Terry Chase Hazell helps aspiring women entrepreneurs in El Paso develop high-growth companies.
She leads RampCorp in Austin, and recently brought the program for startups to El Paso, graduating the first class of 16 women entrepreneurs.
Hazell says she chose El Paso as the location for RampCorp's first program outside of the state capital because of the growing startup culture here, something she heard about from the Office of Gov. Rick Perry and Innovate Texas.
Hazel has been in El Paso every Tuesday for the past 26 weeks, helping cultivate women-led startups that have the potential to become $1-million-plus companies.
While there are many women-led businesses nationwide, that $1-million revenue mark has acted as a sort of glass ceiling, Hazel says, although she has managed to defy that mark herself.
Hazell says she first got "the bug" for startups in high school when she worked as an intern at Martek Biosciences. The biotechnology company brought the dietary supplement DHA to the market. It's now used in infant formula.
Later, she worked making drugs for pharmaceutical companies - just long enough to learn that was not what she wanted to do. So Hazell started a company that worked with insect proteins called Chesapeake PERL. It was named Fortune Magazine's Coolest Company.
Since then, Hazell has been involved in several early stage companies and developed the production of dozens of biological products. She was also recently appointed chair of the Texas Emerging Technology Advisory Committee.
She is a member of the national advisory board for Springboard Enterprises and a charter member of Startup America Partnership's Women's Entrepreneurship Working Group.
Hazell received a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in biotechnology management from the University of Maryland's University College.
RampCorp's first program in El Paso was hosted by Innovate El Paso's Odyssey Program and will be hosted this time around by UTEP's College of Engineering.
Hazell works with Laura Bosworth-Bucher, who is leading the program as executive in residence. She earned her bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering from UTEP, worked at IBM and as executive director at Dell Computers, and is CEO and co-founder of Tevido Biodevices.
The company develops skin-graft substitute medical devices for wound healing, burns and reconstructive surgery.
She is also vice chair for UTEP's College of Engineering advisory board.
Bosworth-Bucher and Hazell sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about how RampCorp is helping women found and fund startups in El Paso, the rise of female entrepreneurship, and how El Paso's entrepreneurial culture is being talked up in Austin.
Q: You're recruiting now in El Paso?
Hazell: Right. We have had one program so far. We are looking for 15 to 20 women for our next program and they should have business experience and/or technology experience.
Q: And an idea of some sort?
Hazell: Nope, you don't even have to have an idea. They have to want to grow a company that could be a national or international company and grow beyond themselves.
If they want to do a home business, shop or restaurant, it is not really what we are doing.
Although, by week four or five, they're often re-evaluating the ideas they came in with. That is a big part of our job, helping them to realize they can do more.
Q: RampCorp recently graduated its first class here. Can you highlight any successes, startups winning capital and the like?
Bosworth-Bucher: It's too early to say. For this group, they have been doing this for less than a year. We can't predict the outcome, but we can tell you the potential. Out of our group of 16 graduating, we have four that are very focused on a technology-based company, two of which are women with Ph.D.s in engineering, and 75 percent of the graduates have an MBA or at least an advanced degree of some type. Another four have the potential to be scalable.
We also feel it is successful when people come in and decide not to do a business because they have gotten into it and realized what they thought was going to be a really compelling business actually wasn't going to make them any money.
Hazell: It was an extraordinary group. Although some would say that we wouldn't recruit the same quality of potential entrepreneur in a smaller community like El Paso, we didn't buy it and it certainly hasn't been the case.
Q: Any specific examples?
Hazell: Sure. There's a pajama company that is going to be using mass customization. There is also a material sciences company that has a specialized material for sports protective gear.
Then there is a remediation company that is evaluating a technology to turn waste into a product. There is one that is actually selling a new way to raise funds for schools. There's a company that's doing protective gear for the military with a specific technology they have identified.
Q: That last one's certainly in the right place.
Hazell: Yeah, exactly. See, the right place is exactly what you're looking for - Fort Bliss, UTEP and then Mexico - so it is just a perfect place for that type of company.
Then there's an organic and sustainable farm and a product-based company for infants.
The nice thing is you will be seeing more and more startups like these in El Paso. I mean, you will almost have to have a business reporter covering startups all the time because more and more is going to be happening in El Paso like this.
Q: Why did you choose El Paso for the first RampCorp program outside of Austin?
Hazell: Having the program in Austin makes sense to a lot of people. There is an entrepreneurial community there that is flourishing, and you can start an entrepreneurial venture in almost any field in Austin right now.
But when I was looking for an expansion site I spoke to many people across the state, including in the Governor's Office and Innovate Texas, who really encouraged me to look at El Paso, because there is a lot of opportunity here and a need to focus on scalability.
Also, El Paso has the demographic of the future, being a mainly Hispanic community. It is also a gateway to Latin America, which is important for scalable businesses - to have access to a variety of different places to manufacture.
In El Paso, there is an entrepreneurial wave building, and there is a lot going on in entrepreneurship. It's not only being driven by the Emerging Technology Fund and Innovate El Paso but by other organizations in town that are collaborating such as UTEP, which is expanding its work in entrepreneurship and innovation, El Paso Community College, and the new Hub of Human Innovation incubator.
There are just so many things going on at once that El Paso is really primed for also making sure to focus on women.
Q: The Governor's Office and Innovate Texas have El Paso on their radar? Is El Paso becoming known as a hub for startups?
Hazell: It was specifically the Governor's Office in the Emerging Technology Fund. The higher education advisor told me in El Paso they are hungry. That was definitely true when I first came out. Every time that I had a meeting out here many people would come. You'd have the workforce folks, and the university, and the city and Innovate El Paso. There was definitely traction immediately. It was clearly evident to me that El Paso was the place to do the first expansion site.
Q: As a member, and now chair, of the Texas Emerging Technology Advisory Committee, have you seen many in El Paso take advantage of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund?
Hazell: There are several companies in El Paso that have been funded and there are some applications now still in the pipeline for review.
Q: But is El Paso underrepresented compared with other areas of Texas?
Bosworth-Bucher: El Paso is still underrepresented relative to the other hot spots in the state, such as Austin and Dallas in particular.
Hazell: One of the requirements for participation, not just in the Emerging Technology Fund but with any equity-based financing, is growing a company that gives returns to investors and, typically, those kinds of companies are scalable businesses.
So the ability to start more scalable businesses in El Paso, a community that clearly has the resources to support scalable businesses, is very important. Another thing specific to the Emerging Technology Fund is collaboration with universities. In order to be eligible for the Emerging Technology Fund, companies need to collaborate with a Texas-based institute of higher education. So UTEP is a great place to do that and having such a world-class university right here in town also can drive more companies being eligible for that fund.
Q: You've mentioned ‘scalable' businesses quite a few times now. What do you mean by that?
Hazell: It's one that has a national or international market focus and has a repeatable model, so that for every item you sell you don't do more work. It is also a model that is usually based on technology.
It could be a biotech company. It could be some of the Internet-based companies. Look at Constant Contact, that's a business run by a woman. Zip Car is another company founded by a woman, Robin Chase. Then there's different product-based companies. Even jewelry companies can be scalable, if they have a model that can go across the country. The Body Shop is another one started by a woman - very scalable.
Q: Let's go back to presidential candidate Rick Perry and the Emerging Technology Fund. The ETF has garnered national attention as Perry has defended the role of states in supporting startups, since the story broke about the federal government's support of failed solar energy company Solyndra. Has the ETF been an effective tool for startups in Texas?
Hazell: Part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is critically important is access to early stage capital, so states that want to invest in the ecosystem as Texas does will do things to improve access to early stage capital.
When early stage capital is available from other sources, and is actively flowing as we have seen in the past, then the necessity for funds like the Emerging Technology Fund will change. But as far as RampCorp goes, our role at Texas State University is to focus on the niche of women in this area. Our Office of Commercialization and Industry Relations has a goal of increasing the representation of minorities in entrepreneurship.
Q: So how does RampCorp help increase the participation of woman in scalable businesses?
Hazell: The first thing that we do is we focus our classes on women. We have customized the curriculum to include things that are very specific to women, coaching that is specific to women, skills development that is specific to women.
It is also led by women, and men, who are interested in coaching women to access capital, access a network, access technologies, and develop their business plan and leadership skills at the same time.
Q: Is female entrepreneurship on the rise?
Hazell: You know, women start a lot of the companies, even close to half of the companies that get started in any one year, but very few of them are these scalable ventures we are talking about.
One million dollars in revenue is kind of this cap for a lot of women-led businesses, but it is definitely on the rise. One of the key elements is that women often don't have the network to grow and capitalize their company, so one of the things that we really focus on is making sure that the women in the RampCorp program build their network around access to capital. That way, when the time comes for them to raise money from an investor or banker, they're calling someone they know, instead of making a cold call.
Q: Why is it important to support women entrepreneurs, specifically?
Hazell: Why do big high schools have better football teams? Because they have a larger talent pool. So if you have a great portion of your talent pool that isn't starting these kinds of businesses, you aren't using all the resources that you could.
If we can pivot some of these businesses women are starting into scalable businesses, we are going to make a huge impact on the economy. The other thing is that women entrepreneurs, about seven out of 10, report that they will spend one to two days giving back to their community.
So that investment in women is a good investment if you are looking at the economic side, with say job creation, or on the community side.
Bosworth-Bucher: If you look at our nation's rate of children in poverty - well, children aren't in poverty unless their moms are in poverty - women are generally the caretakers of children.
It's teaching women to think big, to think about the possibilities and to realize that they too can do the types of businesses that men are doing. Then you start thinking about distributing that wealth back to the families and the communities.
Ninety percent of women give back to the community, as compared to 30 or 40 percent of men, and there is just a greater reach that women have in that way.
Q: I understand RampCorp mapped all the resources available to entrepreneurs in El Paso. What did you find?
Hazell: In Austin, there is an organization, Bootstrap Austin, who mapped the Austin scene. I saw the map and fell in love with it, so when I went to another community the first thing I did was look for a similar map.
There wasn't one for El Paso, so at RampCorp we built the El Paso entrepreneurship scene map. Basically, we just mapped all the organizations that are helping entrepreneurs in El Paso. It is an impressive list. You name it there is a lot of support here in El Paso. You can find it online.
Q: El Paso startups lost a key funding resource recently when the local angel investing group called it quits.
Hazell: Well, those investors are still here.
Q: But they're not meeting monthly and being active.
Bosworth-Bucher: No, but there is a group, the Texas Entrepreneurship Network, that recently held a funding forum here. The great news about having a group like that, and we are certainly not the only ones, but we are part of that community that is talking up El Paso.
In Austin they have been hearing good things about El Paso, and they thought, "Hey, let's get one of our forums out there. You guys feel like you're ready. You're starting to develop entrepreneurs."
Q: That might surprise some - that there are so many resources for startups in El Paso, and that these groups in Austin are talking about El Paso.
Hazel: While there is a lot of reporting about startups in Austin, there is not a lot of that kind of reporting in El Paso.
There are always articles about what companies have just gotten funded in Austin, for instance.
That helps, because if you read stuff every day about startups that are technology based and scalable, then you start thinking, "Oh, I understand what that means."
Your ideas are put into the context of scalable as opposed to, "Oh, I'll just do this out of my garage and make a little bit of money on the side."
It is a huge component of creating a startup culture in a community.
Q: What's the impact of this growing startup culture in El Paso?
Hazell: Increasing the salaries of workers, since jobs that are created by scalable businesses, technology businesses, come with a higher salary.
This is not going to happen tomorrow, but there is already that momentum.
Bosworth-Bucher: With scalable, we're usually talking about multi-million dollars in revenue. So you really are thinking about a very large company and that can really be great for a community.
It's more jobs - it grows the tax base - so you help to generate forms of wealth that can help economically distressed regions.
Hazell: The other thing that I have definitely realized about El Paso is that most of the people talk about giving back to the community - not every community has that in its culture.
In El Paso, the question all the entrepreneurs that have joined our program were asked, and even I was asked when I first came, was: What are you going to do for El Paso?
And that's exactly what many of the women are interested in doing in our program.
As scalable entrepreneurship continues to grow, the return will be larger in a place like El Paso when the culture is that of giving back to the community.
RampCorp is recruiting in El Paso. For information, go online to txstate.edu/rampcorp/apply.html.
E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.