Alumni Spotlight: Arturo “A.J.” Tablada

Author: Gene Stowe

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Arturo “A.J.” Tablada, who earned a degree in science-business with a minor in theology at the University of Notre Dame before he joined the ESTEEM Class of 2015, is putting his entrepreneurial skills to work for his nonprofit startup, St. Michael’s Angels ™. St. Michael’s Angels ™, a Christian nonprofit organization, provides individuals undergoing hospitalization the gift of a loving presence ™. Following a period of discernment, Tablada noticed the extent of the problem of patients without visitors after spending time with a family member in a local hospital. He raised $10,000 in a recent fundraising campaign for the nonprofit, including a matching grant from the Knight Foundation that recognized the group among the top 20 social entrepreneurs in South Florida as a part of the Create Miami initiative. 

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“The biggest area I was able to grow during my time in ESTEEM was properly identifying a problem and understanding that you have to go out, you have to talk to people, you have to hear from stakeholders and understand the scope of the challenge from the bottom up,” he says. “I’ve received so much positive feedback that it’s given us a lot of momentum for our vision. People are very excited about what we’re going to be bringing to communities. In setting that vision, you have to have a starting point and build a business plan. I wouldn’t have known how to properly start a company if it wasn’t for Notre Dame and specifically, the ESTEEM program. It’s helpful to come from a program that looks at all those aspects of entrepreneurship.”

Tablada, who originally planned to go to medical school and become a neonatologist, fell in love with entrepreneurship when he took a marketing course as part of his science-business program during his senior year at Notre Dame. He and some classmates envisioned starting a health insurance company and entered the McCloskey Business Plan Competition. Although the project did not advance, he was hooked.

“It was really neat to start looking into entrepreneurship as a new career path,” Tablada says. “My mind totally changed. I really appreciated the focus at Notre Dame of using our knowledge and our God-given talents to have an impact on the world, to be a force for good.” He was also a Resident Assistant and Assistant Rector at St. Edward’s Hall during his studies, while leading a Bible study and fellowship group, Men and the Word, in the Hall. 

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Tablada’s ESTEEM thesis involved Cocoon Biotech, a biomedical startup in Boston founded by Notre Dame alum Dr. Ailis Tweed-Kent. “It was a great experience,” he says. “I learned a lot from her. I worked directly with her and John Tagliamonte, the business development advisor for the company. He taught me a lot about market segmentation, customer interviews, why it’s so important to talk to all stakeholders, not just those who will one day be using your product. All these experiences really led me to think long and hard about where I wanted to go.”

St. Michael’s Angels ™, which has a team of 17 people, aims to support patients through the time, talent, and gifts of volunteers and donors. Inspired by the Works of Mercy and Christian values, the nonprofit aspires to build warm, caring friendships by matching patients with volunteers based on similar interests, career backgrounds, or shared experiences, providing accompaniment and empowering patients in their time of need. The nonprofit will also give educational and entertainment activities through partnerships with local experts in the areas of art, music, comedy, and health/wellness. Lastly, the nonprofit will help patients fill their experiential bucket list through the generosity of donors creating lifelong memories for all involved. St. Michael’s Angels ™ hopes to foster recovery and healing through embodying the message of compassionate care for patients. After a pilot program in the fall, the company expects to launch in January beginning in the Miami area.