Nadyli Nuñez photo by Buzzy Torek, Epicast.

Nadyli Nuñez had never heard of entrepreneurship until a few people from Morgan Stanley came to her seventh-grade classroom in Harlem one day.

The bank reps split the class in two, instructing the groups to compete against each other as they launched a product. Each team had to assign accounting, sales and marketing jobs among their groups as the middle schoolers set out to make money.

Nuñez’s team produced a dog tag with a monkey on it, built a brand for it and sold it to students throughout the school. They won the competition.

She knew then that she liked working with — and getting people excited around — a common goal.

And now, as of November 1, she’s doing more of that here in Pittsburgh as the new executive director of Ascender, an East Liberty-based incubator for entrepreneurs.

She is the first female and first Latinx executive director to lead the nonprofit. Barrie Athol, the former director, stepped down recently after a year in the position.

Nuñez previously served as operations director at Ascender, and before that, as director of the UpPrize BNY Mellon Social Innovation Challenge.

“I’ve always had a strategic way of thinking,” she tells NEXTpittsburgh, “and have always been outspoken, asking ‘Have you thought about this? Or considered this?’”

Ascender uses education, mentorship and its incubator program to increase the number and success rate of entrepreneurs in our region. For Nuñez, it’s a great fit.

“This is a good opportunity now to be in the position where all this responsibility is on me,” she says. “How do I develop the tools to build and manage a team, and strengthen the community within and around Ascender?”

In an announcement about the promotion, Ascender’s founder and board member Bobby Zappala praised Nuñez’s work.

“The Ascender board is very impressed,” he said, “by her focus, vision, energy and passion for supporting entrepreneurship.”

Nuñez also serves as a South by Southwest Pitch Advisory Board Member, a Purple Eagle Ventures Advisory Board member (that’s the venture fund of the Pittsburgh Obama Academy) and a member of the Women Who Rock annual benefit concert planning committee.

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The Associated Press. Find a selection of her work at