UTB/TSC Incubator Businesses Flourish Mentoring and Resources

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At the International Innovation Center of The University of Texas and Texas Southmost College, business ideas with potential are nurtured and eventually hatched into fledgling companies.

Located in UTB/TSC’s International Technology, Education and Commerce Center, the IIC Small Business Incubator is an entrepreneur’s dream.

“The IIC Small Business Incubator exists to help launch most any type of business,” said John Sossi, IIC director. “We support these young companies along the development stages. It’s very exciting to watch a business build from the ground up and see them finally take off.”

Three very different companies that have recently spread their wings with help from the incubator are Guajardo Export Trade Group, Architecture for Charity and JMB Brewcraft.

After hatching its plan for over a year, Guajardo Export Trade Group began flying solo about six months ago. David and Guillermo Guajardo are brokers who export U.S.-made products and services to the international market.

“Interestingly, the majority of our business thus far has not been with Mexico, as might be expected, but with buyers in India,” said David Guajardo.

Both graduates of UTB/TSC – David in business and Guillermo in sociology – the 30-something brothers had supported themselves in a variety of jobs, yet were pulled to commerce and the lure of entrepreneurship.

Under the mentorship of the late Dr. Abraham Greenspan, former UTB/TSC program director who established the Import/Export Bank, and with help from the business incubator, the Guajardo brothers set forth to make their idea happen.

“Wind turbines and solar panels are highly sought after in India,” David said. “We have collaborated with another incubator business, SPI Go-Green, and are now delivering these products to buyers in India, Costa Rica, Haiti and Mexico.”

Aside from wind and solar applications, the brothers have thus far brokered plywood, vehicle oil and commodities such as rice, beans and wheat.

“Our business is up and running, and we are thriving in this atmosphere,” David said. “It makes for some funny office hours, though, since we’re often communicating with someone on the other side of the world.”

Brokering is, in a sense, what another young business at the incubator is doing. Mario Morales left a lucrative business in Florida to establish Architecture for Charity, a nonprofit that matches families needing a home with a way to achieve that need.

“When visiting the Valley, I witnessed the dire need in this area for affordable housing,” Morales said. “I decided I needed to relocate to Brownsville to do something more significant, not just designing homes for the wealthy.”

Morales presented the business incubator with his idea for Architecture for Charity to design, develop and build affordable homes working in collaboration with government agencies, corporations, professionals and other people donating building products, financial support and volunteer work.

“With the help of Mr. Sossi and all the resources at the incubator, I was able to develop my plan, and today I am rewarded by seeing families move into their new homes,” he said.

Aside from the enthusiasm he has for building affordable, quality homes for hardworking families, Morales is also excited about his involvement in introducing his mainstay construction material, K-tect Sustainable Building System Panels, to Brownsville.

In collaboration with the UTB/TSC Go-Green Center, also at ITECC, this energy efficient building system will now be manufactured by Consulting Point, also an ITECC tenant. Itself an incubator success story, Consulting Point started in an 800-square-foot IIC office space six years ago.

“Our homes are designed to be 75 percent green, and with these energy efficient panels, we can put up a perimeter in one day,” Morales said.

Architecture for Charity has already completed four new homes in Brownsville in collaboration with the city of Brownsville through Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Morales’ latest projects include joining forces with Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, and he is discussing a project with Dr. Murad Abusalim, director of the UTB/TSC architecture department.

“It’s a great learning opportunity for students to work on projects that have the possibility of actually becoming someone’s home,” Morales said. “It promotes professional satisfaction and fosters community service.”

Another incubator tenant, Dr. James Beale, came to Brownsville to teach biology at UTB/TSC. Also having a business idea he wanted to pursue, Beale decided to devote himself full-time to developing his concept: a special tool to easily and quickly pour the popular beer drink called “black and tan,” as well as other layered beverages.

“This past year has been a crash course in small-business management,” Beale said. “I have learned a lot about manufacturing a product and e-commerce and computer-aided design.”

An aficionado of good brews since his college days, Beale knew the tedious process required of bartenders – as well as those at home – when making layered drinks.

The key ingredient of Beale’s business idea is the Brewcrafter, a layering spoon designed by Beale and manufactured in solid, stainless stamped steel by Ecological Services International in Los Fresnos.

In a video on his website, Beale demonstrates the quick and easy maneuver of pouring a layered drink with the Brewcrafter.

Beale’s business plan is to market strictly via the Internet, with his mainstay package to be a boxed set of two JMB Brewcraft 16-ounce pint glasses with the Brewcrafter spoon. Spoons and glasses can be ordered individually, as well as JMB Brewcraft logo T-shirts that feature recipes for traditional layered beer drinks on the back.

“I could not have made it this far without the resources of the incubator, and that includes Mr. Sossi, who has been extremely valuable in mentoring me along the way. I strongly recommend that anyone without a full range of business experience to consider bringing their business plan for consideration at the incubator,” Beale said, echoing the words of Morales and the Guajardo brothers.

For more information:

Guajardo Export Trade Group: www.worldsalesunlimited.com

Architecture for Charity: www.architectureforcharity.org

JMB Brewcraft: www.jmbbrewcraft.com

UTB/TSC International Incubation Center: www.utb.edu/wtce

Cheryl Taylor is a writer for the Office of News and Information at UTB/TSC.