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Senior Column | Perez ’22: What entrepreneurship means to me

A friend once told me that “the beauty in entrepreneurship lies in the simple reality that one is able to create something out of nothing.”

When I first arrived at Brown, it was this fundamental feature of entrepreneurship that drove me to immerse myself in the realm of social innovation and to use it as a catalyst for change in this world. 

Entrepreneurship runs in my blood. I am a proud first-generation Mexican American. My upbringing has been characterized by humility and filled with adversity. Both my parents risked their lives crossing the border to come to this country, in hopes of providing me and my brother with a better life — one filled with opportunities unattainable in their home country. To me, they are the definition of entrepreneurship: They learned to create a new life for themselves in a country where they had no one and nothing to rely on. They taught me how to stay resilient in the face of adversity, and they imbued in me the value of serving others and being grateful for life’s blessings and challenges. And though I did not grow up with financial stability, my parents were able to provide me with one of the most important things any parent can give their child: unconditional love and support. 

Growing up, I would hear stories about my parents running their own small businesses in Mexico City after first beginning to work in elementary school. They needed to support their families, and becoming entrepreneurs gave them each a sense of autonomy and independence. Mami ran a small juice shop and Papi managed a fruit stand with Abuelo. They took pride in their arduous labor. With little sleep, they would get up at the crack of dawn, determined to carve out a better path for their family. As Mami and Papi recounted endless stories of their childhood back home, I listened attentively, admiring their drive, strength, and ambition. 

My own entrepreneurial endeavor was different. Education became my passion, as my parents ingrained in me the notion that education was the path to a better life. This belief compelled me to create a small nonprofit when I was in high school, Latino Empowerment, which encourages Latinx students to pursue higher education by providing them with the resources — such as scholarships, summer programs, and mentors — to do so. I worked to ensure that students in my high school and within my community were aware of the amazing opportunities that were available to them — opportunities often lacking visibility. 

As I reflect, I consider myself lucky to have taken advantage of resources throughout my high school career — opportunities I largely learned about through word of mouth. But I strongly believe that students like myself should not have to get lucky in order to have access to higher quality education. That is why I created Latino Empowerment, and why I continue to feel passionate about innovation in education equity.

When I first arrived at Brown, I, like many students, spent my first night overwhelmed with an immense sense of excitement and fear. I marveled at the endless possibilities that could constitute the next four years, but I feared the uncertainty of what my future could hold and the responsibility that came with being admitted into a prestigious institution like Brown. 

For me, getting accepted into Brown not only meant receiving a world-class education but so much more. As a proud member of the Undocumented, First-Generation, Low-Income community, being on Brown’s campus made me feel, at times, like I was carrying the weight of my community on my shoulders. I was representing young people who had come from humble beginnings and faced great obstacles in accessing higher education — students, who despite their ample aptitude, had to work part-time minimum wage jobs to support their families. Students, who, regardless of their capacity to succeed at an Ivy League institution, had to help take care of their loved ones instead. I carried with me the belief that with this newfound privilege, I had the great responsibility to serve others — especially those who did not have access to the same resources, support, and opportunities that I did.

I like to believe that success is not measured by accolades, achievements, status or wealth. Rather, success is measured by the impact you have on others. It is through showing empathy and helping those in need that we can genuinely make a difference in this world and work collectively to improve the quality of people’s lives. 

On that first day, I wrote a journal entry in which I listed my goals for my four years at Brown. I was eager to do everything in my power to ensure I was taking advantage of every opportunity here on campus. One of my biggest goals was to create something that was going to help improve the lives of students. Before coming to Brown, I had a preconceived notion as to what an entrepreneur looked like, and I did not feel like I fit that description. So I never even considered becoming an entrepreneur or creating a venture until I took ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations” with Professor Hazeltine and Professor Chaltas. To say these professors changed my life is an understatement; they transformed the trajectory of my career and my ambitions.

In ENGN 90, I learned about entrepreneurship by diving into Harvard Business School cases and reading about innovative, diverse entrepreneurs doing incredible things to change the world. This inspired me to see that someone like me, who came from a less privileged background, had the potential to become an entrepreneur and create something out of nothing. I realized the highlight of my high school career, founding Latino Empowerment, was a form of entrepreneurship that I knew I wanted to continue pursuing at Brown.

In addition to taking ENGN 90, I probed through the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship’s website, and soon I came across Professor Danny Warshay’s video on bottom-up research. I began to take notes and quickly realized that my passion at Brown lay here: where entrepreneurship and social innovation merge to create tangible change. It was at this moment that I fell in love with the idea of dedicating my four years at Brown to entrepreneurship, with the hope of creating a venture that would go on to address and mitigate the educational inequalities that are so pervasive in our society — a venture that would go on to change and improve the quality of people’s lives. My belief in my capability to be an entrepreneur was affirmed when in my junior year, I placed third in the Brown Venture Prize competition — becoming one of the first Latinas to place in the BVP since its inception. I know there will be more of us to come. In my final semester at Brown, I took ENGN 1010: “The Entrepreneurial Process,” taught by Professor Warshay — whose video inspired my entrepreneurship journey at Brown, and who now brings that journey to a close. 

As we look at our time beyond College Hill, I believe we must proactively seek ways to use our voice and power to address some of the world’s most pressing inequities. We must use our talents and ability to create something out of nothing to address disparities in health, wealth, and education, and to remove barriers that prevent people from succeeding in this world. And finally, we as future Brown alumni must seek to build community, rekindle hope and find the courage to go where we are needed. For it is our passion for changing the world that ignites our essence and creates our purpose.



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