Nina Vaca Innovation & Entrepreneurship Award

Congratulations to the 2023 Awardees!

Mason Espedal is an undergraduate double majoring in Communication Design and Business Management. He has started three businesses including Velocity Patches, which makes and imports Velcro morale patches for law enforcement, SWAT, EMS, Fire, military, private brands, and sports teams.

Maria Tomasso is a Doctoral Research Assistant working with the Translational Health Research Center (THRC) on the Mental Health MAP, an initiative to collect and compile open data sources to quantify and forcast mental health needs in Texas communitites, with particular focus on healthcare infrastructure, youth, and substance abuse.

CONGRATULATIONS to you both on your amazing achievements!!

About the Award

Mrs. Nina Vaca—a trailblazing Latina entrepreneur, a world-changing philanthropist, and a dynamic global leader—has recently endowed an award to recognize exemplary Texas State University innovators and entrepreneurs. The Nina Vaca Innovation and Entrepreneurship Endowment provides the CIE with the sustained ability to celebrate and recognize two outstanding students each year.

The award highlights the amazing innovators and entrepreneurs thriving in all disciplines across the growing ecosystem at Texas State and recognizes the power of an entrepreneurial mindset to change the world for the better.

This award is presented to one undergraduate and one graduate student along with $1,000 in recognition of their outstanding works in innovation and entrepreneurship. This year's recipients will be recognized at the 2023 Innovation Lab during SXSW.

Nina Vaca poses with students for photo.


How to Apply


  • To provide a $1,000 award to one undergraduate student and to one graduate student.
  • To encourage the cultivation of an entrepreneurial mindset that generates value regardless of industry or business setting.
  • To support the long-term growth of ideas and innovative research across all disciplines.
  • To celebrate success that drives a university-wide culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.          


  • Applicants must be an undergraduate or graduate student from any discipline who is in good academic standing and currently enrolled at Texas State University;
  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.25; and,
  • Complete and submit the application requirements, which include:
    • A 1-page resume or CV, and
    • A 1-page narrative (in 12-point font with 1-inch margins) outlining the applicant’s interest, dedication, and success achieved in innovation and/or entrepreneurship while a student at Texas State University.


The deadline for the application is February 17, 2023, at 5:00 p.m. Submit the application materials via the Nina Vaca Application Page. 


One undergraduate student and one graduate student will be selected. The selection will be based on a review of the completed application with an emphasis on impactful achievements and accomplishments in innovation and/or entrepreneurship as a student at Texas State University.

For questions about the award, contact the CIE Co-Directors
Dr. Shannon Weigum ( and Mr. Dan Roy (

More About Nina Vaca

Headshot of Nina Vaca

As a young entrepreneur in 1996, Vaca founded Dallas-based Pinnacle Group, a workforce solutions powerhouse, and under her visionary leadership it has expanded globally to serve some of the world’s most sophisticated companies. In 2014, Vaca was appointed by the White House as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. She is a recipient of the coveted Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Goldman Sachs Most Intriguing Entrepreneur award. Vaca was a Henry Crown Fellow at Aspen Institute in 2016 and the Trailblazing Women in Labor in Business by National Women’s History Project in 2017. Most recently ALPFA and Fortune Magazine named Vaca in the Top 5 of the 50 Most Powerful Latinas in America. 

Vaca, who was the youngest Distinguished Alumna in Texas State history, knows the power of education and credits Texas State with pushing her towards opportunities, from the introduction to her first employer to the connections she still maintains today. “I am grateful to be able to invest in this university that invested in me so many years ago,” Vaca said. “I am hopeful that this legacy inspires future generations to become entrepreneurs and find innovative ways to impact the world for the better.”

Previous Award Winners

2021 awardees

2021 Awardees

2020 Inagural Award and Message from Nina

Lois is studying Communication Disorders and is part of the research team lead by Dr. Maria Resendiz developing the Nurturing Neurodiversity App. The app aims to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorder improve the quality of their social interactions by identifying the emotion of the conversational partner. 

Connor is a graduate student in the College of Science and Engineering and founder of the Bobcat Aerospace Team (BAT). BAT gives students hands-on experience in the design and manufacturing of an aerospace vehicle. The goal is to design and build a level 3 sounding rocket capable of delivering a 9-pound payload to 10,000 feet.

Read more from the TXST Newsroom

We celebrate these amazing Bobcat innovators and appreciate the generous support from Mrs. Nina Vaca!