This is my IQ: Juan Barraza
It’s often been said that entrepreneurs are the best suited individuals to lead the way to innovation — and leading those communities who are working to embrace innovation. And there’s no better example of an entrepreneur leading the way than Juan Barraza of the Portland State University Center for Entrepreneurship.
Born and raised in Mexico City, Juan attended the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, graduating with a Bachelors in Business. But his appreciation of business started way before that. Inspired by his entrepreneurial parents.
“From the early days of my childhood I got a front row to entrepreneurship,” said Juan. “I watched my parents build several businesses. Some of them were successful. Some of them not so much. It was this opportunity to see, first-hand, the experience of creating a business that made an impression on me. I attribute those days as my first steps as an entrepreneur.”
That passion led Juan to found VDO Interpreters, a service designed to provide on demand translation services, starting with the healthcare industry. And that provided a whole new learning experience about entrepreneurship.
“For me the journey is building a product and what you learn along the way. With VDO Interpreters, we didn't have a technical cofounder or a designer, so I taught myself how to code and work around API's. When we needed to design a logo, I learned how to use Illustrator and Photoshop. I’m inspired by discovering a possible solution and figuring out how to make it work.”
That journey — as a founder always seeking knowledge — led Juan to the Portland Business State Accelerator, the Portland State University startup incubator and accelerator, in search of mentorship.
“It was our first time raising capital. We didn’t know where to start or who to talk to. It was very difficult… and lonely. It wasn't until we discovered the PSU Business Accelerator that we found the mentors that we needed. And those mentors were fellow PSBA residents. Like Paola Moretto from Nouovola, Sandy Shotwell from Designmedix, and Robert Haydock from Zembula. The fact that these busy founders took the time to answer many of the questions that I had made all of the difference.”
It’s no secret that startups are inherently risky. In spite of all of the support, Juan’s startup story ended the way the vast majority of startup stories end.
“We had a very small team and tried to juggle product building and raising capital. In retrospect, we should have focused more on customer validation and finding out who was the ultimate decision maker that was — who was going to write the check to pay for our platform. In the long run, we discovered that our sales cycle was too long, exhausting what runway we had. So we had to pull the plug on VDO.”
But as with many entrepreneurial stories, that end brought about a new beginning. And an incredible fit for a founder with Juan’s talent for building community and helping other founders.
“I never expected that academia would be my next act, but joining the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship has allowed me to keep in touch with the startup ecosystem, work with students, and provide an on-ramp to entrepreneurship while they are getting their college degree.
“After I joined the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship, I realized that university students were eager for opportunities to innovate and be entrepreneurial. So three years ago, with the collaboration of PSU, The Lemelson Foundation and Business Oregon we Launched InventOR, Oregon’s first prototyping competition for college students. We partnered with five Oregon Colleges and universities. Ten student teams were formed in year one. This year, we have built partnerships with 17 schools and 34 students teams are participating.”
Learning from his experiences with VDO Interpreters, Juan is focused on customer validation and iterating the program, to ensure that it’s providing the greatest value for his customers, the universities and the students who participate.
“We are being very intentional about working with our partner schools to tailor InventOR to their needs. We want to inspire the next generation of inventors and innovators in the region, with the hopes that participating students, graduate, get industry experience, and come back to Oregon to launch a venture with an invention of their own. This is how we create the next wave of Oregon startups.”
But that’s not all Juan is doing. He’s at the forefront of the Latinx startup community in Portland, connecting mentors and startups, organizing events, and ensuring that new entrepreneurs are welcomed into the fold.
“After shutting down VDO, I knew that I wanted to connect Latino entrepreneurs with the larger Portland startup ecosystem. We launched Startup Weekend Latino first and then, inspired by Stephen Green’s PitchBlack event, we launched Pitch Latino. Now, we’re working on the first Latino Founders Accelerator.”
The entrepreneur continues to shine through. In everything that Juan does. Identifying an opportunity, proposing a solution, and bringing that solution to market. And while he doesn’t happen to be building a startup, at the moment, he is building different type of products — events, communities, and programs — that are providing an incredible amount of value to the startup community.
For more information or to connect, follow Juan on Twitter.