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Entrepreneurs Learn the Fine Points of Successful Business Practices

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 18, 2014 – Aarin Hartwell graduated from The University of Texas at Brownsville in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. With her past experience working for marketing and production companies, this 28-year-old felt she was ready to strike out on her own – but she did not have a business background.
Aarin Hartwell has established Hartwell Talent and Production on South Padre Island.
“I was intimidated to start out on my own, but I thought it’s now or never,” Hartwell said. “I dove in, knowing nothing about business, but I thought ‘I’m going to figure this out.’ My journey started, and I was trying to navigate all the countless things to take care of – researching website templates, insurance policies, potential clients, contracts, paperwork, agreements, financials, tax certifications and database systems, and I started to make mistakes because it was so much so fast, and to tell you the truth, I fell flat those first few months.”
About that time, Darla Lapeyre, Executive Director of the South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation, contacted Hartwell to let her know a spot had opened up in the Kauffman FastTrac® class being offered for area entrepreneurs by The University of Texas at Brownsville.
“I realized immediately that is just what I needed,” Hartwell said.
Kauffman FastTrac® is an educational program offered by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, Missouri. The non-profit foundation focuses on fostering economic independence by advancing education and entrepreneurship.
“The Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac® is a practical, hands-on business development program designed to help entrepreneurs hone the skills needed to create, manage and grow successful businesses,” said Irv Downing, Vice President for Economic Development and Institutional Advancement. “The UTB Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center became affiliated with Kauffman FastTrac® in 2012, certifying UTB to facilitate the Kauffman FastTrac® entrepreneurship training. The current training effort complements our small business incubator that first began operating about 10 years ago.”
The Port Isabel/South Padre Island business community had gotten wind of Kauffman FastTrac® graduates’ success in Brownsville and Harlingen, and they worked with John Sossi, Director of the ECC, to provide a local training. A cohort of 12 was established, with all participants sponsored by the Economic Development Corporations of Port Isabel and South Padre Island and Capital One Bank.
One of Hartwell’s classmates, Steven Zarate, approached the FastTrac® program from a different angle. Zarate has been in business since he was eight years old, selling cookies to friends and teachers at school, and then progressing to his own popcorn and lemonade table, alongside his parents’ catering van, at the Iowa State Fair.
The Zarate family traded snow for sand and relocated 15 years ago to Port Isabel, Texas; they opened Fisherman’s Restaurant, where the Zarate clan has built up a dedicated clientele.
Zarate had owned and operated an established fire safety business for a couple of years until the economic slowdown, when he returned to the family restaurant. Yet, the entrepreneur in him is urging him to start up a business again.
“I know I won’t be able to start off on the scale that I had hoped; it’s just not going to be feasible,” Zarate said. “I will still offer the same service but on a smaller scale. I have had the proper training, and I have my advanced marine fire certification. It’s really a matter of the capital to purchase the equipment and materials that I need to get started. I’ll just have to start small and build back up.”
Hartwell’s business, Hartwell Talent and Production is starting small, too.
“Now, with a business, marketing and financial plan in place since completing the course, I feel better organized and prepared for the next steps I need to take to make a success of my business,” she said.
She has recently learned she will be taking Hartwell Talent and Production to the next level, having landed a big contract to be the Lower Rio Grande Valley producer for One Day on Earth, a worldwide video production effort to record life in all corners of the globe.
According to Diana Gonzalez, ECC Special Projects Coordinator, one of the beauties of Kauffman FastTrack® is its universality. It is designed for entrepreneurs and businesses of all types.
In the cohort with Hartwell and Zarate was Alejandra Aldrete, who has developed Classic Auto Rent, her vintage car rental business to cater to weddings, quinceañeras and special events. Another, Laura Martinez, participated in the class because she wanted to learn better ways to run her family business, Laura’s Delicious Grapefruit.
Gene Washburn, an engineer, said he didn’t know anything about business, but wanted to learn the ins and outs of business in hopes of marketing an invention he had developed.
“This was a superb program; I learned so much about business processes,” Washburn said. “My hat is off to the Economic Development Corporations of both South Padre and Port Isabel, and also to Capital One Bank, for sponsoring this program. When you invest in people in the community, you grow good businesses.”
For more information on the Kauffman FastTrac® program, contact Diana Gonzalez in the UTB Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center at 956-882-4121 or


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