students holding Blackstone check
After participating in the LaunchPad startup weekend, Soraye Lara feels like she’s gained a number of tools to help her achieve her vision

University student Soraye Lara has long dreamed of being an entrepreneur. 

After attending a Startup Weekend in October, hosted by the two existing Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars network University of Texas schools (Austin and Dallas), she’s one step closer to making that dream a reality. “I’ve always had that entrepreneurial mindset,” Soraye says. “When I learned about this event, I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to explore what was required before I started my own business.”

soraye.lara.pngHelping those in need

Soraye, a junior studying business management and entrepreneurship at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, isn’t just motivated by personal success. She says that human trafficking is a major issue in Odessa and has made it her mission to raise awareness about this problem and help victims. (According to recent data from The National Human Trafficking Hotline, Texas has one of the highest number of cases in the country)

Soraye says that when victims are able to escape, they typically lack the education and work experience necessary to make a fresh start. Using entrepreneurship to help solve this challenge, her goal is to create a jewelry and clothing retail business that employs survivors at every stage of the operation from manufacturing products to selling them. 

“There’s not a lot of resources for these victims so I want to start a business where I can both advocate for survivors, but also employ them,” Soraye says. “I want to provide a safe space for them so they can regain their purpose and self esteem.” 

Acquiring the tools

After participating in the LaunchPad Startup Weekend Southwest, Soraye feels like she’s gained a number of tools to help her achieve her vision of a socially conscious retail business.

“It really taught me a lot of entrepreneurial skills, like how to network and benefit from mentors,” Soraye says. “It was very interactive and helpful to learn how to communicate and collaborate with people you don’t know and work as a team.”

The virtual event, which took place October 2nd through the 4th, was centered on female entrepreneurs and designed to provide an experiential education for both technical and non-technical students. Throughout the weekend, participants gained experience in pitching, brainstorming, business plan development, and basic prototype creation.

“I had never pitched to anyone before,” says Soraye. “I feel like that was very important for me to learn because if I want to get funding, I need to learn how to pitch correctly. That was really helpful.”

One of the highlights for Soraye was hearing from keynote speaker Carolyn Rodz, a three-time award winning Latina entrepreneur from Bolivia who founded Hello Alice, a smart technology that helps business owners find the right path to start and grow their companies.

“I loved that this event was centered around female entrepreneurs. That was amazing and really inspiring,” Soraye says. “To see their struggles and how they started their own business showed me that I can do it too. All of the attendees, speakers, and hosts were all either entrepreneurs themselves or aspiring entrepreneurs and we could all learn from each other because we’re all like minded women. I think that was really inspiring.”

Due to COVID-19, this year’s event was entirely hosted on platforms like Zoom, Pragli, and Slack. Adding this extra complexity may have been a challenge, but with an enthusiastic and experienced team of organizers, which included LaunchPad Director Nina Ho and facilitator Lee Ngo, the hosting team’s success was inevitable.

Ryan Peckham, the newly named LaunchPad Campus Director at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, recognizes that entrepreneurial opportunities like this are critical to helping students succeed. 

“During these uncertain times, resources for our young entrepreneurs are more important than ever,” Peckham says. “Our programs are designed to give students the tools and confidence they need to accomplish their entrepreneurial goals.” 

Soraye wants to see more programs like the one she participated in available to her fellow UTPB students. She says these kinds of resources are invaluable to students interested in entrepreneurship. 

“A lot of us want to be entrepreneurs, but with the recent downturn in the economy, we’re even more hesitant to pursue those kinds of dreams,” Soraye says. “I think programs like this can reassure people and teach them the skills they need and help them recognize that there are people and resources to help them.”