Rojas-Flores works to spark next generation of entrepreneurs

MERCED – The entrepreneurial mindset is as much an inherent part of the atmosphere at UC Merced as it is at any start-up, but now two students, Eduardo Rojas-Flores (a Fallbrook resident) and Nick Fong, are on a mission to help bring even greater levels of innovation and venture activity to the campus.

Selected as University Innovation (UI) Fellows, Fong and Rojas-Flores are part of a national network empowering student leaders to encourage more entrepreneurial activity on their campuses. They will work with more than 100 other fellows, as well as with UC Merced faculty members in the new Pathways to Innovation program, which UC Merced is helping pilot.

Rojas-Flores and Fong had only about a week to complete the rigorous, competitive application process to join the year-old national network of students from 78 universities. The network only selected three new fellows from California; the third is from Cal Poly.

The two UI fellows have created a Wiki page for the campus that is open to the other fellows in the network, as well, and ranks campus priorities, including Fong’s goal of having entrepreneurial workshops and skill sessions available to all students.

Students will study subjects like project management; rapid prototyping and brainstorming techniques; pitch development; intellectual property topics; business-plan development; and organizational strategy.

When School of Engineering Dean Dan Hirleman told Rojas-Flores he was nominated by a faculty member and that he should look into this new opportunity, he jumped at the chance.

“I was humbled,” he said. “But what makes this so exciting is that, like pretty much everything else at UC Merced, the time from inception to implementation is accelerated. If you want something, or want to be a part of something, you just make it happen.”

Like when he wanted to bring aeronautics to campus. Rojas-Flores, a 2011 Fallbrook high graduate, started a chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and now has an official charter from the national organization and more than 60 students involved. As a third-year student, Rojas-Flores has more time to implement his goal as a UI fellow: to bring a dedicated design space to campus.

“When people are designing – anything – they don’t just do it during class or when an office is open,” he said. “We need a place where anyone can go at any time to work on anything they are designing.”

The two students attended the UI national meeting in March, held in the Silicon Valley area, and got to meet all the other fellows in the network. Rojas-Flores has already formed bonds with East Coast students, feeling a cross-country collaboration will benefit the campus and the Pathways program’s development.

“They have the same challenges we do, but might come at things from a different perspective,” he said.

Hirleman said he’s thrilled that the two fellows are so committed to the UI and to the campus.

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