BROWNSVILLE, RGV – One of the top projects currently underway at the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation is development of eBridge.

The plan is to develop the largest the entrepreneurial center south of San Antonio.

The eBridge center is a collaboration between BCIC, the City of Brownsville and partners such as UT-Rio Grande Valley and its Entrepreneurship & Commercialization Center.

The center will cover 36,000 square feet of space at a two-story building the City of Brownsville currently owns – 1304 E. Adams Street in Brownsville. An additional 24,000 square feet of space on the same block, which is connected, will bring the total square footage to 60,000.

“We just completed our preliminary studies for the building that got selected. It is a 36,000 square-foot building, two floors. We are in the final phase right now with EDA for consideration of additional funding for it,” said Josh Mejia, executive director of BCIC.

EDA stands for the Economic Development Administration. The EDA is an agency  within the U.S. Department of Commerce that provides grants and technical assistance to economically distressed communities in order to generate new employment, help retain existing jobs and stimulate industrial and commercial growth through a variety of investment programs.

“We are very excited (about eBridge),” Mejia said. “We have worked a little over two years on the type of programming and resources we want to have; the types of goals that we strategize (at the center).”

An intriguing part of the project, Mejia said, is a potential collaboration with INDEX Matamoros, the trade association that represents maquiladora operations in Brownsville’s neighboring city. Index Matamoros has its own innovation center.

“With an innovation center of that capacity, we are looking forward to housing the future businesses that could be derived from that (Matamoros) center,” Mejia said.

Mejia was quick to point out that there will be no exclusive agreements and that BCIC welcomes partnerships from any number of stakeholders.

“From what we are seeing, once we pitch the concept of the project, everybody else seems to be excited and can finally see a focal point in terms of entrepreneurship here in the Valley,” Mejia said.

“A place, a home base, per se that allows for entrepreneurs to get started, get assistance from seed level, moving up to the venture capital level, and so forth, and scale up.”

Mejia said he wants any entrepreneur, either with or without financial capital, to be able to feel that, as soon as they step through the eBridge doors, “that they will be assisted and they will find resources at every level of growth in their business, from startup to that scalable business, to be able to reach their maximum potential.”

Improving the chances of budding entrepreneurs to make a breakthrough will assist the local community, the executive director explained.

“We are hoping that once we establish that relationship, that sort of assistance and commitment on behalf of the community for those entrepreneurs, that they establish those businesses here in the community. We want to be able to create jobs for our area, we want to be able to create the opportunities for individuals that might be in that K-12 level that are unaware of the opportunities that are within the community,” Mejia said.

“That, to me, is probably the most fulfilling project in terms of working with the existing resources, the existing individuals that are in our community, that make up who we are.”

Reversing the Valley’s Brain Drain

“When we started doing our research into what type of project or product we would develop, we began realizing that a lot of the resources that a lot of folks go outside of Brownsville to look for were actually in Brownsville. We were learning to become expert facilitators in creating the type of eco-system that would just foster the growth for entrepreneurs.”

Mejia referenced a common refrain that is heard across the Valley.

“I experienced it when I was at school locally, that most of the students want to depart the Valley to be able to find these opportunities, the high paying jobs, the quality of life they are looking for. My objective and part of the vision that I want to share with everybody is that we can bring those opportunities back here,” Mejia said.

“Those fundamental opportunities that will turn into something so substantial, that will offer other opportunities, whether it is jobs, skills development to the growing generation that comes after. I think we are all taking the right steps, the mentality of the city manager’s office to be able to think past the five-year mark in terms of land use, the type of growth that we are experiencing, and that is just the beauty of the synergy that we are now seeing in our community.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above feature shows Josh Mejia, executive director of Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation.

Editor’s Note: The above feature is the second in a three-part series on the work of Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. Click here to read Part One. Part Three, featuring the group’s Business Improvements and Growth Incentives Program, will be posted later this week.