Zag places in Entrepreneurship Competition

Mateo Valdez
Mateo Valdez ('24), photo by: Matthew Taylor Cromwell

August 08, 2023
Jack Talbott ('24), University Advancement
Mateo Valdez ('24) exemplifies opportunity. Whether it's starting his own sports consulting group or interning with some of the largest tech giants, he pushes the boundaries of what is possible as a college student. His latest endeavor: A third-place finish in the Avista Entrepreneur Competition and almost $8,000 in prize money.  

Mateo’s winning formula arose from his work developing InternFleet, a newsletter that builds and compiles attainable internships for undergraduate students across the United States.  
“I see a lot of hardships in the context of finding your career that just should not exist,” said Mateo. “In an increasingly competitive corporate world, having a good academic resume isn't sufficient enough anymore, so you need stuff outside of the classroom to complement it, whether that is extra-curriculars, personal projects or internships.” 
The idea originated from Mateo’s evaluation of the internship market. He found the search process to be full of holes. It starts from the largest aggregators of internship openings who often push the most notable companies, therefore, the most competitive internships. It sets a false perception that landing an internship is much more difficult. Mateo is then able to utilize his experience and findings to help craft unique collections of business internships for his subscribers. 

Mateo has a knack for not just finding opportunities but constantly building upon them. He's building a name for himself and is working in and around the Gonzaga network to find success. He joined the New Venture Lab early in his Gonzaga career, helping craft and develop ideas and business ventures for local entrepreneurs. Of course, Mateo has landed multiple internships for himself, most recently with HP, PwC and Microsoft. But he hasn’t done it alone. He has developed connections within the Gonzaga community to further grow as a learner and an innovator. 

One of Mateo’s most impressive feats is becoming the founder and president of the Gonzaga Sports Consulting Group, a business organization on campus that has already worked with teams in the NBA, NHL and MLS. In addition to business, several members of the GSCG are majoring in sport management through Gonzaga’s School of Education, making the GSCG a truly interdisciplinary organization. You can read more about the group’s rise here. It’s through GSCG that he met Professor John Correia, Ph.D. 

In the early days of GSCG, Correia initially watched from afar intrigued by the rapid progress Mateo was making. Correia couldn’t stay back for long, and soon he was helping Mateo and recruited the help of Weber as well. 

“Mateo has a unique skillset to not only want to do great things, but also persist and solve problems along the way,” said Correia. “He has a great mix of dreaming big while also having a strong work ethic that has given him a diverse set of experiences to draw upon as he continues on his personal and professional journey.” 

Earlier in the school year, Mateo used Gonzaga as a testbed for InternFleet. The only materials he had to advertise were an Expo marker and the whiteboards of the Jepson Center. He got nearly 100 subscribers on the first day. Soon, it wasn't only students who saw success in Mateo's newsletter. So did the Avista Entrepreneur Competition. 

With the help of the Gonzaga School of Business Administration and being a part of the Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, Mateo became connected to the Event.

Gonzaga students have shined at this competition in the past, previously known as the Northwest Entrepreneur Competition, including last year, where Gonzaga students collectively won over $14,000. However, this year, Mateo was the sole Zag to make the final round. 

The contest is separated into three phases held across multiple months hosted by Eastern Washington University in Spokane. The first round is an elevator pitch where each contestant or team gets two minutes to share their idea. The second round is a trade show-esque event with tri-fold boards and longer pitches. The final stage is a Shark Tank-style presentation with an over $55,000 prize pool.

Mateo cruised through the first phase, and when he got to the second round, things were a bit different. The stakes were clearly higher. He recalls tri-fold boards that would win a regional science fair, homemade cupcakes with company logos on them and all Mateo had was a self-described “ugly board” that was basic and straight to the point. All Mateo had to do was stick to the basics. His presentation was clear, concise, impactful and more than enough to see him advance to the final phase. 

The final phase was in May and after Gonzaga’s semester had ended. Mateo, originally thinking he would never make it to the final stage, had to drive back to Spokane from Seattle to compete. From there, he had the small task of presenting for seven minutes, and then facing five minutes of questions from CEOs, professors and notable figures in the Spokane community. Yet again, Mateo passed that test. His third-place finish puts him in a select group of Zags to place in the competition. In total, he took home $7,750 that will be put into an account to help grow InternFleet.

“What really sets him apart is that most of his ideas, like the one he developed for this competition, are directed at providing new opportunities for other students to grow and thrive through increased access to real-world experiences,” said Weber. “In true Zag form, Mateo is using his talent and creativity to benefit others.”

Mateo now faces a unique challenge heading into his final year: how to grow InternFleet while managing countless projects, his senior year of college and coming up with even more new ideas.

Of course, Mateo has a plan. He's assigned three goals for this upcoming year. First, to watch his sports consulting group flourish with him taking more of a managing role. He has laid the groundwork and Mateo hopes the club will continue for years to come. Second, he wants to see where InternFleet can go. It is still a work in progress but has so much energy and interest behind it, it’s an exciting unknown. His final goal is to enjoy his last year at GU.

“It’s very cool to look forward to things, but at the same time, you can’t get caught up in that,” said Mateo. “Sometimes it’s most important to take a deep breath and just enjoy the moment.”

Support for students like Mateo makes all the difference in their accomplishments.