Participant Spotlight on… Erica Cano
EBV-SU 2017 welcomed aspiring veteran entrepreneurs to Syracuse University. Each one came with a unique story to tell. Here’s one of them. Meet Erica Cano.
Erica Cano was just a child when she was introduced to the world of photography. She was inspired by the three generations of her family that had enjoyed picture-taking before her. Most influential to her journey with photography, though, was her aunt.
“I was her little model,” she laughed.
As she got older, Cano’s aunt taught her about perspective, how to be observant and how to always find different angles. She learned that there would always be more than one way to express the scenes she’d envisioned.
Now, she’s turning those skills into a business. Envision & Aim, LLC, is a photography company specializing in weddings, engagements and portraits. It’s just Cano at the helm now, but she wants to someday bring more photographers in.
She hopes to hire veterans like her who find the same sense of expression in photography that she’s enjoyed all these years.
“I remember my first trip alone, unsupervised, up the mountain,” she said, recalling a solo hike up Alpine, Texas’ “A” Mountain. “I took pictures of the sunset. And I remember when they were printed, I was like, “I did that.”’
That feeling, coupled with the positive feedback she received upon showing the photos to her family, solidified her love for photography. She was just eleven years old.
Following high school, though, she put her photography on hold to serve just under seven years in the army. She says those years taught her how to use strategy, caution, perseverance and grit – all of which she’s since found useful in both her professional life and personal life.
Cano enrolled in CUNY Staten Island’s political science program after transitioning out of the army. She wanted to be an attorney, to speak up for veterans like her.
It wasn’t until she went on a two-week class trip to Hawaii in the summer of 2008 that she rediscovered photography.
“I used the individuals I went with as guinea pigs,” she said, “because I’d never really photographed people before. That’s when they told me, “you know, you’re really good at this.”’
She later brought her camera to a few of her friends’ weddings, and the rest was history.
But history is never as smooth as it sometimes seems.
“In 2010, you could say Pandora’s box opened for me,” she said. “I didn’t exactly know what was happening, but it was just one thing after another. If it wasn’t emotional, it was cognitive; if it wasn’t cognitive it was physical.”
Though even in her hardest years, she found herself drawn back to photography.
“I’ve had my ups and I’ve had my downs,” Cano said. “I throw in the towel, or I’m about to, and I catch it again. Or I’ll try a different path, and the universe, fate, whatever you’d like to call it, always brings me back… I had many challenges, and I’ve learned to look at them as gifts.”
Cano said those years of trials helped her understand her purpose. She knew she loved photography, but it took her needing photography to realize it was her escape.
Her years of enduring ‘Pandora’s Box’ also helped her realize that she wanted to take charge of her own future.
“I think sometimes we get stuck on the expectations that others have of us and for us,” she said, “and we’re not true to ourselves. And that kind of scared me.”
Cano was working as a legal assistant at the time. She found herself with little to no work/life balance, a taxing daily routine, and no time to further her photography business. She didn’t feel like she was tangibly helping veterans like she’d originally planned to.
So, “I put in my two week notice,” she said. “You’re not going to start what you want, working on someone else’s dream.”
Cano plans for Envision & Aim to be a fully-staffed studio within the next four years. She’s also planning on going to law school, where she’ll learn how she can be a more effective advocate for veterans.
She’s using this year’s EBV to help her fine tune her business strategies and learn more about entrepreneurship. These skills, she says, she’ll take with her in her law career as well.
“I want to create an opportunity with a team that believes and embodies the company culture that I envision and embody myself. And most importantly, just as I want to advocate and create, I will give back to my community because it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants that I have continued my path. I appreciate their support, mentorship, and insistence for excellence,” she said. “I was once told, life is filled with choices, choose wisely; and for all those that have shared their time… I only want to pay it forward.”