By Naxiely Lopez-Puente, Mission EDC
MISSION, Texas — Dozens of small business owners have applied for a grant of up to $15,000 that the Mission Economic Development Corporation is offering to help existing businesses grow.
“We’ve had a tremendous turnout in just the first seven days since we re-launched the Ruby Red Ventures Build Mission Fund Grant,” Mission EDC CEO Teclo J. Garcia said. “It’s clear that our business community needs assistance, and we’re happy to be the catalyst for those that need just a little push to continue to thrive.”
Mission EDC first launched the Ruby Red Ventures program in 2013 as a local competition inspired by the ABC hit TV show Shark Tank. Since then, Mission EDC has awarded about $600,000 to nearly 40 small businesses in Mission. This year, it’s offering an additional $200,000 in small business grants, without the pitch competition. That competition will be held next year.
“’Dip It By Pilar’ was created with the support of the Mission Economic Development (Corporation). I had the idea, I had the recipe, I had the (eagerness), but I did not have the resources, the support and the experience,” small business owner Pilar Gonzalez said last week during a press conference announcing the return of the program. “And that’s what I found at the Ruby Red Ventures program.”
Gonzalez, who launched a series of dips with a healthy twist, is one of the program’s biggest success stories. After pitching her idea to a panel of Ruby Red judges and winning a $25,000 prize in 2014, she has managed to get her product into more than 200 H-E-B stores across Texas.
“And I can see now, many years later, we have grown so much,” she said.
Gonzalez now owns a co-packing manufacturing plant in Mission, where she and an all-women team are helping other women entrepreneurs reach their dreams.
“I’m so proud to say that we got ‘I Love Chamoy,’” Gonzalez said about the sugar-free Mexican treat that her company helps package. “We were the ones that helped them — through the experience that we have, and the connections and the support of our community — to enter her into H-E-B. She is at every single H-E-B across the nation. And it’s made here, in Mission.”
The ‘I Love Chamoy’ brand was created by Annie Leal, another Mission native who was looking for an alternative to the traditional sweet, spicy and tangy candy. Her father, a diabetic, loved to indulge in the high glucose treat, so she found a way to make it sugar-free and heathier for him.
“’I Love Chamoy’ is a love letter to my dad, my culture and my community,” Leal said last month to the three high-profile investors featured on Shark Tank. “So sharks, who wants to join ‘I Love Chamoy’ and make Mexican candy accessible to all?”
That’s the type of question David Norec is hoping to ask.
Norec was one of the small business owners who attended Mission EDC’s Red Ruby Info Session this week in which Mission EDC Director of Economic Development Belen Guerrero explained the grant’s application process, eligibility and requirements, and answered any questions small business owners had.
“Today’s info session was awesome. It’s so encouraging to see the City of Mission stepping up and helping local small businesses,” Norec said after the event.
The children’s author is no stranger to the Ruby Red Ventures program. He competed in 2019 but came up short.
“I remember I was leaving, and I was so bummed out. And one of the judges ran after me, and she was in tears, and she stopped me and said, ‘Look I fought for you to get something, and I’m so sorry, but just don’t give up. Don’t give up,” he recalled on Wednesday. “And if it hadn’t had been for her reaching me, I wouldn’t be right now where I’m at.”
Norec went on to win first place in a national pitch competition hosted by the National Entrepreneurs Association earlier this year. He was also one of 20 finalists for H-E-B’s Quest for Texas’ Best and has auditioned to be on Shark Tank.
“I lost my brother and sister to diabetes in 2013 and 2014, and it was from those tragedies that I was inspired to write a children’s’ book that would teach kids about the importance of exercise and healthy eating,” he said about his book, ‘Exo and Cy.’ “We are the most obese city in America six years in a row, and I’m trying to do my part here in the community.”
When he learned Mission EDC was re-launching the Ruby Red Ventures program, he felt a rush of emotions.
“When I saw it come up again, I got a big lump in my throat,” Norec said. “I don’t see it as my biggest failure, but one of my biggest inspirations.”
Norec said he looks forward to vying for help once more and growing his business in the process.
“It’s very encouraging and very exciting that local small businesses like us are getting a chance, because you never know when just that little help, that little seed money, what it can turn in to,” he said.
For more information on the Ruby Red Ventures program, visit https://missionedc.com/rubyredgrant/ or call (956) 585-0040.
Application deadline is Nov. 30, 2023.