Local business owner Laura Paredes-Oldaker thought the words on the screen in front of her were part of a joke.
Wednesday morning, the 36-year-old founder and CEO of By Your Side Senior Care learned she was named Verizon Wireless’ Latino Small Business Series Entrepreneur of the Year. The award comes with a $25,000 cash prize, five free mobile devices and service for one year.
Representatives from the telecommunications giant surprised Paredes-Oldaker with the announcement at her company’s north-side office. She thought she was a finalist for the award and was shown a video of last year’s winner, which ended with a message announcing her win.
“Is this real?” Paredes-Oldaker asked before tearing up and receiving hugs and words of support from several family members and employees who had gathered for the announcement.
Paredes-Oldaker started working with seniors in various settings after graduating from Tucson High School in 1994.
“I found that in-home care, for me, was the way to make the biggest impact in someone’s life, to come into their home and help them stay independent,” she said.
She decided to get back into the field she was passionate about six years ago after the economy crashed. She and her husband were real estate investors struggling to make ends meet with the decline of the real estate market.
“I decided to get back to my roots,” she said. “I remembered how much I loved it and started working with the elderly again.”
About a year later, she and her husband, Justin, founded By Your Side Senior Care. The company’s mission is to provide superior care to its clients and help provide the highest quality of life.
“I noticed all of the horror stories that were showing up in the papers about people being mistreated by their caregivers or being fined for negligence, and I just thought, there’s got to be a better way of doing this,” Paredes-Oldaker said.
The business started with one caregiver, a role filled by Paredes-Oldaker, and one client and has since grown to 35 caregivers, four managers and about 30 clients, who have found the business mostly through word of mouth.
Roger Danhof, 74, has been a client for three years after he suffered three strokes that left the left side of his body paralyzed. He was referred to the company by his wife, whose mother is also a client.
“I’ve got a caregiver from By Your Side who turned out to be absolutely phenomenal,” Danhof said. “Maria takes me to the mall and walks me and feeds me and takes care of me and does a wonderful job. They’ve really been instrumental in my progress and getting me better.”
Paredes-Oldaker was inspired to apply for the Verizon award after attending a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce conference in Chicago earlier this year.
“I thought, you know, we have a lot of great things going on in Tucson and a lot of great things going on in our community, and maybe we could lift Tucson and the elderly community up a little bit more to earn them a little bit of the respect that they deserve,” she said.
She never imagined she’d win.
The prizes will be a big boost for Paredes-Oldaker’s growing business.
“One of the biggest challenges we encounter as a Latina starting a business is access to funds, access to capital to grow your business,” she said. “There are some good programs here in town, but they only help you so much, when you want to grow to the next level, there’s kind of a void.”
This is the fifth year Verizon has offered the award, and 724 people applied. The company selects one winner who has “demonstrated powerful leadership and outstanding success in their industry,” according to a Verizon news release.