John F. Martin

Chairman

John Martin is a familiar face in south Texas to anyone talking finance, conservation or education. John holds an MBA, has taught university finance and marketing and spent over 25 years as a financial consultant. John has held board positions on Frontera Audubon and the Valley Zoological Society. He served on the Pan American University Foundation Board for 18 years and in 1987 became a founding member and first president of The Valley Land Fund (VLF), a non- profit land trust located in South Texas. John has published 11 coffee table books on conservation photography. 

John’s passion for the conservation of wildlife and habitat inspired him to create the VLF’s biennial Wildlife Photo Contest in 1994 and promote the private lands nature photography industry.

John has been a leader in promoting nature photography as a tool for conservation of habitat. He also believes in the power of nature and photography to change the minds of people, their attitudes, their vision of themselves and to heal serious mental problems.

Many organizations heard John speak about the value of wildlife to the economy long before there were birding or nature festivals and long before conservation was cool. Since 70% of land in the United States and 90% of land in Texas is privately owned, there is an overriding need to develop opportunities for private landowners. John recognizes the value that the nature photo tourism industry can generate for private landowners. 

Images for Conservation Fund was created in 2003 to further this concept. The Pro-Tour of Nature Photography featured a month-long competition of top nature photographers teamed with private landowners of a region’s most diverse habitat. In 2006 the Pro-Tour was held in the Texas Hill Country, in 2008 in the Coastal Bend of Texas and in 2010 in the Borderlands of Laredo, Texas.

John’s most recent success was the “Save Camp Lula Sams” campaign. In 2016 IDEA Public
Schools purchased Camp Lula Sams – 85 acres of habitat inside the city limits of Brownsville,
Texas as an outdoor classroom for their students.

John’s next project is to prove his theory that an intense year long immersion in nature photography 
can cure PTSD. The project is just beginning to come together.

As residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley for the past 44 years, John and his wife Audrey live
on 40 acres of protected reforested wildlife habitat northeast of Edinburg, Texas and have recently
placed a conservation easement on 280 acres of old growth brush north of the city of La Joya.

Rafael Munguia

Vice-Chairman

Rafael Munguia is an avid entrepreneur and investor.  He is currently founder and owner of Munguia Enterprises, an investment and business consulting firm targeting opportunities in real estate, finance, angel investing or early stage investments in start-ups.  On the general business consulting side, the focus is on serving minority groups such as Latinos and Women, who are impacting business and their communities in a positive way. As an Angel Investor, Rafael’s goal is to back companies that are solving meaningful social and environmental problems that yield both financial and social returns.  Rafael also owns and operates Caribella Construction and Award Winning Caribella Homes a “High Performance/ Energy Star” residential home builder and developer servicing the South Texas area predominantly the Rio Grande Valley since 2009. Prior to Caribella Construction and Munguia Enterprises he owned and operated successful businesses in different industries.  Rafael also served as Director of KB Homes RGV Division and as a Regional Manager for American City Vista a $250 million Real Estate Investment Fund headed by Ex-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mr. Henry Cisneros. He has additional work experience in financing and banking, import export, business development. He has also participated in multiple government campaigns at the local, state and national level.  In more recent years Mr. Munguia was part of Governor Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign as a member of his National Finance Committee, Texas Leadership Group and the National Hispanic Outreach Committee.

Rafael Munguia was born in Brownsville Texas in 1975 and is a long-life resident of the Rio Grande Valley.  Rafael graduated high school from St. Joseph’s Academy and graduated with BBA in Business Management from the University of Texas at Brownsville now UTRGV.  His is married to his beautiful wife Carina Cantu Munguia. They have two beautiful girls Camila Alessandra and Maria Elise, a baby boy Rafael Cruz Munguia, and they are expecting their fourth child this coming June.  Rafael currently resides in Pharr Texas. He is currently a City of Pharr Planning and Zoning Commissioner and also sits on the City of Pharr Board of Adjustments. Rafael is also the Builder Liaison for South Texas Affordable Housing Board Building Committee.  Mr. Munguia also pertains to several Water Task Force Committees and Councils with the National Builders Association as well as the Texas Builders Association. He previously served on the Board of Directors with the Rio Grande Valley Builders Association and was also President of RGVBA “Green Built Program”.  

Rafael attributes a lot of his success to the relationships he as formed throughout the years, hard work and determination.  The same type of determination that lead him to play professional basketball in Mexico is the same determination he uses today in life and work.  His mission and goals in life are to create opportunities by investing and connecting with people. He is the proud Sponsor and mentor of the annual “Rafael Munguia UTRGV Business Plan Competition” in partnership with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.  Rafael was recently invited to join MD Andersons and their Venture Mentoring Service a collaboration with MIT, University of Texas School System and The National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Program. He really enjoys being active in his community and always enjoys giving back whether it be through his businesses, serving on boards, mentoring start-ups, coaching Junior High Basketball or through his church St. Jude’s Catholic Church where he serves as a Knight of Columbus.

Carlos M. Marin, Ph.D., P.E. President and CEO

Treasurer

Dr. Marin has over twenty-five years of consulting experience in helping both private and public sector clients identify cost-effective strategies for infrastructure management and development. He received his B.S. and M.S in Environmental Engineering from Rice University and his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Harvard University. Dr. Marin was on faculty of Duke University’s Schools of Engineering and Environmental Studies and is a Registered Professional Engineer in Texas.  He has experience working with all levels of governmental entities including local municipalities in Texas, State of Texas and the U.S. Federal Government.  

He is the author of numerous publications and invited presentations, was the U.S. representative to the water quality committee for the International Association of Hydraulic Sciences, and was appointment by the Governor of Texas to the TNRCC’s Petroleum Storage Tank Advisory Committee.  As Principal-in-Charge, Dr. Marin has been responsible for numerous infrastructure planning, management and engineering projects throughout the U.S and Latin America including projects for the World Bank, and the governments of Venezuela, Mexico, Cyprus and Portugal.

Greg Rowin

Board Member

John Sargent

Board Member

Professor Sargent is a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.  Dr. Sargent has lead or participated in efforts to improve entrepreneurial education at UTRGV and its legacy institution since 2005.  Various initiatives include the design and launch of the undergraduate major and minor in entrepreneurship at the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, hosting the Annual Business Plan Competition, the Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, the Great Idea Showdown, and serving as lead facilitator for a six year collaboration with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and their youth entrepreneurship program.  Dr. Sargent also serves as the founding advisor for the student chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization. Dr. Sargent was named UTRGV’s 2017-2018 Student Organization Faculty Advisor of the Year.

Dr. Sargent’s research focuses on how entrepreneurs and export oriented multinational companies contribute to economic growth.  His work has appeared in top academic journals such as World Development, the Journal of World Business, the Journal of Business Ethics, and Latin American Business Review.  He has also coauthored chapters in scholarly books published by the Princeton University Press, the University of Arizona Press, and the Purdue University Press.  His latest research on high-growth businesses in the RGV is set to appear in an edited book sponsored by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative.  

Dr. Sargent has served in a number of leadership positions at UTRGV and its legacy institution such as the chair of the Faculty Senate and chair of the University’s Distinguished Speaker Series.  Dr. Sargent was awarded the Provost’s Award for Latin American Studies in 2002, 2007, and 2011 and in 2009 the Provost’s Faculty Excellence Award for Service

David Smith

Board Member

David is the President of DSA ONE Business Solutions. DSA ONE provides businesses with document services, litigation support, and a courier service covering the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas. Prior to DSA ONE, David has 25 plus years of experience in manufacturing and business development with companies specializing in communications equipment, printing supplies, and medical devices. In his last position as the Senior Vice President of iiMED Medical Manufacturing Solutions, he led the development of a medical device contract manufacturing company from an idea to a business with over $18 million in annual revenues.

Kai Wulff

Board Member

Dr. Kai Wulff is an innovative executive with more than 25 years of proven visionary leadership and execution experience. As a positive disruptor, Kai’s focus is on improving or reinventing business models, and revolutionizing markets. His background bridges vision with real world execution. He has successfully implemented market innovations that have unleashed exponential growth in various industries such as Telecomm Infrastructure, Travel & Tourism, Cybersecurity, and Information Technology. Since 1999, the projects and ventures led by Dr. Wulff have paid more than $1 Billion direct profits to the investors.

Dr. Wulff was the director of access field development for Google Inc (2012-2015). In this role, he was responsible for developing and executing a business plan to meet Google’s goal of providing high speed internet to the 5 billion unconnected people globally. Kai has also served in various roles with established companies throughout Africa with groups such as Balton CP, Nashua Group, Altech Stream East Africa, Kenya Data Networks, and African Safari Club.

Kai is currently the Chairman of Plexus Group Ltd in Nairobi (2004-Present) and CEO of Plexus Consulting LLC in Brownsville, TX (2016-Present). Plexus provides entrepreneurial investment funding and advisory services for venture capital firms. Dr. Wulff has been blessed to work with great people from all corners of the world and with very diverse backgrounds. His goal is to inspire the best in any team and gain new perspectives, allowing him to connect the dots from one project to another.

Staff

Laurie Simmons

Executive Director

Laurie Simmons serves as the Director for the Center for Innovation and Commercialization (CIC) at the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at UTRGV.  In this capacity Laurie works directly with student, faculty and community entrepreneurs in helping them take their idea for a product or service from “just an idea” to launching a business enterprise. She is responsible for overall center operations, including the development and implementation of business support programs to help start-up businesses maximize growth and success.  Furthermore, she works to create ecosystems that link inventors, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors.

Prior to joining UTRGV in 2015, Laurie served as the Executive Director of the Tropical Texas Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization, a vetting agent for the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.  She was also a Development Officer for the Valley Baptist Foundation.  An entrepreneur herself, she owned and operated an award- winning advertising and public relations agency from 1985-2007.   Her broad-based background in a variety of markets brings real-world experience to the process of launching new ventures.  

A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s in journalism / Public Relations, she resides in Harlingen with her husband Jim and youngest son Parker.

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