IC100 award in 2023, ranking #48 on the list. This is the sixth time that the company has received this honor since 2016. Nova is also a member of the IC100 Hall of Fame, which is an exclusive title awarded to winners who have earned the award at least five times.

Diana Villagas and Jenny Villaga, leaders of Nova Driving School, accepting the 2023 IC100 Award at the Annual Conference in Miami.
Diana Villagas and Jenny Villaga, leaders of Nova Driving School, accepting the 2023 IC100 Award at the Annual Conference in Miami.

Nova was also recently recognized as an Inc. 5000 2023 company, marking the third year it appeared on the list of fastest-growing companies in North America. The ranking represents a data-driven compilation of the most successful companies within the economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent businesses. Nova had an impressive 103% growth over the past three years.

Growing into the Future

Diana Villegas’s entrepreneurial journey highlights the benefits of perseverance, quality, and community engagement. Nova Driving School’s commitment to high-quality, safety-focused services, and giving back to the community sets it apart in the industry. As Nova Driving School continues to grow, its unwavering commitment to giving back to the community guides its future.


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