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Celebrating Hispanic entrepreneurs: Speakers push economic development

Thursday, May 28, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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EL PASO -- Hispanic entrepreneurs play a vital role in the El Paso economy and account for about 80 percent of small businesses in the Sun City, said organizers and participants at the first Celebrating Hispanic Entrepreneurship Conference at UTEP Tuesday.

Eastsider Penelope Serdan-Williams, who is working on a master's degree at the University of Texas at El Paso in intelligence and national security, was one of about 150 people who attended the event. Serdan-Williams recently started her own business, Penelope's Catering Services & Homemade Salsas.

"It not only inspires you, but it's an educational path for you to take as a student or a small-business entrepreneur," she said. "There are some great lecturers here, and this is an asset that the university hosted this."

The conference celebrated Hispanic entrepreneurs and also showcased what UTEP's entrepreneurial programs and its Center for Hispanic Entrepre neurship have been doing during the past five years, said Robert Nachtmann, dean of the College of Business Adminis tration.

"The ultimate goal is to advance economic development in the region," he said.

The university has created the new Center for Research Entre preneurship and Innova tive Enterprises, which will take research done at UTEP and help turn that into viable businesses, Nachtmann said.

"And that can lead to jobs and hopefully higher wages and a better life for the entire community," he said.

Santiago Ibarreche, director of UTEP's Center


for Hispanic Entrepreneurship and co-director of the Kauffman Campus Initiative, said Hispanic entrepreneurs "are probably the most important drivers of the economy in El Paso.

"We have one of the highest business startup rates in the nation for Hispanic entrepreneurs," he said. No specific statistics were available.

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of an oral history project, in which 37 El Paso Hispanic entrepreneurs were interviewed.

Transcripts will eventually be available at the university library in the special collections section, said Homero Galicia, a part-time lecturer at UTEP and owner of the business coaching company Ascend. Galicia worked on the project along with associate political science professor John Bretting, students and graduate assistants, with help from the Institute of Oral History.

Hispanic entrepreneurs are "part of the fabric of the El Paso community," Galicia said. "The idea was to gather these oral histories for the use of the university and students but also to have a place where they are housed so these histories don't get lost."

Successful Hispanic entrepreneurs carefully prepared themselves before starting their own companies, he said.

Many learned their industries inside and out by working for other people. "They knew all facets of the business," he said.

Hispanic entrepreneurs also built their businesses on a "strong sense of integrity," Galicia said.

"Hispanics who built strong businesses did it by delivering products and services without cutting corners," he said. "They put their lives into their businesses."

Leroy Candelaria, chairman and founder of El Paso-based Biotech Pharmacy, was among those who were interviewed for the oral history project.

"Common tools" that all successful entrepreneurs need, Candelaria said, are confidence, passion and a good education.

"Passion is absolutely part of it," he said. "You need to love what you do. You'll spend a lot of time doing it. ... In my mind, education is the great equalizer."

Aspiring entrepreneurs also need to realize that the way to get rich isn't necessarily by working harder, but by "working smarter," Candelaria said.

Teresa Gándara, president and co-owner of Pencil Cup Office Products Inc., also participated in the oral history project. She advises those who dream of starting their own business to "know what you do and do what you know.

"Focus on your strengths and be passionate about what you're doing," she said.

David Burge may be reached at; 546-6126.

Learn more
  • For more information about UTEP's Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship, call 747-7719 or 747-5014 or visit
  • The center plans to offer entrepreneurial courses through UTEP's Professional and Continuing Education Division in the near future.

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