Valley students become entrepreneurs at BizFest
Posted: 08/04/2011
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If the business plan for "Plaza Play Place" created by high school senior Denise Graham comes to fruition, shoppers at La Plaza Mall in McAllen will have an affordable and safe place to leave their little ones while cruising through the shopping center's many stores.

The budding business owner told a panel of entrepreneurial experts gathered at The University of Texas-Pan American July 31 that her idea of offering a spot in the mall where toddlers to 12 year olds would be entertained in age appropriate ways for $20 per three hours has many pluses.

Pictured are the winners of the business plan competition held as part of the Latino Youth Entrepreneurship BizFest program held at the University July 29-31. Created by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation, BizFest is a three-day intensive training program for middle and high school students to promote entrepreneurship and leadership skills. The 2011 regional competition winners, who were selected by a judges panel and won i-Pads and an expenses paid trip to the national competition in September, are (left to right) Oscar Paz, Weslaco East High School; Denise Graham, Nikki Rowe High School and Lamar Academy IB student; and Jesus Gonzalez, La Joya High School.
"It is convenient ... it is a safe option for parents ... also, there isn't anything like this there, this is a golden opportunity especially in the mall. It is one of highest grossing malls in America," she said.

Graham, a student at Nikki Rowe High School and in the International Baccalaureate program at Lamar Academy, was one of 33 Rio Grande Valley middle and high school students who participated in the second annual Latino Youth Entrepreneurship BizFest training and competition held at the University July 29-31.

Created by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) Foundation, the intensive three-day program offers students training in the basics of entrepreneurship and leadership from faculty, and community business owners and leaders with a goal of teaching them how to turn their hobbies or interests into profitable ventures. It was brought to the Valley with support of Ford Motor Company Fund, Visa and Wal-Mart in collaboration with the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the University. UTPA's College of Business Administration facilitates the regional and national competitions.

The BizFest curriculum includes presentations on how to establish business and life goals, areas of entrepreneurial opportunities, the elements required in a business plan, marketing and networking in business environments, and making public presentations, among others.

The training culminates in the creation of a business plan by each participant, which is presented to a panel of judges. The plan must include the business name and logo, its product(s) and/or service(s), its marketing strategies, a financial plan including information on revenue, cost and profit, identification of its competitors, and its management structure. Competitors are given seven minutes to present their plan and then must answer judges' questions in semi-finalist and finalist stages.

"The participants must mimic as close as possible the process a real entrepreneur must go through," said Dr. John Sargent, UTPA professor of management, who coordinates the BizFest training and competitions nationwide. "The program focuses on experiential learning , something similar to what happens in the real world."

State Representative Sergio Munoz Jr. (TX-36), who has his own law practice and just finished his first term in the legislature, was one of several area business and community leaders who shared their tips with students on how to achieve success not only in their career but in life.

"If you are going to be doing something for the rest of your life, you want to do something that is going to make you happy and that you are going to be excited about every day when you get up," Munoz said.

Pictured left to right are BizFest participants who received honorable mention for their business plans in three special categories. They are Aranza Garza, Economedes High School, Most Innovative; Tyler Scott, South Texas Business, Education & Technology Academy, Most Entrepreneurial; and Sara Bennack, Lyford High School, Most Potential. All three will advance with the regional competition winners to the national BizFest competition Sept. 18-21 in Miami, Fla.
Munoz stressed the importance of networking and job performance in successfully operating a business.

"It's all about the relationships you build with others and your community. It also depends on your work product ... whether you are going to do something 100 percent or do something 50 percent," Munoz said.

Graham was one of three BizFest business plan competition winners who were each given an i-Pad and an all expenses-paid trip to the national competition at the USHCC's 32nd Annual National Convention and Business Expo conference held Sept. 18-21 in Miami, Fla. The other business plan winners were Oscar Paz, a senior at Weslaco East High School, who created a plan for a graffiti removal service, and Jesus Gonzalez, a junior at La Joya High School, whose business-Eco Sun Ride-would refit school buses with energy efficient solar panels.

Three specialty category winners were also selected for honorable mention by the program's facilitators and will travel to the national competition as well. They were: Aranza Garza, a junior at Economedes High School, Most Innovative Award, for "Homecookin'," a healthy food services business; Tyler Scott, a junior at South Texas Business, Education & Technology Academy, Most Entrepreneurial Award, a laser tag rental business; and Sara Bennack, a junior at Lyford High School, Most Potential Award, for Sara Lisa Online, a dress boutique website featuring her designs.

The presentations were evaluated by a panel of seven judges that included UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA faculty and staff, economic development professionals and Valley business owners, who asked some difficult questions following each presentation.

Judge Michael Miller, an entrepreneur who recently earned his MBA from UTPA, said he was impressed with all the business plans, describing them as "ambitious."

"I think we opened their eyes to the additional things they are going to encounter," he said of the judges' critiques.

Jacquelyn Michel, UTPA's director of Innovation and Intellectual Property, also appreciated the quality of ideas and plans presented. She said the program offers a great opportunity for students to learn critical thinking skills.

"The skills they learned in BizFest, such as developing an idea from conception to the end, to putting it forward in a presentation in a professional manner ... and to be able to have a discussion about its benefits and detriments is a very good experience," she said.

Graham said she enjoys being creative and that BizFest provided her a great local opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship.

"This (BizFest training)is more than what you learn in school. This is like a think tank," she said.

Go to the USHCC Foundation's website to learn more about BizFest. To learn more about the business programs offered at UTPA, go to the College of Business Administration website.