Starting up

Temo Ojeda came to the University of Washington with a passion for startups, and thanks to the Lavin Entrepreneurship Program, the most valuable lessons he’s learned have been outside the classroom.

Dare to do

About 50 miles south of Mexico City, Temo Ojeda’s hometown of Cuernavaca is known for its pleasant weather and lush vegetation. Though the city is home to many of Mexico’s wealthy citizens and boasts an abundance of cultural and historic sites, its roads are riddled with potholes. As a senior in high school, Ojeda noticed that there was no database that showed where the potholes were — effectively creating a barrier between the government and its citizens. “People were not reporting problems, and the government was not fixing them,” he says. So, along with some of his friends, he decided to do something about it.

They created Xopán, a mobile app that allowed citizens to report infrastructure problems to the government. “We gave open government a chance in a place where transparency was nil,” he says. Although the app worked well and was gaining popularity, Ojeda and his friends had to leave the project behind when they scattered far and wide for college.

But Ojeda, a freshman studying computer science, knows that success often requires courageous choices — like leaving Cuernavaca for Seattle, more than 2,000 miles north of his hometown. It was the pull of a city with an abundance of tech opportunities and a university with a highly ranked Computer Science & Engineering program that initially brought him here. Then he discovered, and was accepted to, the Leonard and Bernice Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program, formed in partnership with the Foster School of Business and the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.

Thanks to the financial support of the highly competitive program, students like Ojeda visit venture-capitalist firms and startups, attend mentor meetings and workshops, receive scholarships to intern in early-stage companies and more. But first and foremost, they’re immersed in the culture of creating their own opportunities. Many older students in the program often get internships through informal, self-initiated networking. “It’s basically in their DNA,” Ojeda says.

Although he’s been at the UW for less than a year, Ojeda’s already befriended fellow students who aspire to launch their own businesses, met with startup founders over coffee and talked to venture-capitalist investors about learning from failure. Through a host of Lavin Entrepreneurship Program–sponsored events, he’s collected a stack of business cards and handed off his resume to several young companies in town. With luck, he’ll secure an internship this summer in Seattle — perhaps even at Startup Hall, an on-campus business incubator formed as the result of an innovative public-private partnership at the UW.

Though he doesn’t know what, specifically, he wants to do in the long run, he knows that it’s bigger than just making money. At the heart of it all is empowerment and accessibility. “Just growing up in Mexico, traveling around, made me think differently,” says Ojeda. His grandfather lived in Acatlán, a small indigenous community in Guerrerro, one of Mexico’s poorest states, and Ojeda visited him many times.

“Getting to know these poor communities, it starts to grow in your mind: ‘How can I help?’” he says. “So when you’re developing something, it’s not just for the wealthy. Technology is the easiest way to impact a lot of people. And that’s what inspires me every day, to try to work better and work harder.”

Lasting legacy, boundless opportunities

When you create an endowment at the University of Washington, you bolster the work of students, programs and faculty for generations to come. The Leonard and Bernice Lavin Entrepreneurial Action Program is just one of over 4,000 unique and meaningful endowments that benefit the UW community — and beyond. An investment today can provide the leaders of tomorrow with the resources needed to build a world of good.