It’s not surprising that manufacturers in this region, one of the largest industrial centers on the border, buy a lot from suppliers: $39 billion worth every year by one estimate.

Those parts and materials are used to make everything from pet chew toys and printer ink-cartridges to medical equipment and off-road vehicles. There are more than 300 maquiladoras that employ about 266,000 people in Juárez alone.

What is more surprising is less than 3% of the resources used in the regional supply chain come from suppliers in the region.

“The opportunity to do business is very big,” says Jose Gerardo, president of G Labels, an El Paso-based company that supplies area manufacturers with labels.

In an effort to help more small and medium-sized enterprises like G Labels take a bigger bite of that $39 billion business, the Bridge Accelerator program was launched as a pilot program in 2019. Created by Technology HUB in Juárez and Pioneers21 in El Paso, the supplier development program was backed by an initial investment of $1.5 million from Microsoft and now has about 15 sponsors.

Gerardo’s company participated in the second cohort, and the program is now accepting applications for its third cohort.

The deadline to apply is Monday, Sept. 14, and the 12-week program kicks off on Sept. 22 with a talk by Andre Marquis, founder of the Innovation Acceleration Group at the University of California Berkeley.

The program will be different this year. Participants will take part virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of in-person classes and meetings, there will be webinars and teleconferences. Participants will have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with executives at large manufacturers.

With many business owners more focused than ever on their businesses and surviving the economic storm, they have had to work harder to recruit participants, says Ricardo Mora an organizer of the program and founder of Technology HUB, a startup incubator in Juárez.

The program has mostly attracted companies from Mexico, and the organizers also hope to draw more interest from companies in El Paso.

“We may be two cities and two nations, but we are one economy and are dependent on each other,” Gerardo said.

The registration fee is $2,500, which covers three participants per company, but Mora says they have some scholarships available. The program is open to small and medium-sized businesses that have been in business for at least two years.

For more information and to apply, go online to www.tb-xl.com.

The program culminates with a demo day, when participants make their pitches to industry executives. The winner gets $25,000 in seed funding.

Gerardo’s label company employs 18 people in El Paso. He says that all of the things that are making it harder for companies to do business with China – rising labor costs, tariffs, security concerns and transportation struggles – are increasing the opportunity for suppliers in the borderland and, more broadly, North America.

“We have to go through a mindset change in our binational economy,” he said. “As an industry, we still don’t get the size of the opportunity that this commercial war with China is providing, especially to our region. And the bridge accelerator provides the very basic tools for those innovators and those idea factories to get their projects off the ground.”

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