Success Story: Stephanie Garza
Stephanie Garza has always loved animals. In high school she worked for a veterinarian and, in college, got a degree in Wildlife and Fishery studying animal behavior at Texas A&M. She then worked at a boarding and daycare facility and discovered that there was a lot more to pet care. She was interested in learning how to train animals to help them lead more fulfilling and stimulating lives and got her dog training certification in 2013. She had success in the industry working in Houston but then her boyfriend’s job relocated them to San Antonio, so, in 2016, Pup Pup and Away was born.
Starting a business took sacrifices. Stephanie and her boyfriend moved in with his family and she began pet sitting and walking dogs on her own. Her clients noticed the quality of her training-informed services and she built up clients by word of mouth until Pup Pup and Away grew enough to take on employees and acquire a partner space for classes.
Stephanie first entered LaunchSA’s doors to work with the Women’s Business Center (WBC) on growing her business. She was the first in her family and the only person she knew who had started their own business, and she learned so much from the mentors at the WBC. There, she heard about LaunchSA’s Venture Challenge. She entered in 2018 but didn’t make it to the finals that year. The next year, she entered again and made it into the top ten finalists. “I actually watched the instructional videos and did the whole thing right,” she said, “so that made a difference.”
During the challenge, she connected with a friend from the WBC, Lika Torline, who supported her during the ups and downs. “We sat in the car after the pitches and just talked to each other, we were both so nervous,” Stephanie says. “This year, Lika [who had competed in the finals before] had no idea who was going to get the funds. Everyone’s pitches were great.”
She also met a new connection, Valerie Rutan, who is opening a dog park and bar. Stephanie says she contacted her immediately when she saw industry she was in. “We started talking about ways to collaborate, maybe having joint events, ways I could help Valerie create a training manual for her staff to handle dogs off-leash,” she says. “It started out as a business connection but it turned into a friendship.” Talking to the other contestants showed Stephanie that she wasn’t alone in her struggles. “Everyone needs help,” she says. “It was really validating to see that.”
Although she didn’t win any of the funding, Venture Challenge helped Stephanie figure out her goals for the future. For her, the next step is securing a larger location. She wants to be able to provide all-in-one care to her customers, who trust her and don’t want to have to look for someone different for boarding and treat recommendations and other pet care needs. She’s determined to make her vision happen. “I’ll find the capital,” she says. “It’s not if I get there, it’s when.”