Exchange student uses skills from RPI entrepreneurship class to start company during pandemic

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TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — An exchange student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who has since had to return home to Spain, is now using what he learned in class at RPI to start his own company producing protective plastic shields in the fight against COVID-19.

Guillermo Lopez-Balcells, 21, is majoring in Business Administration. It’s his final semester of his undergraduate studies and he chose RPI’s Lally School of Management for his mandatory semester abroad.

The pandemic hit just two months into his semester here in the U.S. Exchange programs were shut down and before the borders closed he flew back home. He told NEWS10 ABC that the skills and lessons he learned in his entrepreneurship class at RPI have stayed with him. Professor Clint Ballinger teaches the Starting Up A New Venture class.

“It’s one of those classes that you are excited to go. It’s not like ugh man I have this class now it’s boring. No, with him it was different,” said Lopez-Balcells.

Lopez-Balcells said once he was back home in Spain, another hard hit area, he noticed the lack of PPE and how grocery stores and pharmacies were in need of protective barriers between cashiers and customers.

He said when he went to checkout at the store, he could barely reach the cashier to hand her his card because there were benches stacked between them as a makeshift protection barrier. The cashier explained to him that most plastic shield barriers were sold out and that’s when a light bulb went off in his head.

His entrepreneurial instincts kicked in and he decided to use the machines at his family’s paper factory to cut plastic and create protective shields.

“We made some phone calls, sent some e-mails, people answered and then we started. We asked, are they willing to pay for it? All these little things that we learned in his class. It was cool to see something I learned in class applied in the real world,” said Lopez-Balcells.

The idea took off and he has since produced and sold more than 1,300 shields with more in the works.

His professor, Clint Ballinger, told NEWS10 he’s incredibly proud of Lopez-Balcells and said this is what teaching is all about.

“It’s what keeps us professors going. If you can actually impact a young mind that has a lot of potential and actually see something from it,” said Ballinger.

“I told him I really appreciate what you’ve done for us as a teacher,” said Lopez-Balcells.

“I teach a class on how to do this type of thing and he actually did it! That’s great! Usually the payoff for professors like me is years later. You see the student go off and do great wondrous things and start their own company, but usually the payoff is longer term. He did it during the semester! So it makes me super excited and proud,” said Ballinger.

The shields are selling for $55 to $60 dollars, but if the customers order in bulk, Lopez-Balcells said he cuts the price in half. 

“I think especially in times like this, global pandemics, which upset everything, it’s usually a time when entrepreneurs can really shine because our DNA is such that you try to make something good out of bad things. So he’s really stepped up so I’m proud of him,” said Ballinger.

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