Supported by faculty at The University of Texas Pan American's College of Business Administration, Rio Grande Valley high school students captured the top three places at the National BizFest Competition sponsored by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC).
The competition, which included 11 regional winners from BizFest competitions held in Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles and Edinburg (at UTPA), was conducted at the USHCC 31st Annual National Convention and Expo Sept. 22-25 in Dallas, Texas. Each participant was required to present a comprehensive plan for a new business idea to a panel of judges that included corporate executives and government officials.
"It was amazing," said Sarai Maldonado, a 17-year-old senior at the Business, Education & Technology Academy (BETA) in Edinburg, who won first place and a $3,000 college scholarship.
Maldonado's business was called "Hop A Ride," and would provide tourists in San Antonio, the market she chose to focus on, a surrey ride in a bicycle-generated cart as a way to travel to downtown attractions. If successful, her plan included expansion to other cities with downtown tourist sites and to venues like professional football games, where people have to park a long way from the event site.
"I presented all the things they were looking for - my mission statement, my marketing, my strategies, my competitors - all the things required in the presentation, I included," she said.
Second place winner was Adriana Mata, from Economedes High School in Edinburg, for her plan for Second Chance Animal Center, a unique rescue center for abandoned animals. She won a $2,000 scholarship. Sean Ramirez from McAllen Memorial High School, won a $1,000 scholarship for his presentation on Treble Sounds, a music tutoring business.
BizFest is a program of the USHCC's Foundation aimed at entrepreneurship and leadership training for high school juniors and seniors. Javier Palomarez, USHCC president and CEO, said through BizFest the national Hispanic chamber seeks to encourage and inspire the next generation of Latino entrepreneurs.
"It was heartwarming to meet each of the young finalists in Dallas and learn about their business proposals. I was impressed by their commitment, creativity and professionalism. I was also proud to learn that our top three winners came from my hometown in the Rio Grande Valley," said Palomarez, a UTPA alumnus.
UTPA's College of Business Administration recently teamed up with the USHCC to administer the BizFest program nationally. As administrators, UTPA business college faculty and graduate students facilitate the regional BizFest workshop/competitions which lead students through a curriculum the UTPA faculty developed. The curriculum addresses the process of launching a new business - opportunity identification and selection, market analysis, business plan development and financial statement preparation.
"I believe one of the great advantages of the USHCC-UTPA partnership is that it provides us the opportunity to raise awareness with Hispanic entrepreneurs and business leaders around the country of what we do at UTPA and the quality of the individuals who work here. Furthermore, the revenue generated from our contract with the USHCC is being used to fund other activities at UTPA that promote entrepreneurship," said Dr. John Sargent, UTPA professor in the Department of Management.
At the regional competitions, Sargent, Dr. Sibin Wu, associate professor of management, and doctoral students Miguel Baeza and Tammi Redd, worked with students one-on-one answering questions and helping them with their business plan development. At the national competition, they assisted students on their presentation skills and polishing their final business plan they planned to present before the judges. Several members of UTPA's Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization also accompanied the students to Dallas and helped prepare the RGV competitors on both the regional and national events.
"I learned a lot. They (the faculty) helped us with things we didn't know like business terms. I appreciated that and their motivation and support," said Maldonado, who is interested in a career in business or public administration.
UTPA College of Business Administration Dean Dr. Teofilo Ozuna praised his faculty team, all experts in business entrepreneurship practices and planning. He said both faculty and the students have been inspired by the experience.
"We are very pleased that these faculty are now able to share their knowledge with high school students throughout the nation to help them pursue entrepreneurial goals through our partnership with the BizFest program," Ozuna said. "We look forward to seeing these students flourish into accomplished entrepreneurs in the future and we'll take pleasure in playing a small role in their success."
Maldonado said she appreciated UTPA giving her the opportunity for the experience that allowed her to apply what she's learned as a student on a business track at BETA and present in front of business executives. While there she and the other competitors also got to visit the convention's trade show, network with convention attendees, visit the Dallas Cowboys stadium, and meet Texas governor Rick Perry.
Ozuna said he hopes that BizFest and the winning experience will instill confidence in Valley high school students and demonstrate to them that they can compete with anyone in the world and that entrepreneurship and business disciplines are great career options.
"The Valley 'sweep' at the national competition should create excitement and 'buzz' about the event and entrepreneurship and encourage increasingly more students to participate in idea generation and creation," he said.
Learn more about BizFest and other entrepreneurship initiatives at UTPA by contacting Sargent at (956) 665-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.