On a steamy afternoon last September, an exhausted Cynthia Rubio watched Texas National Guard troops help passengers off military planes at a small airport near College Station. Some people were on gurneys, others in wheelchairs. There were disoriented nursing home residents and frightened children. All were fleeing Hurricane Ike, one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history.
They had something else in common as well. Each passenger wore a bright-yellow tracking wristband developed by Rubio’s company, Radiant RFID. The wristband’s computer chip allowed disaster officials to track the real-time whereabouts of special-needs evacuees, using radio wave technology similar to that used in electronic highway toll systems.
That’s a goal Rubio couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago, as a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom with three kids under ten and a husband who traveled for work five days a week. "My husband was a real road warrior," she says. "All I wanted was to have my family back together."
The daughter of Mexican-born parents, Rubio grew up in El Paso. She graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, married in college, and worked at Ford in Michigan while earning a master’s degree at night.
Gearing up to return to work after the birth of her third child, Rubio considered a career in real estate, but "I realized I wanted to do something technical again," she says.
A friend suggested RFID-radio frequency identification. The technology wasn’t new, but it was mainly being used to track packages at companies like Wal-Mart.
Rubio and her husband, Kenny Ratton, began imagining wider applications, and in spring 2005, Radiant RFID made its debut at a business conference for 7,000 at a Las Vegas hotel. Participants wearing RFID tags on their badges moved in and out of events without having to stand in lines to sign in.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the company further adapted the technology. The Special Needs Evacuation Tracking System was used for the first time during Hurricane Gustav, and later during Ike, when roughly 27,000 banded storm victims were successfully tracked.
In October 2007, Rubio learned of the Make Mine a Million $ Business campaign to help one million women entrepreneurs reach $1 million in revenue by 2010. After giving an elevator pitch-a three-minute summary of her company and her vision for its future-in front of 150 women in Austin, Rubio was named one of five finalists awarded free consulting services. Only a few months later, Radiant RFID, now with 15 employees, passed the $1 million mark, and today it tops $2 million in earnings.
"It’s a great network to be part of," says Rubio of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, which sponsored the competition (see "Job Creation 101"). "Nobody dismissed me simply because I was a mom with four kids or a female in a technical field. I’ve gotten mentoring and gained confidence."
Rubio also achieved something else: She finally has the family life she always wanted.
Getting Ahead with Cynthia Rubio
Your first company headquarters was your dining room? Yes. Then the living room. Scanners, antennas, and cables everywhere. We moved to the garage, then to a storage unit. Finally we rented warehouse and office space in Austin.
Wasn’t it overwhelming to launch a business with three young children and a fourth on the way? Well, there were days. But I’ve always been very organized, and because it’s my own business, I can set my own hours if I need to go pick up the kids. Who does the cooking? I do, and we eat dinner together every night. I’m a freezer mom: I always cook double the amount, half to eat two weeks later. Didn’t you put a wristband on George W. Bush before Hurricane Ike? That’s the last thing I ever expected. He seemed to know a lot about weather.
Aim higher, dream bigger—that’s what women business owners should do, says Nell Merlino, cofounder and president of the nonprofit Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence. The payoff for our slumping economy could be huge, she adds. "Seventy-nine percent of women-owned businesses earn $50,000 or less in revenue. If 350,000 women entrepreneurs could grow their businesses up to $1 million in revenue," she calculates, "it could create as many as one million jobs."
Merlino’s vision has sparked the Make Mine a Million $ Business RACE. Starting January 27, women business owners can set and track revenue goals (even modest ones of less than $1 million) by logging on to makemineamillion.org. Anyone achieving her benchmark by the end of the year will receive a package of business-building tools from Count Me In. Three winners per state will receive one-on-one business coaching as well as personal services like housecleaning help. The grand-prize winner will receive $100,000 in cash and a year’s marketing and advertising services. Reader’s Digest is pleased to be a sponsor of the race and a supporter of Count Me In and its 75,000 members.