I live in Austin, TX, the new or up-and-coming social media capital or experience city or interactive capital of the world. This is also the live music capital of the world, the Silicon Hills, and we have to try to keep Austin weird
However, what I’ve noticed is that Austin has become distinguished for another reason as well, one that I think hasn’t quite caught the attention of a lot of people yet: it has become a center for Latino high-tech entrepreneurs.
When I say entrepreneurs I use it in a broader sense than just company founders and creators; I also mean innovators within their organizations as well.
That’s why I have decided to put together a list of my Top Seven Hispanic Technology Luminaries in Austin, TX. This list is by NO MEANS scientific or comprehensive, and if I have left anybody out please let me know so I can update this post and include them. It is what I have observed in my own comings and goings throughout the city.
1. Hector Ruiz, Ph.D. Ruiz is a true Latino success story, and the only one on this list to have his own Wikipedia entry. I’m not sure if his story is a rags to riches story, but it surely is a cross-cultural success story: after starting to attend high-school in the United State, walking across the border to Eagle Pass from his hometown of Piedras Negras, Mexico, he became valedictorian just three years after learning English.
He got a B.S. and M.S. from the University of Texas at Austin in the late 60s, a tough time for minorities in the State, even in liberal Austin! He then went on to get a Ph. D from Rice University in 1973.
After rising through the ranks of Texas Instruments and Motorola he joined AMD and in 2002 became CEO, staying in that position until 2008.
2. The Sosa Brothers. These guys are great. They came to Austin from Monterrey, Mexico in 1986, and in 1999 founded NetSpend, pre-paid credit cards for lower-income people who didn’t have access to credit cards or bank accounts. While not exactly a tech start-up, according to this video interview with Bertrand Sosa on the Maximizing Progress blog of Joost Bonsen, they started their company to help an underserved market shop online. Remember, everybody was partying like it was 1999 in 1999 during the Internet boom.
NetSpend and Skylight Financial decided to merge in 2008, and the Sosa brothers continue as the largest individual stakeholders in Netspend, according to a spokesperson for the Sosas. They then started MPower Ventures which owns MPower Labs, co-founded by the Sosa Brothers to invest in products and technologies that benefit the same market NetSpend targeted: the underserved.
3. Sylvia Acevedo. Named the 2004 Hispanic Business Woman of the Year by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, she is currently the VP of Content for a very cool technology start-up here in Austin, Edioma. Like NetSpend, Edioma is a company focused on an underserved market, recent Latin American immigrants who need instruction in English but can’t afford to purchase expensive DVDs or attend private language schools. The Edioma edigo™ is a little application that is downloaded on to your mobile phone and provides users with 50 situation-based phrases, useful for domestic workers, gardeners, construction workers, or when visiting the bank, etc.
They also provide egoal™, a little cell-phone based soccer game that teaches English to kids. The business model is fee-based as well as advertising based.
The English instruction methodology was conceived by Acevedo with her company CommuniCard, which produces English instructional cards for n0n-English speakers. Acevedo also founded REBA Technologies, and was an executive at IBM, Apple, and Dell, where she led the creation of the first Pan-American e-commerce site for Latin America. She has a Master’s of engineering degree from Stanford University, and a Bachelor’s from New Mexico State University.
4. Rosendo Parra. Now retired, Rosendo Parra served as Dell’s Senior Vice President for the Americas. He held top posts at Dell since 1993, from VP of Dell USA, to VP and Co-General Manager of the Worldwide Small Business Group.
Echoing a trend to serve the underserved as noted above, Parra spearheded Dell’s contribution of $200,000 to the CCHI-Dell Technology Center for Latino Leadership to help High Schoolers learn public policy and civic leadership.
5. Antonio Rodriguez. Antonio, originally from Monterrey, Mexico, is another cross-cultural success story, but his success started during his co-founding of Mexico’s first portal, and continues on this side of the border in Austin.
Rodriguez is currently the CTO of Merkatum, a developer of biometric identity software and security systems housed at the IC2 building, and a juror of the Stockholm Challenge which grants awards for innovative applications of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in Development Projects for the disadvantaged. However, let’s wind the clock back to the mid-90s.
During the rock’n’roll era of the Internet Boom, Rodriguez was on the cutting edge as the main force behind Latin America’s first portal, Infosel. Part of Mexico’s Reforma newspaper group, Infosel was sold to Terra Networks for $300 million. Rodriguez went on to found PortalBlocks, Mexico’s first web services software company which developed web applications for Microsoft Mexico, AT&T Mexico, and various government agencies.
After moving to Austin he built the first distributed architecture for a newspaper, using Internet-era technology, for Rumbo, a Spanish-language newspaper in Central and South Texas.
As CTO of Merkatum, Rodriguez, together with Merkatum CEO Jose Luque, helped oversee pre-seed funding from the state of Texas’ Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) .
6. Enrique Gomez. Enrique, a 30-year IBM veteran, is number six on the list. Originally from Juarez, Mexico, Enrique studied at the University of Texas at El Paso. After a brief stint at NASA, he joined IBM in 1979 and worked in various executive capacities, most recently managing a portfolio of solutions worth $250 million and overseeing 800 professionals in 11 countries.
Enrique has taken a one year “sabbatical” from IBM to become the first CEO for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), which he joined early in his IBM career.
SHPE’s goal is to encourage young Latinos to study engineering in school as well as to help advance the careers of Hispanic professional engineers. As the fastest growing population segment in the United States, Hispanic participation in engineering programs and in corporate America still lags behind other groups in terms of percentages and total numbers. Enrique’s goal is to continue to enhance the professional development efforts of SHPE to benefit mid-career Hispanic engineering professionals.
7. Gerardo Dada. The most social media savvy of the bunch, Gerardo is the last, but certainly not the least, of my top 7 list. Like most of the people on my list, he is a cross-cultural rockstar. After successfully running his own PC manufacturing company, Futuro Computacion, in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and executing a very successful direct marketing campaign for expensive large format printers for sign-makers, he moved to Austin in the late 90s.
His was a meteoric rise, from an initial job that paid $0, to Metrowerks, then Motorola, and finally to Redmond to work for Microsoft as director for worldwide developer audience marketing and community.
His resume is impressive. As his speaker bio at this week’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco states:
His responsibilities (at Microsoft) included managing the developer experience and loyalty, the Microsoft developer network portal and the Imagine Cup, the World’s largest student technology competition. As the owner for the Broad Customer Connection initiative, he led the company’s community strategy across online and offline channels including blogs, forums, wikis, user groups, influencers and content syndication.
As I said in my disclaimer at the top, this is my personal list of the top seven Hispanic technology luminaries in Austin. I welcome anybody’s feedback on people that should be in the top…whatever, 10, 20, or 5.
I hope some time in the future to put together a list of up-and-coming Hispanic technology entrepreneurs, as well as to profile Latin American-based technology companies that have opened their U.S. offices in Austin, such as what TechBA is doing to help Mexican high-tech companies at the IC2 building.