Disciplined entrepreneur balances classes and business

Gabriela Ecalante has started three businesses, but she goes beyond these ventures to help others whenever she can.

It’s 6 a.m. on a Monday morning and Gabriela Escalante has been awake for an hour. There are no meetings, phone calls, or obligations to attend until 9 a.m., but Escalante likes to run around her rural neighborhood in Central New York – even on Monday mornings. She laces up her pink and white tennis shoes and begins a 30-minute run around her familiar course. The sun is still sleeping, but the morning’s darkness doesn’t stop Escalante from fulfilling the daily goal she has met for the past year.

“She was the last person I thought would do big things with her life, but I really do believe now that she can do anything she wants."
- Eric Amaya

“It helps me clear my thoughts,” Escalante said. “Sometimes that’s when I learn the most about life because I reflect on everything that’s happening and how to make it better.”

Escalante, a business and entrepreneurship senior, said she has known she wanted to be an entrepreneur since high school, and she has since started three businesses, with an activewear line as her most recent endeavor.
Her parents launched a corporate training company when she was in elementary school, so Escalante grew up in an innovative environment. Although she is an entrepreneur by training, she doesn’t focus all her time and energy on one single business plan; rather, she identifies a problem and makes it her mission to solve it, no matter what it is.

Escalante, 28, hasn’t always been this way. In fact, she said she has had to work hard to become the organized, determined and goal-oriented person her friends and family know today. She was uncharacteristically careless in high school, said one of her oldest friends, Eric Amaya.

“She was always very clumsy; she still is, but back then she was always tripping, especially when going up stairs, and she lost her phone all the time,” he said. Escalante met Amaya back home in El Salvador during his last year in high school. Fifteen years later, the two communicate regularly through Skype and Facebook.

Although Escalante has lived in the States for five years, she said she keeps strong ties to her Salvadorean family and culture. As the oldest of three siblings, she said she has tried to be a good role model for her younger brothers. For Escalante, being a role model doesn’t mean leading by example and pursuing her own goals; instead, she actively supports her brothers in their endeavors. She has been to New York City three times in the last year to see the work her brother, Rodrigo, has done in stage design for various Broadway shows.

She usually spends Sundays on Skype with her mother, Glenda, who appears in the same fluorescent lighting from within different hotel rooms around Latin America while traveling for business trips. Glenda loves reminiscing on what Escalante was like as a child. “Before elementary school, all she wanted to do was go to elementary school. She enjoyed playing like she was going to elementary school, so she would walk around the house playing with a lunchbox,” Glenda recalled, laughing.

From a young age, Escalante never settled for mediocrity and she has always wanted to be where the people (and the action) are.

Whether it’s leading meetings with her company’s team or running between business classes at the Whitman School of Management, Escalante is never seen without her daily planner and a notebook. She said she’s mastered organization, and remains clear-headed and determined to complete all her tasks even in the midst of 14-hour days.

Escalante even takes time out of her busy schedule to help others; she was recently a guest speaker in an introduction to entrepreneurship class where she shared her successes and failures with a group of 20 students. Wearing her favorite pink button-down shirt, when Escalante speaks, although she’s soft-spoken, the students look up from their laptop screens to hear her stories. She shared details of her business, EBActive, and spoke candidly about everything from how she found validation for her activewear line in the U.S. to tips on finding a core support system as a young entrepreneur. 

Escalante's current talents are in business growth and development, but she developed an impressive ability to achieve her goals when she moved to the U.S. in 2009. While working as an au pair in California in 2010, Escalante enrolled as a non-degree student at UCLA just so she could land her first internship. “Nobody does that because it doesn’t make sense,” Escalante said. “You’re paying to work.”

But she was determined to start working, and a few weeks after sending out resumes to countless companies, Escalante was hired at StarGreetz, a personalized greeting card company.

Fuad Raja, the father of her previous au pair host family in D.C., recalled his first impressions of Escalante when they met in 2009, the year before Escalante's time in California. 

“She was really disciplined,” Raja said. “Whenever she commits herself to doing something, whether with work or in her personal life, she likes to follow through with it.” Escalante is thoughtful, clever and meticulous in everything she does, which is clear when she’s writing out her schedule for the week or pitching her company in front of a panel of judges at business competitions. Although she wasn’t always as organized as she is now, she has set and achieved numerous difficult goals.

When many of her peers were figuring out how to make the transition from high school to college, Escalante took a gap year and started an event-planning business with her best friend. The business grew from organizing and hosting kids’ birthday parties to planning and managing corporate events for businesses in the El Salvador region. Escalante sets goals and works to help people in different fields and different areas of the world.

Just before coming back to the U.S. in 2012, she advocated for animal rights in El Salvador and got the country to ban the use of animals in local circus shows. After growing a successful business in 2011 selling LED light-up T-shirts back home, Escalante brought a similar retail model to the U.S. through which she is now developing LED activewear to make running safer at night.

Escalante is skilled at identifying problems and working relentlessly to solving those issues. However, her mother said she worries about Escalante's ever-changing interests. “My one concern about Gabi is that she has vision and she creates so many ideas that I think it’s hard for her to focus on one thing and see it through before moving to the next,” her mother said.

It has taken time and practice for Escalante to get organized, but Amaya said he is fully confident in her abilities.

“She was the last person I thought would do big things with her life, but I really do believe now that she can do anything she wants," he said.

Sunday evening, before the hectic workweek begins, Escalante spends hours in the kitchen with her two roommates. The girls plan out a menu, buy the ingredients from the local farmer’s market on Saturday, and prep their meals for the week. As a vegetarian, Escalante said she loves making zucchini pasta to take for lunch between classes.

“I get so busy that sometimes I forget to eat,” she said. “Meal prep just makes it easier and it’s one less thing to worry about.”

Before heading to bed, Escalante packs a pair of high heels in her backpack to change into when she arrives at school the next morning. She said she knows she’ll be bustling around attending to her demanding schedule, but Escalante recently set out to get back to her El Salvadorian culture of dressing up every day, and she’s determined to achieve this goal just like every other.

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