When you think about Austin, there are a few common themes that come to mind and entrepreneurship is usually at the top of the list. Not only is our city a powerful player on the startup scene, our university is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, and the International Office has blended this setting with our expertise to provide programming to business pioneers from around the world.
Most recently, we welcomed a group of 10 entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean during our second year as a host institution for the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), a U.S. Department of State program designed to enhance leadership and professional skills while building lasting partnerships between emerging leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean and their peers in the United States. The fellows, selected through a rigorous competitive process, are placed in professional fellowships with Austin businesses in their sectors and take part in complementary coursework and leadership development. The end-goal is to develop their skills and strengthen their businesses to effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities.
This year’s fellows at UT Austin hailed from countries across Latin America and the Caribbean where they lead businesses in industries ranging from transportation and food to fashion and e-commerce. For this cohort, it was their fellowships and interpersonal experiences in Austin that stood out as the program’s biggest impact.
"I have a much better focus on my project now, on what I want it to be and how I will get to the final goal."
"Austin was the best city for me because it has a movement of startups, entrepreneurship, and technology," said Maria Clara Nacimiento, a humanitarian entrepreneur from Venezuela. “I realized that I needed a lot of skills that I had not developed yet and this program would help me improve them.”
Nacimiento is co-founder and CEO of RISU, a company developing technology that combines artificial intelligence, robotics, and 3D printing to deliver dental restoration and health to indigenous communities in hard-to-reach parts of the Amazon rainforest.
While in Austin, she worked at re:3D, a 3D printing company, and assisted on a project for hurricane disaster relief Puerto Rico.
“We were developing medical appliances, water appliances, and other objects that can help with the humanitarian relief," she described, noting the similarity between this project and her own business. She believes the skills she has learned during YLAI will be a catalyst for improving her business’s ability to assist indigenous communities in the Amazon region of Venezuela through proper dental care.
"I have a much better focus on my project now, on what I want it to be and how I will get to the final goal," she said.
Now back at home, Nacimiento plans to launch the next phase of her business.
“We will finish the development stage and the research stage that we are in right now,” she said. “It just started as an idea and then it started to become more serious. Now I have a clear plan on how to make everything work."
“This adventure was very valuable for me.”
Ricky Bhowram, a fashion designer and the owner of Bhowram Atelier, also feels his experience in Austin will be a catalyst for his business, a high-end fashion design company in Trinidad and Tobago specializing in women’s wear.
“This adventure was very valuable for me,” he described. “It created a path for me to start to develop my business and launch into new markets.”
He hopes to share his experience with other fashion designers from Trinidad and Tobago who are looking for ways to branch out their businesses.
“They don’t have the skills that I acquired while here,” Bhowram explained. “I hope that I can be of some use to them and in some way, inspire them so they might be able to take something from my experience to better themselves as well.”
For Bhowram, it was his relationship with his mentor that was the most noteworthy part of his fellowship. Bhowram's mentor, Musa Ato of League of Rebels, helped him make connections and develop a strategic plan to scale his business.
“He was instrumental in helping me network with the right people," he described.
YLAI is just one of many programs coordinated by the International Office that brings exceptional students and professionals like Bhowram and Nacimiento from across the world to the Forty Acres and the broader Austin community to learn and share ideas. Together, these programs not only impact the individuals associated with them but the communities who benefit when they return home, proving that what starts here changes in the world in more ways than we imagine.