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Student Entrepreneurs Work to Empower Community

Kassidy Arena
Vanessa Ramírez and Daniel Serres hold up a "Fresher Than U" car air freshener. "We want to make sure our artists that we partner with are at the forefront of our marketing," Serres said. "It's not about Vanessa or I.""


MU senior Daniel Serres and junior Vanessa Ramírez walked into a room with 15 other student entrepreneurs. Each team had their own business idea and vied for the opportunity to win up to $30,000 in start-up funds after pitching their idea to a panel of judges. The 15 businesses had been chosen from a pool of 50 applicants.

“Every room we walk in, we’re constantly thinking like, how we can collaborate with people,” Ramírez said. “So we see competition, but at the same time, we also see potential relationships.”

Serres and Ramírez have known each other since middle school. Both are from Kansas City and both are full-time political science majors. But their similarities don’t stop there. Serres and Ramírez both identify within the Latinx community.

“That’s why wer’re co-founders because we’re very much so on the same page about the messaging that we want to bring,” Serres said.

The two Kansas City natives developed a business “Fresher Than U,” which takes local artists’ work and puts it on everyday objects. They started with car air fresheners but hope to move on to products like T-shirts and stickers in the future. By partnering with local graphic artists and designers, Serres and Ramírez want to provide opportunity for those in the community who are sometimes overlooked.

“There’s a lot of Latinx artists. There’s a lot of Latinx entrepreneurs out there. But the spotlight is not always on them,” Ramírez said.

The two entrepreneurs said they’ve very rarely had role models in the business world who looked like them. Ramírez had her mother, but she said it’s still difficult to navigate a realm where not only she’s the only Latina, but also the only woman.

“I think that’s something so vital and so, so important in today’s society to show younger girls of color that there are so many opportunities and so many rooms for them to speak into,” Ramírez said.

Serres worked to build relationships with other Latinx business owners in the past, but he and Ramírez don’t want to stop there. When talking about the idea of role models, the two looked at each other and hesitated to reply. The main goal with their business is not necessarily to provide a role model to others, but they said they do want to empower the community.

“It’s not just like one kind of people, there’s so many people from so many different countries that make up the Latino identity that oftentimes are overlooked,” Serres said. “I think there’s a lot of brands out there that are trying to do cool things, but they kind of forget our community or forget communities of color in general.”

Serres and Ramírez include a diverse array of subject matters on the art they choose to feature on their products, ranging from former First Lady Michelle Obama to Chance the Rapper. On the other side of the car air fresheners, they also choose inspirational quotes. By doing this, Serres and Ramírez say their goal is to feature empowered people from all walks of life to then motivate the community.

The “Fresher Than U” team qualified for the next round in the Entrepreneur Quest Pitch Competition and will now compete against businesses from other UM schools. When the next semester begins, the two will attend workshops with other entrepreneurs and mentors to help further their business endeavors until March, when they will compete for the prize money.

Serres said “I think supporting ‘Fresher Than U’ means that you’re supporting art, means that you’re supporting artists and that you’re supporting community and people that want to come together to empower one another and move forward in society.”

Serres and Ramírez said if they win the prize money, they will celebrate first, then start hiring others to design a website as well as run social media.


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Host: Welcome to Exam on KBIA. I’m Kassidy Arena and each week we talk everything education all across Missouri. This week I spoke with two student entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles in their everyday life as well as the business world. Vanessa Ramírez and Daniel Serres just qualified to participate in the next round of the Entrepreneur Quest Competition and have the opportunity to win up to 30,000 dollars.

Kassidy: From what I've heard you guys just competed in this competition. Tell me a little bit about that. What was the competition? And then what did you do in it?

Daniel Serres: Yeah, so the Mizzou entrepreneurship quest is a program that looks to kind of help entrepreneurs on campus elaborate or grow their ideas, with help on establishing LLC ease or just legal things and then potentially even getting funds to actually start their business. So this first round, we were part of over 50 applicants We were chosen to pitch to actually get into the program and then we found out this week that we are part of the 11 that are actually part of the program.

Kassidy: And what is your business?

Vanessa Ramírez: fresher than you is a business that puts art on everyday items. We started with air fresheners, but we intend to proceed to go on to other everyday items like t shirts or cubs or stickers, things that you see people using every day. And usually we try to find graphic artists around the country that want to work with us and vice versa with basically putting original art buy it and then we put it on everyday canvases.

Kassidy: based on your description, it almost sounds a little bit like part of the reason why it's your calling to do this is to also be a role model for others.

Ramírez: That's, that's a little bit difficult because we, you know, we tend to like not try to push ourselves into the spotlight. So Daniel was saying, every, every room we walk into, we mentioned, Carla, our graphic artists that we use for our latest collection. And I think seeing people like Carla, seeing people like Daniel, especially in the entrepreneurial world is something that just to put very bluntly is not always seen, right? What do you mean by that? There's a lot of Latin next artists. There's a lot of Latin ex entrepreneurs out there. But the spotlight is not always on them. And I think that's it and even being a woman right, I think that's something so, so important as a chicken as a Mexican American. I kind of crave growing up I kind of craved that sense of not just belonging but role models in the Midwest. I would always see them out in the coast, right? But I never saw other Latinas doing entrepreneurial things in Kansas City or even just in general in Missouri and I think that's something so so important in building community

Serres: Yeah, so I think…We grew up in Kansas City. And there's such a huge Latinas community there. And you know, it's not just like one kind of people, there's so many people from so many different countries that make up the Latino identity, that oftentimes are overlooked. I think there's a lot of brands out there that are like trying to do cool things, but they kind of forget our community or they forget communities of color in general. And I think that's something that we're definitely tapping into, and we're not afraid to tap into because at the end of the day, like going back to the idea that this is not just a product, this is something where we're bringing people together through that product. I feel like a lot of people can relate to being the only you in the room, [laughter] but we're, I think we're traveling a path. And we always bring people with us as well, to make sure that it's not just us or our idea, but all these artists that we partner with are looking to partner with have a space in that room as well.


Host: That was Vanessa Ramírez and Daniel Serres talking on student entrepreneurialism. I’m Kassidy Arena and thanks for listening to Exam on KBIA.

Kassidy Arena is the Engagement Producer for KBIA. In her role, she reports and produces stories highlighting underrepresented communities, focuses on community outreach and promoting media literacy. She was born in Berkeley, California, raised in Omaha, Nebraska and graduated with a degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia.