PHARR, RGV – The U.S. Small Business Administration and the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District signed a Strategic Alliance Memorandum (SAM) last week in an effort to encourage entrepreneurship among the student body and solidify their previous partnerships.

Stephanie L. Mendez, a specialist at the PSJA Career and Technical Education Department, explained that through the SAM, the SBA would bolster PSJA’s marketing and business programs by providing extended training, support and resources for students, including workshops on financial literacy and business development.

Last year, PSJA and the SBA collaborated to host the inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Conference, which proved to be a great success. This year’s conference – set for April 27 –  will include a pitch contest wherein the top students from each of the district’s five high schools will compete. The judges will include the directors of the Pharr, Alamo and San Juan economic development corporations, bridging the business and educational communities. The winning student(s) will be recognized at the SBA’s National Small Business Week luncheon on May 1.

Angela R. Burton, district director of SBA’s Lower Rio Grande Valley District Office, and Dr. Daniel P. King, superintendent of PSJA ISD, addressed students at the signing before physically putting pen to paper. Students involved in groups like the Business Professionals of America (BPA), DECA and PSJA’s Southwest Marketing Program were reminded that in addition to working for a particular company, going into business for oneself is also a navigable career path.

“Most people that start a business and are successful don’t start with the idea ‘how much money can I make?’ Most people that start a business that are successful start with an idea of a problem that they want to solve or ‘how can I help people?’,” said King. “So, if you think about that, are there problems out there that you have ideas for? Are there people out there that need help and you say ‘you know what? I know a way to do that’?”

He continued, “There’s (sic) ways to take what you’re learning and think about ‘how could I help somebody?’ … And, if you’re successful in helping somebody, guess what? Somebody else is going to want you to help … Before you know it, you’re in demand.”

While the SBA holds agreements with development councils, chambers and colleges across Texas, Burton says this is the first SAM to be made with a school district in the area – something she sees as significantly progressive.

“I just think that supporting young entrepreneurs, cultivating an ecosystem of economic development and small business entrepreneurship is very important,” said Burton. “And, you know, we start in high school and even sometimes in middle school trying to help students think about what they may want to do in the future, and we put them on career pathways, but we just want folks to know that small business ownership and entrepreneurism is also a way that folks can become self-sufficient, start their own business and actually grow the economy and employ other folks in the area.”

Eloy Garza, a marketing instructor at PSJA Southwest Early College High School, agrees with Burton, saying that PSJA students, who start their career tracks at 15 years old, are ready to take on the real-world responsibilities associated with running a business. Garza, who also serves as faculty advisor for the school’s DECA organization, initiated the Southwest Marketing Program with the idea to connect businesses and students for the professional growth of the latter and access to a wellspring of young talent for the former.

“To me this is such a huge accomplishment for, of course, our district, but for my program specifically,” said Garza. “I’ve envisioned the opportunity to create somewhat of an incubator for our community. If you have a need as a small business and you are interested in growing your business, and you don’t have the wherewithal for marketing or a business management plan or graphic design … or you don’t have the budget for it, come over here. Come to PSJA. Give our students the opportunity to get hands-on experience, and we will develop for you professional results, professional deliverables and help your business grow. And, in the same token, we are building our community from the inside out.”

Maria F. Garcia Ortiz, a 2017 graduate of PSJA Southwest Early College High School and current marketing major at UTRGV, is a product of the Southwest Marketing Program. She spoke of the program’s impact on her life and emboldened students to take full advantage of the new partnership and not to be discouraged by their youth and inexperience.

“You show them professionalism. You show them that you are capable … And, you just need that one small step – that one push – to prove your potential, to prove who you are and to keep developing yourself as a professional and intellectually as well.”