The Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s annual Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) is the premier global competition for "studentpreneurs" who run their own business. This year, more than 1,700 EO GSEA nominees from more than 50 countries participated in qualifying competitions for the chance to advance to the Global Finals, held in April in Frankfurt, Germany. The 2017 GSEA winner is Julián Ríos Cantú, a Mexican student who's out to change how we detect breast cancer.

This year, the GSEA Global Finals welcomed 55 students from 55 countries, making it the most diverse competition to date with the highest ratio of participation from women in the event's history, at 35 percent of the field.

The winner, Julián Ríos Cantú, is soft-spoken and youthful, evidence that first impressions can be misleading. A student at Mexico's Monterrey Institute of Technology, Ríos Cantú is the founder of Higia Technologies―a two-year-old biosensor company whose small patches can be applied over any bra to increase the early detection of breast cancer. Throughout his participation in the 2017 EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, Ríos Cantú spoke with EO about his experiences and his work, showing the passion and determination that characterized his own efforts and the competition as a whole:

What inspired you to start your business?

My mom had two types of breast cancer; one when I was 8 and the other when I was 11. Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death in women worldwide. If we can make not only a detection method but also a prevention method, we can save millions of lives and ensure a better quality of life for women.

What message did you try to communicate in your presentation?

I had two messages. One was the possibility of having the best detection method for breast cancer, which would lead to a better path for fighting the disease. And the second was that people from a young age―I'm 18―can be entrepreneurial and create opportunities that help not only local communities but the world. I understand why people might doubt that I can lead a company at my age, but I think after this, they'll change their minds!

How will winning GSEA impact your business?

For us to get our product to every single place that it's needed―not only big communities but rural communities and marginalized communities―we need not only PR but also money. So, winning the competition will bring both. We will use the award money mainly on clinical trials but also for product development and commercialization strategies.

Was this experience what you were expecting?

I expected a lot, and it surpassed my expectations. One of my biggest takeaways was interacting with EO members and other participants. Just meeting the 55 awesome people who competed―each with a story, a great idea, and each so passionate about what they're doing―my expectations were blown away.

What did you learn from your fellow student entrepreneurs?

Every entrepreneur has problems, and they are pretty similar. Next time I'm facing a problem, I will remember there are hundreds of young entrepreneurs facing the same challenges as me, working 12- to 18-hour days to overcome them. It helps me realize I can do it, too.

Will you continue to be involved in GSEA?

Yes! GSEA is a wonderful program in many aspects because entrepreneurship is very lonely most of the time. It's often difficult to find even one person―much less a group of people―who constantly fight for their passion the way that we do. GSEA brings all of these people together; that's invaluable.

What's next for your business?

We're about to get certification in Latin America. We'll start with e-commerce sellers first, and from there we'll jump to Europe and Asia. Eventually we'll be in the U.S. and aim to sell to governments directly. There's plenty of money and research going into detecting cancer, but it's being detected late, at stage III or stage IV. If we can prevent it, we can save millions of lives and improve quality of life. So that's what we'll do: prevent breast cancer.

What advice would you give to your peers?

Focus is so important. There's no other option. For example, I'm dyslexic, so I couldn't read until I was 5. I had to catch up on all the school material I missed. The only thing that got me ahead was having a strong focus. It's the same in a company: you have to be focused, prepared and persistent.

EO GSEA is an exclusive opportunity for student entrepreneurs to make connections, find resources, and grow their businesses. Watch this recap of the 2017 GSEA Global Finals with interviews of amazing students who are changing the world.

Published on: Jul 21, 2017