Wednesday, June 7, 2023
  Faculty Focus

By Amanda Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JUNE 07, 2023 – Dr. Sylvia Robles, assistant professor of practice in UTRGV’s Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship (RCVCOBE), has been recognized by VentureWell for her commitment to helping students and local entrepreneurs through the university’s Adopt a Startup program.

The national 2023 Sustainable Practice Impact Award, presented to Robles in March in partnership with The Lemelson Foundation, honors individuals, companies, or institutions that have made an exceptional contribution “toward developing clean technologies, implementing sustainable practices in their businesses, or providing sustainability-focused educational opportunities to university students.”

“I have been working, but usually from behind the scenes. When I would see my students get awarded, it was meaningful,” Robles said. “Now, being recognized for all that I’ve done, it is an amazing feeling.”

The Adopt a Startup program promotes entrepreneurial spirit, collaborative research projects, transdisciplinary teams, communication, leadership, decision making, self-management and professionalism skills fostering the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.

The program has partnered with the UTRGV Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center, eBridge Center for Business and Commercialization, College of Engineering and Computer Science and College of Science to offer its program to clients and incubator members, and engineering and agricultural teams.

Dr. Sylvia Robles receives award
Dr. Sylvia Robles, assistant professor of practice in UTRGV’s Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship (RCVCOBE), was recognized by VentureWell. She received its 2023 Sustainable Practice Impact Award. (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Sylvia Robles)

Participating students receive training and support in creating solutions for local businesses, often with sustainability in mind.

“Our 2023 awardee is a visionary entrepreneur, educator, researcher and advocate of Humane-Innovation-Sustainable-based Entrepreneurship and Community Engagement. She empowers her students and local entrepreneurs through her Adopt a Startup program at UTRGV to develop sustainable businesses,” Cindy Cooper, senior program officer at The Lemelson Foundation, said in a press release.


Robles gives an abundance of credit to her students, alumni and UTRGV colleagues for their continuing support. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2022 and wasn’t sure what her future held, so she was grateful for those around her, nudging her to persist.

She continued teaching through chemotherapy sessions, and her colleagues helped her continue with her classes so students wouldn’t miss any class time.

Last fall, a Sustainability Speakers Series was organized for her classes, alongside Dr. Noe Vargas, UTRGV assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who arranged for speakers during her treatments.

Robles said she beat cancer, and rang the bell in December 2022, she is back to teaching and committed as always to helping her students grow.

The VentureWell award is special to her, she said, and getting an email from Phil Weilerstein, president and CEO of VentureWell, validated the changes she was making and proved people were taking note.

Dr. Sylvia Robles
Dr. Sylvia Robles, assistant professor of practice in UTRGV’s Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship (RCVCOBE), helps students and local entrepreneurs through the university’s Adopt a Startup program.. (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Sylvia Robles)

“The award has a lot more meaning to me than just academics and Sustainable Impact. It showed me the impact of the support from the people around me, supporting me during this very challenging time,” she said. “I thank and share this award with every single person – students, colleagues, family, alumni, friends – who were there for me and who played a unique role in keeping me going.”

No stranger to accolades, Robles received the 2022 UTRGV Faculty Excellence Award in Sustainability Education and the 2022 UTRGV RCVCOBE Faculty Excellence Award for Service – Public Engagement.

She also has been selected to speak at conferences around the world, and has launched an Adopt a Startup in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico, signing agreements with three counties through the Universidad Iberoamericana to assist entrepreneurs with patents, utility patents and trademarks filing and expenses.

Robles said her goal is to support underrepresented innovators and students as a way to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“I always ask my student entrepreneurs to not to think outside the box – I suggest they get rid of the box,” she said.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.