Ever since Tannya Gaxiola was 5 years old, it was her dream to go to Harvard. Not only did she achieve her dream by getting her MBA from Harvard Business School in 2006, but at 36, she’s the special advisor to the president of the University of Arizona (her other alma mater), chair of the board of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (with almost 1,000 members, one of the biggest in the country), and the president of QuikHelp — a low-cost legal services firm, specializing in explaining immigration documents to people who can’t afford an attorney.
In her still young, yet varied career, she has also worked in New York as a business strategy consultant at Bain & Company and as an investment banker at Salomon Smith Barney, and in Miami for AOL Latin America.
“My dad was an attorney, so when I kid I didn’t want to be an attorney, I wanted to be a judge,” says the innately high-achieving Mexican-American who grew up in Tucson. “But once I got to college, I started as a business major.”
She says being that her parents were entrepreneurs, to continue in the business world just felt natural.
“My mom had over the years opened a restaurant and a clothing boutique…My dad had his own criminal defense and immigration law firm.” says Gaxiola. “They were always up to something, and they made us be part of it.”
It was also her dad, she says, who put the idea in her head that she should go to Harvard when she was little, and it was with him that she started QuikHelp when she was still in college.
“I worked with my dad as his assistant and his office was in South Tucson,” says Gaxiola. “We would have people come in for consultations and quote them an attorney’s price, but you could see it on their faces that they were not able to afford it.”
Although she says her dad had a soft heart and would often take on desperate cases at no charge, they quickly realized it wasn’t sustainable for them to do so.
“A lot of times they didn’t even need an attorney, but just someone to help them with the paperwork,” says Gaxiola. “We wanted to think of a way to provide a service to help them, so we came up with QuikHelp, which we first called Sin Abogados.”
They started the company in the empty restaurant that her mom closed down, and Gaxiola would go there after her classes to talk to customers and do their paperwork.
Since 2009, Gaxiola kept the cost down for her customers by not using attorneys, and thus not having to pay attorney salaries. The business has been so successful, they now have two locations, and she works there in the evenings and Saturdays — when she’s not at the University of Arizona doing public outreach to the community full-time.
“I take people that don’t have legal experience and train them to do good paperwork, and we watch the process for people so they don’t miss their hearing date or deadline. Usually they are super stressed out, so we watch the deadlines, go to court for them and make sure everything gets done,” she says.
To Gaxiola it’s important to also keep her customers make sure they are up to date with the changing immigration laws.
“We do workshops for free with an attorney to let people know what is happening with the law,” says Gaxiola. “Information is power.”
Of all her accomplishments, including being named Latina Entrepreneur of Influence this year by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, she says she is most proud of founding QuikHelp.
“Not only have we helped thousands of people in the community, but we have also provided jobs and opportunities for people,” says Gaxiola, proud owner of two rescue greyhounds and an 8-pound pincher . “I don’t think anything feels better than giving someone a job, a livelihood and an opportunity, and then also it’s wonderful because I get to work with my family. I get to work with my sister, my dad is my partner, and my husband helps me to be a good salesperson, and my uncle does the IT. It’s really been a nice family experience.”