Last month, VBR published an article describing UTRGV’s efforts to create the next generation of high-impact entrepreneurs in the RGV. The piece ends by asking the question of whether or not competitors in this year’s Rafael Munguia UTRGV Business Plan Contest will “become the next great Texas startup.” This got us to thinking about the real impact of our business plan contest as well as other entrepreneurship program initiatives. We recently completed the eighth annual business plan contest; what do we have to show for our efforts?
Before diving into the details, a couple of caveats are in order. First, there are many individuals who passed through the doors of UTRGV or its legacy institutions who have gone on to successful entrepreneurial careers without the benefit of formal entrepreneurial education. Second, research shows that many successful entrepreneurs do not launch their own businesses until mid- or late-career. It is often better to learn about an industry and how to run a business using someone else’s money before launching your own venture. Hence, it is likely many of our most promising alumni entrepreneurs are still in development stage. Even with these realities, well designed and executed entrepreneurship programs should be able to brag about successful entrepreneurs they have helped develop.
We conducted a non-scientific review of the current activities of past business plan winners as well as program alumni that we maintain contact with through social media or other means. What stood out to us is that program alumni have taken a variety of paths on their entrepreneurial journey. For example, a number of successful entrepreneurs are graduates of our MBA program. graduates. Kial Gramley served as co-founder and vice president of marketing for FiberRio Technology Corporation. This company manufactured equipment designed to mass produce nanofibers. Ernesto Villarreal launched College 1st, a venture which provides “students a life-changing experience to increase the number of high school graduates ready to enroll and complete a post-secondary education.”
Another approach to encouraging students to pursue an entrepreneurial career has been through our Collegiate Entrepreneurship Association student association. A number of CEO alumni have launched businesses, worked to expand the family firm, or have joined young, rapidly growing firms. For example, Luis Treviño co-founded Create the Bridge, an award-winning Valley-based digital marketing company. Daniela Gonzalez, a former CEO president, launched Tesoro’s Fine Cuisine, an Edinburg-based catering company. Francisco Godinez has worked to expand Hylda Rodriguez Diseño, a company founded by his mother specializing in high-end doors. Nick Piontek moved to Austin upon graduation and is a member of the leadership team of CooMo Travel, a web-based social interactive traveling platform.
A more narrow focus on our business plan winners also suggests the value on this initiative. Isela Lopez, a two-time business plan finalist, recently launched a group travel agency called Rafiki Travel. Roger Pecina serves as co-founder of Glass Armour, a company which installs a product designed to protect windshields from cracks. Juan Pablo Torne founded a company for gamers, then a venture to develop and produce sensors to electronically monitor pressure and flow in oil pipelines, and then co-founded a software company.
It has been a great privilege to work with these and many other student entrepreneurs at UTRGV. Whether its true or not, we like to think we had some role (however small) in their current and future success. Their energy and abilities are inspirational and a window into what the Valley can become. Do any of these companies qualify as “the next great Texas startup”? Maybe, maybe not. What we do know is that at UTRGV and in the RGV, the entrepreneurial talent is here. We look forward to continue working with the RGV community to create the entrepreneurial infrastructure that will make positive things happen. Please feel free to drop us a line or give us a call if you would like to play a part in the entrepreneurial success of our students.
By Drs. Linda Matthews and John Sargent