Young Entrepreneur Carmen Gallegos and Her Vepó Bottle
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Zach Green
Carmen Gallegos isn’t your average business owner and CEO. Sure, she’s been through the entrepreneurial rigmarole: brainstorming, business plans and proposals, delivering pitches to investors, filing DBA paperwork. What CEO hasn’t, right? But can you think of a CEO who launched a successful business before their eighth-grade graduation?
Somewhere between pre-AP classes, swim and dance lessons, soccer games, and serving as student body president of her junior high, Gallegos launched Vepó Bottles, a reusable water bottle company that donates 10 percent of its proceeds to United Way of Tulare County.
The impetus for Gallegos’ idea lies in Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), a year-long course and competition sponsored by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce. Gallegos was one of six young competitors who ran the entire gamut from proposal to bona-fide business. Locally, Vepó Bottles took the top award, and last May Gallegos traveled to New York where she competed nationally against more than 100 young business owners.
Like most great business models, the idea behind Vepó Bottles is simple: a plastic, dishwasher-safe, reusable bottle shaped something like an aluminum can. But what makes Vepó Vepó “is not the bottle itself but the design of the bottle. That,” Gallegos continues, “makes Vepó Bottle a Vepó Bottle. The design is like a story. It’s about what I see happening in our community.”
What Gallegos saw happening in the community was nothing short of California’s historic drought. “My cousins who live in Porterville,” she explains, “their well went dry. I remember talking about it with them, and that inspired the idea.”
A Vepó Bottle sells for $12, and the 10 percent that goes to the United Way of Tulare County is used “to get water into homes, whether that be with a well or water bottles, or any water need,” explains Gallegos. The company already has contributed more than $100 to United Way.
Vepó Bottles can be purchased at the United Way office in Tulare or at Alferez Rustic Orchard Restaurant in Lemon Cove. The bottles will also be sold through a kiosk at USA Graphics and Printing in Visalia.
Vepó officially launched in April, which has given Gallegos time to focus on her next milestone: the first day of high school.
“It feels really, really weird sometimes,” she says about being a young business owner. “I had a tax ID, I have legal responsibilities.”
She even admits that she’s gotten some mixed responses from people. “Some people have said, ‘Why would you do that? That’s like wishing your childhood away.’”
Gallegos gets it.
“There were definitely nights where you want to quit, and I would cry because I wanted to go to sleep. But if you talk to any entrepreneur, if you ask them if they ever wanted to quit, it’s every day.” Between classes and extracurricular activities, and – oh yeah, starting a business – Gallegos has learned a valuable lesson that even some adults haven’t figured out yet: “We have to make our own choices for ourselves.”
And for Gallegos, that’s making the choice to make a difference.
“We need to be involved in our community, but we need to be involved in the world around us, and understand each other,” says Gallegos. “My family has had exchange students, so I’ve met people from Ecuador, Switzerland, from Sweden, and they’ve stayed with us three months at a time, and you get to know them.
“Just knowing that there’s other people out there in the world, other than Visalia” – that’s motivation enough for Gallegos, and partly inspiration for the name of her company. Vepó, she explains, is the Greek word for water.
So what’s next for Gallegos? “I’ve just been getting started. I’m focusing on this business, and high school, and giving everything, and being involved.” Strong words for such a young entrepreneur, that it’s easy to forget how young she really is. Though Gallegos confidently will tell you, “I’m 13,” and smile.
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