• June 16, 2021
 Student Startups highlighted at UTEP Blackstone LaunchPad Grand Pitch Competition

Aspiring entrepreneurs, such as Lilian Rivera Gutiérrez, top, and Ana Laura Alarcon Gallegos, participated in the Spring 2021 Grand Pitch Competition hosted by The University of Texas at El Paso Blackstone LaunchPad and the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce. Rivera Gutiérrez and Alarcon Gallegos were part of a team along with Brenda Gianelly Perez Gonzalez that won the “audience favorite” designation for their startup idea, Booklift – a subscription-based platform that allows college students affordable access to academic books without commercials through their smart devices. Photo: J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Communications

Student Startups highlighted at UTEP Blackstone LaunchPad Grand Pitch Competition

Aspiring entrepreneurs got down to business during the Spring 2021 Grand Pitch Competition hosted by The University of Texas at El Paso Blackstone LaunchPad and the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce, where they began to lay the groundwork for their startups while receiving one-on-one coaching from business leaders.

The Grand Pitch Competition was open to all UTEP students and recent alumni and provides an opportunity for students to understand the process of starting a business and develop their ventures in both a collaborative and competitive environment.

Participants were guided through the four-week program with virtual workshops and mentoring to refine their pitches and prepare them to go before a panel of judges to sell their startup idea in five minutes. First-place winners received $9,000, $5,000 was awarded for second place, $3,000 for third place and $1,000 for audience favorite. All winners will receive specialized mentoring services to continue developing their business ideas.

“The program leading up to the pitch competition is critical for students in providing a supportive and engaging learning platform for students to refine their ideas,” said James Payne, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business Administration. “Congratulations to all the students completing the program and competing in the competition.”

“Mentorship from Blackstone, Techstars, Future Founders, and UTEP alumni was vital in helping student teams solidify their ideas and increase their confidence when pitching,” said Maria Fernanda Fiscal Centeno, director of Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars at UTEP. “This pitch competition opened up opportunities for students and alumni to continue working on their ventures. UTEP Blackstone LaunchPad is committed to continuing to create entrepreneurship events and programs for all UTEP students.”

UTEP alumni Cesar Venegas and Checo Ponce de Leon were named first-place winners of the competition for their venture Thyroid HQ, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to drive better health outcomes through proper treatment for people living with hypothyroidism. Thyroid HQ is an informational web application that guides newly diagnosed patients through their first year of living with the disease and delivers a personalized thyroid function scale to help patients and their doctors achieve customized treatment plans.

“Winning this competition helped us gain confidence and opened us up to the possible opportunities for this venture,” Venegas said. “We also realized how much fortitude and grit it took to go through the program while working a full-time job … This competition showed me what I am capable of.”

Venegas graduated in 2018 with a master’s in systems engineering, while Ponce de Leon graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

“Before this program I did feel like entrepreneurship was a possibility, but it was on a smaller scale, like starting a small mom and pop shop established over many years,” Ponce de Leon said. “Now, because of UTEP programs like the UTEP Blackstone LaunchPad, success feels like it can be so much larger and grander, yet still possible.”

UTEP health sciences graduate student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ismael Lopez helped start a pilot program training service dogs for veterans. The program gained momentum quickly and he spent all his free time training dogs. He realized he wanted to take the program to the next level and developed his startup, Service Dogs of El Paso, that will offer an indoor training facility, on-demand dog trainers, and service dog training at no cost to veterans.

Participating in the Blackstone LaunchPad Spring 2021 Grand Pitch Competition helped Lopez develop a business model and plan the next steps to launch his venture. He received third place in the competition.

“Through this competition, I learned to really focus my attention and efforts on the basis of my business,” Lopez said. “I have many goals and dreams for my business but didn’t understand how to break them into smaller goals. I also learned to not obsess over one method of doing things.”

UTEP undergraduates Lilian Rivera Gutiérrez, Ana Laura Alarcon Gallegos and Brenda Gianelly Perez Gonzalez received the audience favorite designation at the Grand Pitch Competition for their startup idea Booklift – a subscription-based platform that allows college students affordable access to academic books without commercials through their smart devices.

Gutiérrez is a senior majoring in marketing with a minor in entrepreneurship. She is a co-founder of a clothing line and went into the competition with a business savvy perspective but was able to use the resources provided through the competition to refine her ideas.

“This was an amazing opportunity. I learned a lot about my minor,” Gutiérrez said. “I also learned how to present a pitch, which was helpful. I know that what I learned in this competition is going to help me in the future.”

Winners will continue developing their ideas during the summer and participate in national competitions and incubators.

UTEP Blackstone LaunchPad will have entrepreneurship competitions and workshops during the summer open to all UTEP students, undergraduates and graduates.

For more information about UTEP LaunchPad click here.

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