Hosted by Fresno State’s Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Pay it Forward luncheon series brings together Fresno State students and business leaders. Barbara Bradley, Robert Wallstrom, and Jane Saunders spoke about their experiences with Vera Bradley. (Ricky Gutierrez/The Collegian)

Event provides student entrepreneurs a way to network with business leaders

As a part of the Pay It Forward series, community leaders have the opportunity to come to campus and network with student entrepreneurs and share their career stories.

“It’s an opportunity for the community leaders as well as the students at Fresno State to get together and talk about pertinent issues, and today we have Vera Bradley, the CEO as well as the co-founder here to join their local partner, and they are going to talk about their journey,” said Mendy Laval, intrapreneur in residence at the Lyles Center.

The Pay It Forward series is a once-a-month event. It’s mission is to act as a forum for dialogue, explore in-depth issues and networking. Each series welcomes local leaders to Fresno State to share their success with students and to motivate the next generation of entrepreneurs.  

“Pay it Forward gets students to network better with people who have their own businesses, people who are wanting to help out with students coming into the field. For me, it’s great for networking,” said Alexandra Saldivar, a public relations major at Fresno State

The last luncheon on April 20, honored Vera Bradley, a local business success story involving two women who went from making women’s handbags in their home to running an internationally recognized brand.   

Barbara Bradley Baekgaard is the queen of an entrepreneurship, of how you take something very small, from doing something in your basement to a megamillion dollar company,” said Jane Saunders, co-owner of Top Drawer in Fig Garden Village and now at River Park.

She started her business in 1982. Today, the women’s fashion accessories are sold globally and have been used in many hit television shows and movies.

“I think theses series are bringing helpful conversation that students are going to need. It sends the message to entrepreneurs that if you connect with the community, you’re going to get so much more out of it,” Saldivar said.  

The events are open to all majors and are a way for students to reach out to community leaders who can mentor students. This opprotunity on campus gives students the chance to broaden thier contacts in the field by networking with such leaders.  

“This event shows how, with a little ingenuity, knowledge, a goal and hard work, you, as a person, can start up a business today. You don’t have to have all the huge support that people think,” said John Horstmann, a member of the board of governors of Foundation Financial Services. “A lot of people here started businesses right out of school.”

The next Pay It Forward series is schedule for 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 12 at the North Gym in Room 118, and will feature Maia Hernandez of LAKOS. She will discuss international business development and corporate entrepreneurship.