There has never been anything like this before among Mexican LDS Entrepreneurs. They came from branches and wards from all over the country, June 8-9, to compete for cash prizes, display their businesses, and swap stories of their successes and failures. While their businesses ranged in size and focus, they all had one thing in common: all were trained by two American couples on how to beat family poverty through launching small businesses.
These 200 Academy graduates and their families are a new breed of LDS entrepreneurs trained in a cutting-edge school started by an American couple who refuses to sit home and “count their money.” Steve and Bette Gibson, Provo, Utah, started this new movement among returned missionaries in the Philippines 12 years ago, after selling their Colorado-based business. In 2010, the Gibsons began replicating their Filipino Academy in a one hundred year-old ranch headquarters in heavily populated Mexico City. The on-site professor/entrepreneur is27-year-old Dr. Jeremi Brewer, who met the Gibsons five years ago at BYU-Hawaii. Jeremi and his wife, Dr. Rebecca Brewer, have prepared themselves to lead the Mexico City Academy for Creating Enterprise by earning their PhDs in Hispanic Studies at Texas A& M. They moved to Mexico in December 2010 and have trained more than 900 Latter-day Saints.
“As I left the mission field in 2005, I remember sitting on the airplane and wondering if I would ever make it back to my mission. It was right then and there that I promised myself that one day I would return and help the members who lived in poverty,” Dr. Brewer said. He continues, “The Academy has allowed me to do just that and more quickly than I had ever imagined.”
The competitive Entrepreneur Academy Awards event was too big to be held at the four-acre Academy campus, so the two-day event was housed at the LDS Church-owned high school campus of Benemrito de las Amricas. More than 100 Academy graduates applied to compete for the cash awards.Of those, forty-nine were selected for the two-day competition, which included 10 judges and formal Power Point presentations in seven different businesscategories.
The competing enterprises were as varied as Internet-based English tutoring with 10 locations to a cup cake specialty shop. One of the entries in the category of “Innovators” has a fleet of four motor scooters roaming the back streets of small Mexico villages selling tortillas. Another competitor sells home made canned soups to a dozen small convenience stores.
In addition to the two rounds ofjudging, seven workshops were taught. These workshops included topics such as Finance, Strategy for growth, Leadership Techniques, and Decision Making& Ethics.
One of the most popular workshops was on Internet marketing taught by former Mexico City missionary Dallin Harris. He runs a million-dollar international website operation out of Phoenix, Arizona. “I have loved returning to the mission field to teach those that I care so strongly about,” he said. “I am definitely going to be here in Mexico every year for this event.”
The two keynote speakers were Mexico Area President, Elder Daniel L. Johnson and Robert H. Heyn, former mission president of the Mexico Tijuana Mission and member of the LDS Church Young Men’s General Board.
Another popularevent was the business fair with 40 booths exhibiting the various products made and sold by the Academy graduates. Open to the public, the booths were crowded with potential customers.
The crowning event was held in the Benemrito auditorium. Tension was high as the five finalists presented Power Point slide shows of their businesses before hundreds of spectators and a panel of judges, including five members of the Academy board of directors.
The Academy 2012 Master Entrepreneur of the Yearwas Samuel Ahuacatitan from Chiautempan, Tlaxcala. As one of the older graduates of the Academy, Samuel entered the Academy’s training program as a struggling businessman on the brink of bankruptcy. About to close his metal-machine manufacturing business, Samuel knew he needed help, “If you let me take this course, even though I will be older than most students, I promise you will never regret it,” he mentioned in his interview fifteen months ago.
After the Academy training, he turned his business completely around. He now has five locations throughout Mexico and 30 employees. He recently traveled to Cuba from Mexico City to install a pineapple stripper and de-coring machine. The top prize money of 2,500 US dollars will allow him to further expand.
The Innovative Entrepreneur for 2012 went to Israel Limon Jacinto, who owns a Tortilla business located in San Salvador el Seco, Puebla. “As soon as I heard about the Academy in Mexico City, I knew that I needed to take the course,” Israel mentioned. “And when I graduated, I knew that my business was going to improve; I could just feel it in my heart and I knew it in my mind.” Israel graduated from the Academy’s first residential program in March 2011. He sells his tortillas from a fleet of four scooters. He plans to buy a fifth scooter with his prize money.