Suny Lay-Chang, board chair of the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion, signs a letter of intent to participate in the city's 100 startups campaign Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

As city and business leaders huddled in the offices of architecture firm Studio One-Eleven in Downtown on Monday, preparing to announce a new initiative, guests in attendance were faced with a question: “Are your seatbelts fastened?”

“If they’re not fastened, fasten them up because we are moving forward,” Long Beach Economic Development Department Director Bo Martinez said.

Dubbed “Launch Beach”—not to be confused with “Space Beach,” which refers to the city’s burgeoning satellite launch sector—the new initiative will spend $25 million with the goal of nurturing 100 startup companies in Long Beach over the next five years.

During the press conference, Mayor Rex Richardson said the program will focus on the “fastest growing industry sectors,” including health care, aerospace, goods movement, tourism and education.

Richardson noted that Long Beach has been dependent on revenue tied to oil production for over a century—a funding source that is set to run dry around 2035, if not earlier.

“We’re creating a climate-friendly, climate-sustainable economy here in Southern California,” Richardson said. “In Long Beach, as this change is happening, we have a responsibility to figure out not only how we continue to provide services, but how we make sure that we have revenue sources that are able to expand service in the future.”

Eight government and private entities have partnered on the initiative, including the city’s Economic Development Department, Sunstone Management, Imprint Venture Labs, the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion, the Long Beach Accelerator, the CSULB Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Long Beach Economic Partnership. The Sunstone Community Fund will provide the money for the program.

“This is not Monopoly money,” Richardson said. “This is a serious investment.”

Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson shakes hands with John Keisler, CEO and managing partner of Sunstone Management, after Keisler signed a letter of intent for the private equity firm to participate in the “Launch Beach” initiative Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

For about two years, 37 startups have worked through the public-private Long Beach Accelerator, which provides fledgling businesses with guidance and education in addition to an average of $100,000 in seed funding over an extensive four-month program. Similarly, private capital firm Sunstone has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding for startups, including college student pitches.

Vic Hill, CEO of MyRuck, a software that keeps service members more up-to-date on their military benefits, is part of the current Accelerator cohort. The company launched in 2019, but operations were quickly paused after Hill was deployed. Upon his return in 2020, the startup got to work.

Starting a business is challenging, Hill said, but the Accelerator and the $100,000 in funding MyRuck received has made all the difference.

“It’s everything,” Hill said. “Not just the monetary investment, but the time as well—it validated everything that we had been working so hard on and added fuel to the fire for us. It made us realize that outside eyes also see value in what we’re trying to deliver to the military community.”

Long Beach Economic Development Department Director Bo Martinez speaks during a press conference announcing a new initiative to foster 100 business startups in the city over the next five years Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Suny Lay Chang, board chair of the Center for Economic Inclusion, highlighted the fact that less than 5% of venture capital funding goes to women and minorities. Those undervalued companies could generate an estimated $4 trillion in value if only they were given the tools and funding to grow, she said.

“It’s a big problem,” Chang said. “But it absolutely makes sense that Long Beach is the place to try to turn that around—that’s who we are.”

The center was founded out of the city’s Everyone In initiative following the civil unrest that swept across the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The focus of the group is on creating equity citywide.

To close out the press conference, a representative from each group signed a letter of intent, signifying the official launch of the initiative.

“We’re not just fighting to keep what we have, we want to build the Long Beach of the future,” Richardson said. “ So we have to grow our economy and grow our revenue in new directions.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.