At 18, Diego Garza is an old hand at organizing meetings. But five years ago, he was just like any other teenage boy in Monterrey, Mexico, spending most of his time playing video games. Then his best friend died of cancer, and Garza started wondering where his life was going.
Not long after, he attended a conference in Monterrey for young entrepreneurs, and suddenly he found himself “very motivated,” he said. “I just stopped playing video games and started to read. I read 20 books that year.” Garza approached the conference organizers about joining their team. “They were 24 years old,” he said, “and I was 15 at the time.”
He served as a staff coordinator for the following year’s conference. While previous attendees mostly had been university students, Garza helped change the focus to junior-high and high-school students like himself. He also served as a speaker, delivering a five-minute presentation about success. “I talked about how we can do something now,” he said. “Like, you are 15 years old, 16 years old — you can do something, you can have a positive impact.”
While the conference was “a great deal — they had five speakers, it was two days, lots of workshops,” according to Garza, it only drew 100 to 200 attendees, which wasn’t enough to cover expenses. When the organizers decided to pull the plug, Garza and a student partner, Patricio Martínez, teamed up to create their own version of the conference, a one-day program called Empredil.
Working with a cohort of likeminded student volunteers, they held raffles to raise money for the first one, held at Monterrey’s Pabellón M convention center last October. There were 207 registered attendees, and a mix of keynote speakers, panel discussions, and networking. Garza and his team are expecting 1,000 attendees at Empredil 2016, to be held at Pabellón M on Oct. 22.
“Empredil is about making or creating a positive difference in people’s lives — in young students between 13 and 25,” Garza said, “so that they can have the same click that I had when I stopped playing video games. So they can use their time to become entrepreneurs, to motivate other people, to do something productive that has a positive impact.”
Why is it so important for young students to hear that message? “I love this question. I always answer this,” Garza said, laughing. “Because when people talk about entrepreneurship events, they only talk to university students…. That’s a way of directly telling us that 15-year-olds, 14-years-olds cannot become entrepreneurs at their age. We said, ‘Okay, we can do this, and we will demonstrate it by doing our events.’ Because we are actually the future of Mexico.”
Empredil’s programming reflects that mindset. Speakers tend to be young — “they are maximum 35 years old,” Garza said — and are either entrepreneurs or community leaders. This year’s program has three featured speakers: Chumel Torres, 34, a Mexico City–based comedian whose YouTube channel has 1.6 million subscribers, and who in July launched a weekly talk show on HBO Latino; Roberto Martínez, 21, who has gained a large social-media following among Monterrey’s youth, thanks to the videos he posts on a variety of political and cultural issues; and Rahfael Gordon, 33, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker who overcame the teenage years he spent living homeless on the streets of his native Newark, New Jersey.
When Empredil debuted last year, there were three sponsors — Garza’s father’s company, and two other friends. “[People] only saw a bunch of kids trying to make an event,” Garza said, “and they did not take it seriously.” Like Garza and Patricio Martínez, the conference directors are all still in high school, while most staff members are in junior high. But once the conference was a success, perceptions changed. Sponsors for Empredil 2016 include Pabellón M and the Monterrey Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as local events-related companies such as 3D FACTORY MX and Red Monkey Display.
“When you have many, many people in the same room, it’s not only the speakers and the workshops [that attendees are there for], it’s the ambience,” Garza said. “The feeling of being with many people who think the same way as you think inspires you, also. I feel that meetings can change many, many things — the community, a country, and even the world, if done correctly.”
Diego Garza is finishing high school this year. After that, he’d like to go to college to study business — but he’s not sure where, because he also is interested in continuing to grow Empredil. Next year, the plan is to stage Empredil conferences not just in Monterrey, but in another destination in Mexico as well as in Chile.
“In the future, we believe that Empredil might be just one event of many that we can do,” Garza said. “Maybe we also do economics events, lawyers’ events, doctors’ events — all of them with a focus on youth.”