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StartUP alumna wins prestigious Fulbright entrepreneurship award

StartUP alumna wins prestigious Fulbright entrepreneurship award

June 8, 2023 at 3:20pm

Alumna Patricia Garcia '21 is preparing for the experience of a lifetime as the newest recipient of the Fulbright/University College London Entrepreneurship Award. 

Garcia was waiting to hear back about jobs to which she had applied, after recently earning a master's degree elsewhere, and a bit frustrated that things were not moving faster for her, “when I suddenly realize this was why my path was being cleared – I would be spending a year in London!” she said with a laugh.

The prestigious award is granted to only one person in the United States annually. Garcia will study at University College London for one year to earn her second post-graduate degree, a master's in entrepreneurship from its school of management.

At FIU, Garcia was a member of the Honors College and majored in interdisciplinary engineering and minored in business management. A self-made entrepreneur who as an FIU undergraduate created “unithrifts” – a gamified resale platform for collegiate-branded gear that allows buyers and sellers to track their environmental impact – she has the real-world credentials to make the most of this enriching international experience. 

“The Fulbright Award is the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Garcia with excitement. “I am really eager to spend time overseas and explore how business is done outside the U.S. For example, what does scalability look like in Europe and other parts of the world?  What are the various avenues for getting your business off the ground?”

During her time as an undergrad, Garcia was inspired by FIU’s global lens, which led her to further develop her passion for entrepreneurship and innovation. In fact, Garcia credits much of her academic success and her selection for the very competitive Fulbright UCL Entrepreneurship Award to her time spent being mentored by StartUP FIU director and co-founder Robert Hacker.

It was under Hacker’s tutelage that Garcia learned how to create powerful, engaging pitch decks, presentations that immediately grabbed the attention of funders and explained the basics of her company in a compelling way.

“Even though my first few pitch competitions offered little in the way of prize money, I made the most of the resources I had and used these as opportunities to hone my pitch, strengthen my presentation skills and network within the entrepreneurship ecosystem,” says Garcia, who has won over 20 national pitch competitions and raised over $90,000 in funding while retaining full ownership of her company.

“Patricia’s uncompromising tenacity and unique focus on her goals makes her an incredible presenter and standout entrepreneur,” says Hacker, who in April was attending the eMerge Americas global tech conference on Miami Beach with Garcia when she received news of her award. “The year-long Fulbright Award experience in London will serve to strengthen her already considerable skills and provide her with a global perspective on entrepreneurship.”

A December 2022 graduate of the University of Southern California, which chose Garcia to deliver commencement remarks in recognition of her startup success, she earned a masters in product development and now looks forward to her new adventure. Time spent strengthening her entrepreneurial skills in London will bring Garcia one step closer to her ultimate goal: returning to her hometown to give back to the institutions that inspired, supported and encouraged her through her journey as an innovator and small business owner.

“My long-term goal is to serve as director of innovation or entrepreneurship for a local university,” said Garcia, who describes herself as a Miami girl at heart. “As the first entrepreneurial person in my family, I was able to take the lessons learned during my time at FIU to build my company from scratch and learn from my mistakes. It’s these critical, hard-earned lessons that inspire me to shape the next generation of entrepreneurs in South Florida.”

Much like the founders and administrators of StartUP FIU, Garcia is a firm believer that entrepreneurship can be a powerful catalyst for social mobility and wealth creation, especially for members of traditionally underserved communities. As a young Hispanic woman, Garcia is well aware of the challenges many young entrepreneurs encounter, especially when it comes to securing funding, finding opportunities and gaining access into the established entrepreneurship network.

“This is why I am so grateful that individuals like Bob Hacker challenged me to take risks and continue working towards my goals,” said Garcia. “He believed in me at times when I didn’t think I could do it. He knew to push me past my comfort zone because he saw my potential to achieve greater things.”