WESLACO, RGV – Officials from the City of Weslaco, the Economic Development Corporation of Weslaco and UTRGV gathered Thursday evening to celebrate the completion of the long-anticipated Center for Innovation and Commercialization. 

Operating as part of UTRGV’s Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the CIC will be the new home for the school’s Ph.D. program and will function as a business incubator, providing coworking space for startups and connecting entrepreneurs with the Rio Grande Valley Angel Network.

Since its planning four years ago, stakeholders have been enthusiastic about the opportunities and economic growth the $3 million project would spur. Weslaco Mayor David Suarez called the space a “game-changer” even before breaking ground in January of this year. Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Suarez thanked all the partners and shared his excitement at being a part of the school’s long-term plan.

“Whether this center provides another educational opportunity for the people of this area or is a hub of innovation of the Rio Grande Valley, we are so proud and honored to have placed the responsibility of its success in the hands of UTRGV,” said Suarez. “ … I like the sound of UTRGV Weslaco. It is a compliment to the university’s regional perspective and incorporates Weslaco into the UTRGV family.” 

Dr. Linda Matthews, the acting dean of the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, shared some memories that culminated into the development of the CIC. One of those involved a former student and entrepreneur who moved to Austin to start his business. 

“Why was he moving to Austin?” asked Matthews. “Because he didn’t have the resources to scale the type of things he was trying to do.”

With all the services the CIC will offer, Matthews hopes to keep the Rio Grande Valley’s best and brightest here. 

“No more will we lose our top talent because we don’t have the resources to keep them,” said Matthews. “ … With the opening of this building, UTRGV and the CIC are firmly putting a stake in the ground to lead the way in entrepreneurship and innovation in our region. Designed to foster business and job growth, this 21,000 square-foot building houses the CIC, which offers small business resources in the way of office space, coworking spaces, classrooms, Wi-Fi, a business incubation program, event-hosting and conference rooms, mail service, workshops and seminars [and] 24-hour access to business coaching and advising … The plan is to create purposeful synergy in this space that will allow our students to engage with entrepreneurs, providing experiential learning opportunities to transform today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.”

Laurie G. Simmons, manager of the CIC and executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Angel Network, gave the closing remarks. She reminded attendees of all the behind-the-scenes work that went in to actualize the vision of the partners and the university. 

“The CIC is truly a collaborative effort,” said Simmons. “Without the City of Weslaco, the Weslaco EDC, The EDA [Economic Development Administration] and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, this never would have happened. And, it’s a great day to celebrate the hard work and the perseverance of all of our partners that have brought this business development to fruition. It really goes to show that if you share a vision and work together and build partnerships, you can make things happen.”

The CIC will officially open in January 2019. It is located behind the Weslaco Business Visitor & Event Center at 307 E. Railroad St. Simmons estimates that 50 to 60 people will occupy the coworking space in addition to the 40 students in the college’s Ph.D. program. 

With the hard work behind them, Simmons is optimistic about the CIC’s role for the next generation of entrepreneurs and their communities. 

“I’m thrilled,” said Simmons. “It’s a great day. It’s not only a great day for Weslaco, but for the entire Valley.”