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Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA

Featured, from left: University of Texas-Pan American students Rebecca Reyes and Gabriela Hernández, both business management majors, were among 22 students nationwide selected to participate in the 2015 Women’s Business Enterprise National Council’s Student Entrepreneurship Program held in Austin on June 21-26. Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA

Junior Rebecca Reyes of Edinburg and senior Gabriela Hernández of Alamo, both business management majors, recently spent a week gaining valuable information and mentorship in the prestigious program that aims to foster growth for the next generation of women-owned businesses. The program, which began in 2008, offers tailored curriculum and mentoring from certified women’s business enterprises and Fortune 500 corporate members as well as a pitch competition where the students “sell” their ideas on future businesses. “I competed in the pitch competition,” said Reyes, who expanded her family’s nursery business – Reyes Nursery in Edinburg – into Paraiso Escondido, a venue for events and plant rental company. “I didn’t make it into the next round … but I threw myself out there and gained experience from giving it a shot. One of my mentors right before my competition told me, ‘Fear has no place in your success.’ All the people there were so supportive.” Reyes’ business concept for Paraiso Escondido landed her first place in UTPA’s business plan competition in Spring 2014. Hernández, a first-generation college student, who hopes to be a hospital CEO one day, came home from the conference with a better idea of how impactful networking can be for budding entrepreneurs. “My corporate mentors took me under their wing the whole time. We wouldn’t be able to walk a couple of feet without them running into someone who they had worked with,” she said. “I left the convention with so many business cards, my wallet is filled right now.”

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National women’s business council taps UTPA students Rebecca Reyes of Edinburg and Gabriela Hernández of Alamo for entrepreneurship program

By GAIL FAGAN

Two students from The University of Texas-Pan American were among only 22 female college students nationwide selected to participate in the 2015 Women’s Business Enterprise National Council’s Student Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) at the WBENC’s national conference and business fair held June 21-26 in Austin.

Junior Rebecca Reyes of Edinburg and senior Gabriela Hernández of Alamo, both business management majors, spent the week gaining valuable information and mentorship in the prestigious program that aims to foster growth for the next generation of women-owned businesses.

The program, which began in 2008, offers tailored curriculum and mentoring from certified women’s business enterprises and Fortune 500 corporate members as well as a pitch competition where the students “sell” their ideas on future businesses.

“I competed in the pitch competition,” said Reyes, who expanded her family’s nursery business – Reyes Nursery in Edinburg – into Paraiso Escondido, a venue for events and plant rental company. “I didn’t make it into the next round … but I threw myself out there and gained experience from giving it a shot. One of my mentors right before my competition told me, ‘Fear has no place in your success.’ All the people there were so supportive.”

Reyes’ business concept for Paraiso Escondido landed her first place in UTPA’s business plan competition in Spring 2014. She has also volunteered with IDEA Academy to work with high school students in writing business plans. Reyes heard about SEP from UTPA business management professor Dr. John Sargent, who encouraged her to apply.

Reyes said she especially enjoyed the program’s off-site visits to local corporations and accelerators, like Techstars, which provides support for those wanting to start a business. Reyes described the overall SEP experience as a “once in a lifetime” one.

“A lot of stuff I learned was like ‘don’t give up,’ about trial and error. A lot of the women who spoke have been through some of the things we will go through, that it is hard to grow a company but it is possible,” she said.

Hernández, a first-generation college student, who hopes to be a hospital CEO one day, came home from the conference with a better idea of how impactful networking can be for budding entrepreneurs.

“My corporate mentors took me under their wing the whole time. We wouldn’t be able to walk a couple of feet without them running into someone who they had worked with,” she said. “I left the convention with so many business cards, my wallet is filled right now.”

Originally a premed major at UTPA, Hernández switched to health administration, seeing it as a way to incorporate her love of “coordinating” with helping children as she would have done as a pediatrician. She contacted the CEO of Edinburg Children’s Hospital who gave her some guidance on pursuing her goals and the hard work it will take. Hernández also joined UTPA’s Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, serving as its president next academic year.

Hernández hopes the entrepreneurial skills she has gained will help her assist her father with his construction company “Treasure Builders.”

“I want to help him out and see how his business grows; at the same time, he supports my decision in going into the field I’m going into. I am thinking in my head, ‘maybe, he could build the hospital I want to run one day,'” she said.

Hernández said she was amazed at the diversity of the SEP participants and their business plans as well as by SEP’s supportive environment.

“We created a group to keep in contact and now we are sharing opportunities to get funding for our ideas. It is nice as future entrepreneurs that we are helping each other out instead of beating each other out,” she said.

She said she also gained a sense of empowerment from learning how many women were able to climb to the top and be their own bosses and run their own corporations.

“It definitely let me know that it is possible and if I ever need any help, I have my mentors to rely on,” she said.

Since its inception, more than 120 students have graduated from SEP. In 2015, WBENC broadened the student entrepreneurship program’s former focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to include the arts, creativity and design.

“We must be proactive about encouraging future women’s business entrepreneurs of all backgrounds to see the possibilities in opening their own businesses,” said Pamela Prince-Eason, president and CEO of WBENC, in a release announcing this year’s SEP participants. “The Student Entrepreneur Program does this by bringing students from across the country, in different fields and with diverse backgrounds. It is important throughout the WBENC community that we are intentional in the development of young women.”

Go to the WBENC website for more information on the SEP. To learn about the business programs offered at UT-RGV, go to the UTRGV website.

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