Global connections


Juan Pedraza

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Global connections

Two-time NCCAA champ and University of North Dakota 2005 Male Athlete of the Year Rodrigo Cintra swims in a very different pool these days.

After four years as a UND varsity long-distance swimmer setting national records along the way, Cintra now is the globe-trotting head of the UND Center for Innovation Foundation EB5 investor program. He made the Center connection through his swim coach, who suggested he chat with Center founder and director Bruce Gjovig.

“Definitely, those connections helped,” said Cintra, a Brazilian who connects overseas investors with venture opportunities in the region under the federal “EB5” visa program. “They helped me connect with this job. It’s really exciting work because I get to meet a varietyof interesting people while working in this atmosphere of global business.”

The Immigrant Investor Program, also known as EB5, was created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by immigrant investors by creating a new commercial enterprise or investing in a troubled business.

The program nationwide has so far generated more than $1.5 billion in foreign investment in U.S. businesses.

Cintra, who majored in entrepreneurship and international business while he was on the UND swimming squad, has translated his Olympic athletic dreams into a new vision of striking gold for North Dakota and northwest Minnesota businesses.

“This is a major entrepreneurial effort that really is all about economic development and job creation,” said Cintra, who met and married a Norwegian student here and has established a home and roots in Grand Forks with his new family of two girls.

Cintra is the EB5 Regional Center Manager/Entrepreneur Consultant at the Center for Innovation. Prior to joining the Center for Innovation staff in July 2007, Cintra worked with the Canadian Consulate and the North Dakota Trade Office on international trade opportunities. With a background in international business, Rodrigo focuses on assisting entrepreneurial companies that are interested in capturing domestic and international markets. Cintra also received his MBA from UND in 2009.

Recently, Alexandra Naastad, a 2003 graduate of Grand Forks Red River High School and an alumna of the UND MBA program, joined Cintra’s EB5 team. Her UND connections helped her land the job and they’re key to getting her new job done.

Naastad was president of the Dakota Venture Group during her MBA studies; DVG is the country’s first 100 percent student-run venture—or angel—fund with the Center for Innovation Foundation.

“I became interested in business at Red River thanks to its outstanding marketing program,” Naastad said. “I worked in the Red River School Store to learn the details about running a business—and I really enjoyed the marketing aspects. I also spoke with my dad, who is a local businessperson, about the responsibilities of owning your own business. Then, while completing my undergraduate degree in international business, I studied abroad in Paris for a semester and interned in London for a summer. During my MBA, I completed a fieldwork study in China."

Naastad’s studies, overseas business experience, and her leadership role at DVG opened the door at the Center for Innovation.

Because of this experience, Gjovig called her into his office one day and offered her a job.

“I now work in the EB5 Regional Center,” she said. “My investment work is very similar to what DVG does, but at a higher level; we partner growing companies with international investors under the EB5 program.”

Juan Pedraza

Writer and Editor, University Relations

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