For Gabe Esparza -- a nationally recognized business and civic executive -- hard work and giving back are in his blood.
His family immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century – one side escaping fascist persecution in Europe while the other side fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution – both finding freedom and opportunity in a nation which they cherish, defend and contribute.
Gabe’s maternal grandfather was a liquor salesman and proud union member whose passion for fishing is a tradition that Gabe’s family celebrates to this day. His paternal grandparents raised twelve children with grit, faith, and lots of homemade tortillas. Gabe's paternal grandfather worked in the orange groves for 25¢ a crate, and then put in long hours in highway construction and plumbing. And when his country needed him, he proudly served in the Pacific theater during World War II.
As social and mental health workers, Gabe’s parents were in the business of helping others and at home, that’s what they taught their kids -- instilling in Gabe and his brother the importance of lifting others up to create a stronger community.
With those values as his foundation, Gabe started mowing lawns in junior high school and working concessions at university football games to give himself more opportunities to reach his dreams. He worked his way through school, with the help of scholarships and loans, always remembering a lesson from his grandfather, that "education equals freedom."
And it was in school that Gabe first took on a role that has come to define his life, that of mentor. Gabe took other students under his wing, particularly first- and second-generation Latinos, and helped build them up -- preparing them for success and a shot at the American dream.
With a top tier education and business degree under his belt, Gabe started making his mark in the corporate world. He learned the importance of customer service at the Walt Disney Company. Then, over the course of 13 years at American Express, he focused on small business financing before rising through the ranks to lead global commercial payments teams. Yet, despite his accomplished corporate career, Gabe knew there was great opportunity at the intersection of entrepreneurship, technology and public service.
Thus, first as an angel investor and then later as a senior operating executive, he helped finance and lead a startup technology company called RapidSOS that radically transformed our nation’s 911 emergency system. The company created a platform that facilitates the transmission of data, including precise location from cell phones, connected cars, and other devices to 911 dispatchers so first responders are able to reach you quickly and with the help you need.
With significant capital raised to grow the company, and with its technology embedded in public safety operations across the country, Gabe was able to accept a role as a senior official at the U.S. Small Business Administration leading the Office of International Trade. Since 2021 his team has managed a $600M loan portfolio, provided over $40M in export stimulus grants, and helped highlight the importance of small businesses in U.S. trade policy and trade negotiations around the world. As a result, small businesses throughout North Carolina and across the country have expanded their businesses overseas – driving record U.S. export sales and creating jobs here at home.
And through it all, Gabe has always made time to give back. He helped found a school that brings special focus to at-risk kids, has served on multiple boards including as a Trustee at Central Piedmont Community College, and previously spent 9 years as a public official on the Board of Civil Service Commissioners.
Gabe and his wife are proud to be raising their two children in Charlotte, and to be a part of such a vibrant community with incredible potential in the years to come.