Friday, October 26, 2012

Al Lopez Talks about the Economic Growth Business Incubator

Where are you from originally?

Tucson, Arizona

What university did you go to?

I was a baseball player that got an undergraduate Accounting degree from the University of Arizona.  Subsequently, I earned a Masters in Business from the University of Northern Colorado.

What brought you to Austin?

After spending 21 years with IBM rising through the ranks in finance after starting my career as a sales rep, I left IBM to join Dell, Inc in 1998 where I was a vice president of finance until 2009.  At the very end of 2010 I assumed the role of Executive Director of the Economic Growth Business Incubator (EGBI).

What is your group’s mission?

EGBI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the mission of enabling economic development and job creation in underserved communities in the Greater Austin area by utilizing innovative, high-tech, and bilingual approaches in a business training and incubation setting.

What need does it fulfill?

EGBI equips mainly underserved individuals in the Greater Austin area with the educational toolset, resources and network to successfully establish or grow their businesses.

We are the low-cost provider of incubation services and entrepreneurial training in Austin, and we are the only provider with a fully bilingual training curriculum.

What exactly does it bring to startups?

Our entrepreneurial training is called Building Success Program. It is a comprehensive training program that teaches entrepreneurs the foundations for business plan development, business administration and marketing. Our training also includes a computer literacy segment and financial literacy training.  In 2011 we had 60 clients “graduate” from our program, 24 of which were in business by year end.  This year we expect to have 75 clients complete our program.

What type of startup would benefit from your group?

Any person that is planning to open a business in the service industry is an ideal candidate for EGBI. People with the need to develop business management skills and entrepreneurs in need of low-cost office space would benefit from our services.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?

I became EGBI’s first Executive Director at the start of 2011 after the organization had been managed on a part-time basis by the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  We were essentially a “restarted” non-profit.  We spent the first few months improving the curriculum and recruiting “subject matter expert” (SME) volunteers to have in the training sessions when we taught certain topics, e.g. legal, insurance, finance, marketing, etc…  We had to accomplish that on a “bootstrap” basis since we are in an environment with limited and decreasing investments in the non-profit sector.  As we drive to increase the number of “investors” (prefer that to donors) in our organization we are looking forward to our second ever celebration/fundraiser we call Celebrating Success 

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

My advice is to go after your passion, but don’t fail to get advice from others and plan.  A plan doesn’t have to be a detailed novel but every start-up should have a plan.  Planning begins with bootstrapping from the start to ensure your own finances are in order.  Then do a very honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses so that you know what areas you need help in, including getting objective input from 2 or 3 sources you trust would be candid with you.  I would also recommend working with an organization like ours which is a great place to get some of this input and assistance in laying out at a minimum a basic business plan.

What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

We are a resource organization for start-ups and we hope our clients find us to valuable.  We have networked extensively and have relationships with the various chambers of commerce, the City of Austin Small Business Development Program office, SCORE, and alternative lending institutions like ACCION Texas, and People Fund.