UTSA - The University of Texas at San Antonio

04/16/2024 | News release | Archived content

UTSA programs equip students with skills for entrepreneurial careers

"Historically, SIE programming has focused on science, engineering and tech ventures. We've expanded that this year to include other avenues for entrepreneurship, like e-commerce, nonprofits, and professional and consulting services," said Erica Clark, UTSA director of student innovation and entrepreneurship. "The community partnerships we've built with Geekdom, Experian, Dell, Community First Health Plans, Blackstone Launchpad and others around the city are creating a pipeline for San Antonio talent and helping our student entrepreneurs from a broader range of disciplines thrive - from computer programmers and scientists to artists and designers."

Doubra Azazi, a senior majoring in information systems, is one of many students to benefit from this expanded entrepreneurship ecosystem. As a sophomore, he participated in the Najim Strategist program where he worked with The Historic Pearl, developing methods to improve sustainability and eco-friendliness for the popular San Antonio dining and shopping destination.

His time in the Strategist program was the first of several experiences with the SIE and Najim Center. Most recently, Azazi won first place in the 2023 Big Rowdy Idea, an annual SIE competition that helps budding entrepreneurs cultivate the skills needed to successfully launch and scale a startup, while showcasing their ideas to local investors and business owners.

Azazi's pitch for Elisium, his clothing line featuring pieces like custom leather jackets, tees and footwear, earned him a $5,000 prize to jumpstart the growth of his brand.

As the winner, he also received mentorship from Hugh Stevens, UTSA director of special projects for career engaged learning. Stevens has extensive business experience, including owning a clothing company that offers apparel like custom-tailored suits. This made Stevens the perfect person to help guide Azazi and teach him best practices for managing his own brand.

Azazi credits the support from Stevens, Clark, his peers and the Big Rowdy Idea contest for helping him build on the success of Elisium. The brand now lists celebrities like NFL player Malik Harrison and rapper Tyga as customers, who have both been photographed sporting his clothes.

"I first had the idea to start the brand my freshman year. I wanted to create designs to make people stand out and feel good about themselves," Azazi said. "It's crazy to now see someone like Tyga who I listened to growing up, and who's a big celebrity and on the radio, wearing my merchandise."

The SIE's reach extends beyond the UTSA campus as well. In fall 2023, the office launched its inaugural NextGen Entrepreneurs Program in partnership with Steubing Elementary School in San Antonio.

The program works with nearly 70 fifth-grade students, introducing them to the basics of innovation and business through presentations, hands-on activities and field trips to local companies. The new initiative is facilitated by Anna Almaraz '23, an M.B.A. student in the Carlos Alvarez College of Business and a past participant in several Najim Center and SIE programs.

"We want students to realize that entrepreneurship is accessible to them regardless of their age or prior experience," said Clark. "We hope to create a clear pathway so young students know that UTSA is a place where they will have the support to develop their creative ideas while earning their degree."

Students also have opportunities to sharpen their skills abroad with the SIE Global Summer Institute, where students work in countries like Argentina and Germany to solve social, cultural or environmental issues for international companies.