College of Business undergrads Pablo Hernandez and Matthew Brown founded The Secure Mask company in light of COVID-19. The company is growing.
College of Business undergrads Pablo Hernandez and Matthew Brown founded The Secure Mask company in light of COVID-19. The company is growing.

The most successful entrepreneurs will always point to their capacity to recognize opportunity as a fundamental element of their success. Founded by College of Business undergrads Pablo Hernandez and Matthew Brown, The Secure Mask company was founded to meet the public demand for comfortable, reusable face masks in the wake of COVID-19. But it can’t just be an opportunity—it’s a culmination of preparedness, resources and connecting the dots which move opportunity into success.

“I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, which I believe comes from my parents,” said Hernandez, a senior marketing major. He has tested the entrepreneurial waters with several ventures during his time at UofL, including photography and owning coffee roaster, Herns Coffee. Hernandez’s parents have been involved in textiles and manufacturing—a direct connection that helped to jump start the Secure Mask.

Brown’s passion for finance and investment has helped to give the duo a solid fiscal foundation. Like Hernandez, Brown has already built a successful enterprise—he has been a ticket broker since 2016.

“Building my ticket brokerage allowed me to learn how to interact with both business-to-business clients and business to consumers,” he said. “It also taught me the importance of cash flow and managing inventory.”

That inventory management currently occupies much of Hernandez’s apartment. “We ship everything out from my apartment. There are boxes everywhere.”

Ramping up inventory has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in demand. Initially, mask orders were from the Louisville metro area.

“When we first started selling the masks, I used to spend part of the day delivering them in my car,” Hernandez said. “But that all changed when we started doing ads on television.”

Brown, a rising junior double majoring in finance and economics, and Hernandez began working with a local media company when they were interviewed by a television station in Philadelphia.

“After that [interview], we started getting orders from all over. Pablo was on the phone with a repeat customer from LA last night. Folks call at all hours about orders,” said Brown.

The local media company has also helped place television spots for the duo in a variety of markets beyond the Midwest, including running ads in Hawaii.

The increased profile means increasing the team. The Secure Mask has between six to 10 part-time employees, many of them also UofL undergrads.

“Being an intern at the College of Business taught me a lot about working with people,” says Hernandez. “Working directly with Sharon Handy and the marketing team helped me understand the importance of project management and teamwork.”

Brown also attributes their venture’s success to his time at the College.

“I’ve met a lot of people [who] work or know people in different sectors of the economy. My professors have helped show me what a real workplace looks like,” he said.

Hernandez agreed, adding, “They have always been more than just professors. I will talk to them outside of the classroom and know that if I had any questions about anything, I could come to them. They are more mentors than professors.”

While Hernandez and Brown saw a business opportunity, The Secure Mask company understands it is much more than just making masks. Hernandez’s parents have started multiple businesses, which “always called his attention,” he said. That sense of doing business right includes supporting the most vulnerable in the community. The Secure Mask website features a section that allows people to receive free masks to those facing medical or financial hardship.

With an upcoming school year just around the corner, both Hernandez and Brown continue to strike a balance between work, school and life.

“As we begin to scale, gaining access to capital will be a big challenge. The Secure Mask has to keep a lot of inventory on hand, so we have to have a lot of capital to invest in inventory and run the day-to-day operations,” Brown said. “There’s a lot to learn both in and out of the classroom.”

Story written by Jim Warner, College of Business content developer.