Student Entrepreneurs Devin Baptiste, Kevin Valdez Create GroupRaise
This story is part of a four-part series featuring Cameron School of Business student entrepreneurs.
Devin Baptiste and Otto Kevin Valdez started their business GroupRaise at UST nine months ago with a friend Paul Kwiatkowski, a senior at Rice University. The website connects restaurants with organizations wanting to fundraise.
“We allow restaurants to take slow times and post them online for local groups in our community to host fundraising events for a percentage of the sale,” Baptiste said. “We are local community networking for restaurants.”
Baptiste and Valdez, both senior finance majors, each had their own motivation for starting the company.
“I grew up fundraising,” Baptiste said. He knows that for many organizations looking to fundraise with restaurants, it can be difficult to reach the managers and decision-makers or it can be nerve-wracking for the person calling. GroupRaise works with each business’ marketing manager to make it easier to connect with groups in the community for fundraising, without diminishing their brand such as with coupons.
Baptiste’s first restaurant fundraising success supported his high school band. In the dead of winter, he asked an ice cream shop owner to donate 15 percent of sales to visitors from the school band on a Monday night. Baptiste said 300 people came out for ice cream on the cold night, and the event was held for two more weeks. After those three weeks, a group of students kept going back to the ice cream shop each week.
“That’s what made me realize it was a huge business opportunity,” Baptiste said.
He met Valdez in a UST business class, and they started working together on projects. Valdez comes from a family of entrepreneurs, and he grew up working in his family’s international shipping business. He thought working with Devin would be a good partnership.
Baptiste said the caliber of students in the UST classroom facilitated the business relationship and the critical thinking skills taught. Studying economics helped him understand customers and economic principles and apply them to his business.
The site, GroupRaise.com, is accepting applications to join in beta mode, and the public site is coming soon. The owners are working with community businesses to have the restaurants ready when people go to the site. Valdez is spearheading sales, and their partners will include Freshii, all Houston-area Mission Burritos and all Houston-area Jason Delis. Restaurants pay a flat fee to GroupRaise per event, and give a percentage of sales to the participating fundraising organization.
The company was published on the front page of the Houston Chronicle business section on Feb. 3, which gave the company a lot of visibility.
“Being open to changes happening rapidly is a challenge we’ve had to face,” Valdez said at the time. “This week, we grew by more than 100 percent,” he said.
GroupRaise was a participant in the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship I.T. and Web 2.0 Venture Forum in December, giving them exposure for the Chronicle article and access to three interns through the Norwegian government. Baptiste, Valdez and Kwiatkowski are the board of directors with a fourth partner, Reuven Lerner, plus they have advisors. However, it is self-funded and there is no office yet, so they take advantage of meeting space on campus.
“We work out of St. Thomas,” Valdez said, noting that they and the interns sometimes have to move to different meeting rooms.
GroupRaise is working to publish the public website, and then the owners have their eyes on national expansion. “We’re starting in Houston and ending in Honolulu.”
They are passionate about bringing value to groups and the community. “We believe we’re making the world a better place, one meal at a time,” Baptiste said.
UST Resources for Entrepreneurs
For students who are looking for more resources for starting and growing their own businesses, UST offers an undergraduate class, MGMT 3330: Small Business Institute, taught by Andrea Condon, and a graduate class, MBA 5362: Entrepreneurship, taught by Dr. Cristian Morosan, assistant professor of management and marketing.
Shown above Otto "Kevin" Valdez and Devin Baptiste.