Fresno State Program Builds Entrepreneurs

FRESNO, CA — Right out of high school Cathy Heinrich landed her very first job fixing cars. Soon after, she landed a reputable job as a Customer Service Representative for AT&T, where she would remain employed with for 10 years.

Heinrich grew up in Merced, CA. Early on in her life, she loved school and was very successful with her grades and building relationships. Even back then she had a competitive spirit and was quite the socialite.

She worked her way up in in that position, doubling her pay wage, earning great benefits such as 401K. Everything she worked for was gone in an instant when she was wrongfully terminated in 2009.

Cathy Heinrich after completing the Entrepreneurship Mentor Program at Fresno State.
Cathy Heinrich after completing the Entrepreneurship Mentor Program at Fresno State.

Heinrich, who had a family to support, was shocked. “I thought I was safe, all of sudden the carpet was pulled out from under me. I felt untouchable, I felt very secure with 10 years of experience and being a unionized worker,” she said.

She remembered that being terminated was, “the turning point in my life. I knew I needed something that couldn’t be taken away from me.”

Despite the detour, Heinrich remained optimistic. But she needed another chance, a connection.

Heinrich decided to go back to school, while successfully fighting the wrongful termination case for the next two years.

By the time AT&T offered her job back, Heinrich already was halfway through her Bachelor’s degree at Fresno State. She didn’t take the job, instead pursuing further education.

She majored in nutrition and studied dietetics, but realized that she wanted to take a different route. She enrolled in an entrepreneurship class with the hope of being able to refocus and consider other options. She notes, “when I realized that I wasn’t going to become a registered dietician, though I was almost done with my major, I knew I wanted to do my own thing.”

Fortunately, one day a student came into her entrepreneurship class to talk about the Entrepreneur Mentor Program (EMP). EMP is much different than a traditional class and according to its website, its goal is “rapidly accelerated students in the realm of entrepreneurship.”

She was accepted into the program and it has become her bridge. She knew from the moment that the student came in to speak about EMP, that she had to become apart of it. “They were doing something special and I can see it,” notes Heinrich.

Chair of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fresno State, Timothy Stearns, PhD, noted that Heinrich’s involvement “was very energetic and she took it sincerely as an opportunity to build professional skills of entrepreneurship.”

EMP is a special program for dedicated students founded 10 years ago by Stearns and Claude Laval, a professor. A major asset of this program is that if offer real world experience and it pair each student with a successful entrepreneurial mentor. It also offer elective credits and welcome all students regardless of their major.

Heinrich had Niomi Kendricks as a mentor and she is the owner of a business called Raw Fresno. During the duration of the two semester program, Heinrich was very successful. Heinrich won first place in the program’s cornerstone project- a subscription box business plan.

A college degree is certainly a right step towards reaching employment goals, but sometimes a personal connection is needed to bridge the gap between education and finding success in a career. On one of the typical EMP field trips known as the Westside Valley Trip, Heinrich met Matthew Gauer, who would in turn bring her into the company she currently works for.

She notes, “Matthew Gauer was my initial contact. David White, the Company’s President wanted to meet with me, based off of what Gauer said about me.” She now successfully works for a California Manufacturing & Engineering Company and has been able to establish a wholesome career there, essentially running her own department.

“I have become the fastest promoted person in the whole company,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich is a great example of perseverance, dedication and success. She did not let what seem to be a devastating end define who she was and was able to accomplish. EMP became the bridge she needed to cross over to meet her larger goals.

Heinrich believes that the EMP “ opens your eyes to all possibilities that life has to offer and that it connects you with people who truly care about you.” She also noted in regards to being apart of EMP “it was an epic time of my life. It was filled with positive energy and we [EMP members] were like a family and we all worked together.”

The major thing that she learned from the program was that “I can be anything that I wanted, as long as, I treated people with kindness, did it with integrity and worked hard.”

Because of EMP she began to rethink the possibilities for her life. She realized that with the same drive and dedication that you can use to work hard for someone else, you can also use that same energy to pursue entrepreneurism to have financial freedom and control of your own life.

Heinrich is one of many successful individuals that left the program much more grounded and focused than before. Being successful in life does not necessarily revolve around monetary gain, but also acquiring other treasures that cannot be priced, such as building lasting relationships,conquering a single obstacle or fear that have haunted you for years.

Taking the first step towards your goals is difficult when there is resistance. For Heinrich, EMP helped her overcome the resistance and find meaningful work.

Sierra Frank (she/her/hers)
I am Sierra Frank, a Communication major and Mass Communication & Journalism minor at Fresno State. I have a passion for youth advocacy, because collectively our voice can make a difference. Writing have always been one of my notable abilities since I was young. I am happy to be apart of the Know Youth Media. It is an amazing opportunity that have already positively impacted my life.

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