On the heels of the city’s adoption of the 10-year Economic Development Blueprint last year, faculty at California State University, Long Beach, founded the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to foster startup businesses.
“Whether it be a nonprofit, a social enterprise, private sector for profit,” Wade Martin, director of the institute and CSULB teacher, said. “What we try to do is make sure that they have the support necessary to open a business, preferably in Long Beach or the Greater Long Beach Area.”
The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was founded at California State University, Long Beach, (CSULB) last year with the intention of supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, to create a healthy foundation for the Long Beach economy. Wade Martin (pictured), a faculty member at the university, is director of the institute. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson)
The official beginning of the institute was July 1, 2017. The initial proposal was presented by Ingrid Martin, a professor of marketing and director of graduate programs for the College of Business Administration; Michael Solt, dean of the College of Business Administration; and Martin. An anonymous donor supplied an annual fund of $75,000 per year for up to five years to sustain the institute’s administrative costs during its infancy. During that time, Martin said the goal is to become an endowed institute, which would provide a more stable financial situation.
Martin said there have been pockets of programs and support for entrepreneurs and innovators on campus for years but there has never been an umbrella organization to bring them together and support their activity. One such program is the university’s Innovation Challenge, which has existed for eight years and awards up to $50,000 to the winning senior to support the opening of his or her business.
“About three years ago, some MBA students thought they would create an incubator. It still exists and meets every Tuesday night to support businesses in the community and support students in the Innovation Challenge,” Martin said. “They are now alumni and work in the community but come back every Tuesday night to support and provide programming.”
Seeing the commitment made by students and alumni, Martin and these counterparts believe there was an interest and need, an institutional void, which is now being filled by the institute. Like the city’s blueprint, the institute’s core belief is that the local economy is and will continue to be driven by entrepreneurs and small business, which may need support.
Martin explained that, in the case of Long Beach, relying on large companies such as Boeing Company as the economic foundation is dangerous because if they leave the city the economy takes a huge hit. However, if the foundation is built on small business and entrepreneurs that are tied to the city, with an ecosystem of support and resources, they can grow and flourish, providing a more stable foundation for the city’s economy.
“What we have found is that our model to be able to provide the support is to partner with existing organizations, making sure we’re not duplicating programs, but complementing existing programs,” Martin said. “The university has expertise that we can bring to the table, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The institute has already partnered with various organizations throughout the city, including the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, Centro CHA, the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach City College and Molina Healthcare, among others. Through these partnerships, the institute is assisting in providing various workshops and events to support entrepreneurs at all levels. Thus far, all programming has been free.
The next institute-sponsored event is CSULB VR Day on March 9. The event will use virtual reality to “highlight intellectual, gender and racial diversity” in the workplace. The event includes a keynote address, faculty and practitioner panels, workshops, and demonstrations from faculty and student research collaborations, NativeVR and Arvada Labs. NativeVR’s demonstration of UTURN, developed by Dr. Nathalie Mathe, “is an immersive live-action virtual reality film where viewers experience both sides of the gender divide in tech.”
To spread their presence to downtown, the institute is working with Shooshani Developers, which is planning a mixed-use project at The Streets (formerly City Place) for CSULB students and employees. Martin said the hope is to include coworking and innovation space within the project to support their efforts.
Recruitment for the institute’s board of directors is underway, according to Martin. He said it will consist of 15 members who are internal to the university and 15 members from off campus, such as partners, entrepreneurs, alumni and those committed to the institute’s mission.
“We believe we will help strengthen the ecosystem and support the city’s efforts to have this solid foundation for economic development,” Martin said. “We strongly believe in the 10-year Blueprint and the idea of diversity and inclusion as central to our mission.”