Updated: Nov 21, 2018
Professional growth is essential to the success of an entrepreneur. Regardless of their age or background, no entrepreneur succeeds alone. It is this belief that inspires the i.Invest Competition to recruit judges and mentors with various experiences to help us shine a light on business development, innovation and creativity. It is also this belief that made working with New Orleans economic development professional, Alejandra Guzman, and others like her, the best choice when building our dynamic line-up of mentors.
1) Tell us about your current job, why you do what you do and how it prepares you to mentor youth and youth entrepreneurs?
I serve as VP of Performance Management & Strategy for the New Orleans Business Alliance, (NOLABA), a public-private partnership with the City of New Orleans and the business community focused on promoting economic development. Through my NOLABA role and additional civic engagements, I work hard to design and execute programs that achieve equitable and inclusive economic growth for all New Orleanians by working to attract new businesses, grow our local workforce and small business ecosystem, and most importantly, to connect people to opportunities.
My vision for New Orleans is one of an inclusive and sustainable city that provides all of the tools for its people - regardless of their background - to succeed. I am honored to be able to share these experiences with youth entrepreneurs.
2) If you were a youth entrepreneur, tell us about the very first business you started and why?
At 11, I started selling candy door-to-door and during school recesses. At that time, I discovered that I could buy candy by the bulk, or even make some myself, and have a slightly lower price than some corner stores. I started having so much success that soon I had competitors! Another young girl decided that she could also make and sell candy. This was one of my earliest business lessons in life.
3) What three things should all young entrepreneurs be prepared for before they create a business?
#1: Follow a process and have patience.
More often than not, it takes a long time to convert prospects into customers. There should be a thoughtful and well-planned out process to be able to have successful conversion rates. This is true both in the business and non-profit sector.
#2: The importance of connections.
Building a network can make a big difference to your business. Luckily, there are multiple organizations throughout the nation that facilitate these connections. Even if the benefit of knowing someone is not evident at first, connecting with people and building relationships is always beneficial in the long term.
#3: Having cash flow does not mean your business is profitable.
It is important to pay attention to your cost structure. Some new businesses discover that they cannot sustain their operations despite having a flow of cash. Taking a close look at what it takes your business to operate can help you make other decisions that will support the sustainability of your business.
4) Tell us about your biggest business failure and success.
One of my biggest learning experiences has been understanding that there are projects that will require you to go through a process. There are instances in which decisions can’t be rushed. This is true, particularly in those projects that are depending on the buy-in of multiple stakeholders. Failing to understand this concept has cost me delays on my projects and failed partnerships. I was fortunate enough to later have a mentor who taught me the importance of this. With their mentorship support, my team and I were able to establish a public-private partnership that benefited the quality of life of thousands of people.
5) Why is nurturing entrepreneurship important to you?
My work focuses on creating economic opportunities for all. It is very much like the work of an entrepreneur. Creating solutions for pressing problems require an entrepreneurial spirit.
My work experience was developed mostly in the private sector where my main focus has been to create and operate inter-sectorial partnership programs combining non-government organizations (NGO), government agencies, and private-sector companies focused on solving community and economic development challenges in the United States, in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Early in my career, I discovered that to be more effective in the programs I was designing I needed to increase my business acumen. This is why I pursued a Master's degree in Business from Tulane University.
What drives and inspires me every day is the belief of the unlimited human potential and that we all deserve an opportunity to thrive. This can be accomplished through entrepreneurship.
6) Name up to three educational classes, business programs or real-world experiences that played a key role in your success and why.
My first internship was crucial for me to discover my passions! When I started working for CEMEX as an intern, I discovered that they had a robust portfolio of programs dedicated to the improvement of communities around the world. It was great to realize that I can build a career while helping others. I would encourage young people to go through internships, so they are able to discover what may be a great career for them.