Denise Graham: From BizFest to Georgetown University
Denise Graham is no stranger to competition. In addition to her recent acceptance to Georgetown University, whose 20% acceptance rate makes it one of the most selective colleges in the nation, Denise also competed in the USHCC Foundation’s regional BizFest and placed first in the 2011 National BizFest Competition earning herself a $3,000 college scholarship sponsored by Sam’s Club.
The BizFest Training and Competition is an innovative and intensive entrepreneurship program in which Hispanic high school juniors and seniors learn how to turn hobbies into profitable business ventures. Delivered by the University of Texas – Pan American (UTPA), BizFest is a signature program of the USHCC Foundation. To learn more about this program, click here.
We recently had the chance to speak with Denise about her experience in the program as well as her future academic plans. The mission of the USHCC Foundation and BizFest is to inspire and challenge our Hispanic youth, while providing them with the opportunities to become the successful leaders of tomorrow. In speaking with this remarkably inspired young woman, we are certain that Denise will excel in her future endeavors and inspire the next generation of Hispanic youth to follow.
She graduates this June from Rowe High School and we look forward to hearing about her accomplishments at Georgetown.
How did you first hear about the Regional BizFest in McAllen, TX?
A senior at my high school participated in the program during my junior year and told me all about it. He sold me on the perks at first: free trip, iPad, and getting to meet new people. I like to challenge myself by expanding my horizons and taking on new experiences. Plus, it sounded like a fun opportunity!
What motivated you to participate in BizFest?
I never really thought of business or entrepreneurship as a career path for me and I have never been a science or math person, but I knew how important it is to round out my education. As far as training in business or entrepreneurship, I hadn’t been offered a lot of opportunities. The USHCC Foundation offered me that opportunity and I did my best to take advantage of everything I could gain from it.
Tell me about the National BizFest Competition in Miami where you competed against other students from across the country.
What made it so special was the small number of students. It seemed like we were lost in a sea of business owners but that couldn’t have been further from how we were received. They gave us so much advice! We were the special minority and we felt really important. It was so cool that so many successful people kept talking to us. They were all asking about our projects, congratulating us and handing out more business cards than I could carry! I felt a great deal of pride for what I had accomplished.
How did BizFest benefit you personally?
It was a lot more fun than I expected. I thought business was all about numbers. BizFest opened up so many doors for me. Before BizFest, I focused on the technical and financial aspects. I hadn’t considered the creative side to being an entrepreneur. I love creating and executing the plan but selling my idea to the panel of judges – actual business owners themselves – was my favorite part. BizFest was a great channel to learn what entrepreneurship really means. It was also a great opportunity for networking. One of the judges even approached me to support my idea, telling me that if I were ever interested in executing it I’d have his support and guidance.
You were a top finalist in the regional BizFest and took 1st place in the national BizFest competition. What inspired your award-winning plan, Plaza Play Place?
I came up with a business plan specific to my hometown and my personal experience growing up here. There have always been a lot of shopping centers in McAllen. I got lost at a mall I was visiting with my parents once and I remembered it being a frightening experience for both me and my parents. I had heard of daycare centers in malls being implemented but none in McAllen. I decided to make this my proposal: kids stay safe and have fun while their parents shop. I laid out the case using the strongest evidence I could find, gathered from various surveys and periodicals and crafted my business proposal from there.
We’ve heard you were recently accepted to Georgetown University’s 2012 freshman class. Why did you pick Georgetown?
That’s right! Ever since I started high-school it’s been my goal to get accepted. When I was freshman, a senior I knew had just been accepted to Georgetown University. I found her bio in the yearbook and it said she was going to there to study international relations and hoping to enroll in the U.S. Foreign Service when she finished. I guess you could say she inspired me, I don’t know if she even knows it!
What was it like, getting that acceptance letter from your dream school?
It was really surreal getting the acceptance letter in the mail. I am always really hard on myself. I didn’t really believe it would happen until I opened the envelope and read the first line: ‘Congratulations! ’ All the hard work I’ve put in has finally paid off and it’s been a great feeling.