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UTEP helps high school students take first steps into the world of business

Special to The Prospector
UTEP will hold the third-annual Rookie Entrepreneurship Program from July 18-23 for high school students interested in business.

The University of Texas at El Paso will host the third-annual Rookie Entrepreneurship Program from July 18-23. The program will bring together 23 high school students interested in the world of business to learn from local entrepreneurs and UTEP student mentors.

The event is a collaboration between the Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship and the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce.

“It’s a bootcamp for high school students and we teach them how to go through the full process of starting their own business,” said Denisse Olivas, director of the Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship. “The point of this exercise is to get them to learn more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. … To create a pathway to the college of business as well, so that they get to learn all the business disciplines here at the college.”

Although anyone is welcome to attend,  because the majority of people in El Paso are Hispanic, the program places special emphasis on helping Hispanic entrepreneurs. According to Olivas, it’s estimated that by 2050 that a quarter of the population will be Hispanic and the program aims to prepare Hispanics to take advantage of that estimated growth.

Aaron Cervantes, director of operations for the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce, said targeting Hispanic youth is important for El Paso’s long and short-term success.

“When you talk about Hispanic entrepreneurship, Hispanics are more likely to be more risky, but they are also the ones who have the highest potential to become stagnant at a point,” Cervantes said. “That’s because they don’t have the right knowledge, they don’t get access to capital, at least not the same access to capital as other ethnicities, and they also don’t have the strong networks that other people have.”

The first three days, students from Bowie, Coronado, Del Valle and San Elizario high schools will be split into groups, where they will start learning the basic theories of starting a business. These concepts include finding products or services people want, using the students own passion to fill that need and what being an entrepreneur entails.

The students will learn about how to target demographics, how to find proper financing for their businesses and start planning their own businesses they will put into action later that week.

The fourth day will consist of  purchasing the products they will be selling.

On Friday, July 22, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the students will be taken out of the classroom to put their knowledge to the test. They will sell their products to UTEP students, faculty, staff and visitors. The groups will compete with each other to see who is the most innovative and the best salesperson. The grand prize will be to take home 50 percent of the profits made by all groups Last year’s groups managed to sell $1,300 in two hours and the winners took home $650.

By the end of the experience, students should understand the world of entrepreneurship much better.

“They know how to work through every single process and how hard it is, and then get the reward,” Olivas said. “(It’s) the full experience.”

The program ends with a round of golf, where the students learn how to network while playing golf at Ascarate Park. Afterward they have a cookout and present what they learned, along with any mistakes they might have made throughout their campaign.

“There are key activities in business that will help you close deals and network, and one that is really important is learning how to golf,” Cervantes said. “Some of the business deals are closed on a golf course.”

There is a larger goal to introducing the aspects of starting a business  to high school students. The program is aimed at keeping businesses in El Paso by fostering a business community from an early age. Keeping and supporting what, according to Cervantes, is the most important kind of business for the economy is the true goal of the university and programs such as this.

“What supports the economy of the U.S. is small businesses, about 90-93 percent,” Cervantes said. “This also goes in line with what the university is trying to do, which is keep the talent local and help El Paso grow.”

Christian Vasquez may be reached at [email protected].

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UTEP helps high school students take first steps into the world of business