A Mexican entrepreneur who has achieved success with nopal-based powders, candies and breads is working to break into the U.S. market, with a little help from his friends at the Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center, a real-life entrepreneurship laboratory in Brownsville. Acting as a business incubator, the center is part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Office of Community Engagement and Economic Development.
“What we focus on is business incubator and entrepreneurial programs,” said Linda Ufland, the center’s manager. “We work with ideas and start-ups and offer mentoring and development programs. We provide resources to develop a business plan.”
Mexican businessman Jose A. Garza Lopez is the founder of Mexico Alimentos Funcionales in Monterrey, Mexico. He formed LGI Foods in the United States to expand his market for nopal-based offerings. His company produces a variety of products, from candies to bread using prickly pear cactus, or nopal, as the prime ingredient. “He has had success in Mexico and sees an opportunity to move into the U.S. market,” Ufland said. “The opportunity is to add this super food to the local diet.”
Research in Mexico has shown nopal to be effective at fighting obesity, regulating blood sugar and reversing diabetes. The Mexico News Network has reported the native Mexican cactus has become known for both medicinal and nutritional benefits. “This plant also improves dental, gastrointestinal, colon and bone health, and is effective at lowering cholesterol,” according to a Mexico News Network article.
Lopez’s success in Mexico, which includes selling his products at H-E-Bs in Monterrey, has been impressive. But to navigate the complexities of expanding the business into the United States, he turned to the Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center. “We engage with international entrepreneurs who want to move here or start a new business here,” Ufland said. “Some of them are not familiar with U.S. laws, and the execution of a business plan in the United States is different.”
Through the center’s incubator and mentoring programs, entrepreneurs like Lopez get personalized assistance. During an initial vetting process, entrepreneurs and their ideas are put under a microscope to assess their chances of success. “We do get a lot of ideas,” Ufland said. “We try to develop them with market analysis to help determine the feasibility. A lot of people come because they don’t want to work for anybody else and they want to start their own business. But the mind of an entrepreneur – they want to do it all. They want to sprint, but you can’t always sprint. We don’t sugar coat it. We try to be real with them. We become experts in a lot of different businesses.”
In addition to business plan development and mentoring, the center can help entrepreneurs find financing to foot the bill for their business. “We can help connect businesses with funding resources, such as loans, investors and grants,” Ufland said. “We provide them with the funding resources that are best for them.”
The shared workspace of the incubator is also attractive to start-up entrepreneurs because of the camaraderie they find among others who are pursuing their business dreams. “The trend is they love to be in the open space but we have more private spaces as well,” Ufland said.
The center’s incubator program has given Ghery Valladares a place to concentrate his efforts to build his business, Fenix Logistics Solutions. He said the shared workspace and the center’s mentoring have helped him launch the business onto a road he believes will lead to success. “I am motivated but the help I have gotten here has really helped me focus on my goals,” he said.