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20 Years of Spirit in the Making

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Inland Empire visionaries, innovators, problem solvers, and risk-takers have been celebrated center-stage at the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards black-tie gala for two decades.

The Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards recognizes the accomplishments and resilience of local entrepreneurs who have strived to build businesses into major contributors to the Inland Empire’s economy. The program was founded in 2003 by Mike Stull, Director of the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship (IECE) at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB), and in the years since, more than 200 entrepreneurs have been honored with a Spirit of the Entrepreneur Award.

The IECE, established in 1999, has always been ahead of the curve and launched the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards eight years before President Barack Obama designated November as National Entrepreneurship Month in the United States. Dr. Mike Stull came up with the idea for the awards shortly after becoming director of IECE, when he discovered students in the CSUSB Entrepreneurship program couldn’t name any local entrepreneurial role models.

“Similarly, in my many conversations with leaders in the community, none could cite successful entrepreneurs that were key drivers to the local economy,” Stull said. “To me, this represented a significant gap — we have many successful entrepreneurs in the region, and our students and community leaders needed to know who they were. Thus, I endeavored to bring an event to life that would celebrate and honor local entrepreneurs in a format that would be inspiring, fun, and entertaining. Hollywood had the Academy Awards, so why couldn’t we have a similar event focused on entrepreneurs!”

The annual Spirit of the Entrepreneur black-tie awards program — held this year on November 17 at the Riverside Convention Center — starts with networking receptions, where mingling can often lead to deal-making. The main event is a mix of entertainment, with performances by acclaimed musicians and performers, heartfelt acceptance speeches from featured award recipients from categories such as General Entrepreneur, Service-based Entrepreneur, Social Entrepreneur, Emerging Entrepreneur, and The Mary Anne Fox Top Female Entrepreneur of the Year. At the end of the program, one recipient will also receive the Best of the Best Award, sponsored by Best Best & Krieger LLP. This honor goes to the person who best exemplifies what it means to be an entrepreneur.

“We come up with award categories in two ways,” Stull said. “First, over the 20 years of the program, we have developed a large number of standard categories that capture just about every type or industry represented in the region. Second, each year we carefully review all the submitted nominee profiles and adjust or add award categories as appropriate. For example, in recent years we have added a Healthcare Entrepreneur category, and in some years we have so many great manufacturing company nominees that we segment them by focus area, such as consumer products manufacturing and industrial manufacturing.”

In order to be nominated, a person must meet two requirements: they need to have been in business for at least two years and have a minimum annual revenue of $400,000. Beyond that, they should be an innovator with a solid character known for having an entrepreneurial mindset and a record of strong leadership and performance. Judges, who are selected based on their business experience and integrity, work independently of one another to evaluate the nominees, with almost all being previous winners of a Spirit of the Entrepreneur Award.

Several notable names have received the signature Spirit Award — Garner Holt, founder of Garner Holt Productions, the late Stater Bros. CEO Jack Brown, and the late Baker’s Burgers founder Neal Baker all were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Looking back on the last 20 years, Stull has countless fond memories of ceremonies past, including performances by Eddie Money and Troy Clarke & His Big Band Orchestra, but his favorite just might be when Holt was recognized with this Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. “We completely surprised him, and his emotional speech was one for the ages,” Stull said.

When the winners are revealed, Stull hopes they feel “all the great positive emotions at once. Surprise, joy, excitement, happiness, pride, gratitude — all those we tend to see from the moment their name is announced to the completion of their acceptance speech. It gives us no greater satisfaction than to see entrepreneurs be overwhelmed at that moment and realize that their hard work and commitment are being recognized in front of their families, team members, the business community, and their peer entrepreneurs. As one past award recipient told me, ‘Mike, this is the pat on the back and recognition that we hardly ever get as entrepreneurs.'”

To celebrate the 20th anniversary, there will be a few surprises during this year’s ceremony, with the biggest being the announcement of the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Legacy Awards. Two previous Spirit of the Entrepreneur Award recipients — one from the first ten years, and one from the second — will be selected by a judging panel for this special, one-time-only honor.

“The Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards has reached an incredible milestone, and we hope that everyone comes out to join the celebration,” Stull said. “Our last full-scale event prior to the pandemic had over 1,000 attendees, so we’d love to see a record turnout in 2022.” Starting with the very first ceremony in 2003, “the event wouldn’t be possible without the incredible nominations we get each year, and of course, the fantastic support we get from our sponsors,” Stull added. “We have nine sponsors that have supported us for more than 10 years, and two that have been with us for 16 of our 20 years.”

The Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards isn’t solely about recognizing the ingenuity of Inland Empire business leaders. Proceeds from the event go to the IECE’s Spirit of the Entrepreneur Scholarship Fund, which provides grants to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Since 2003, more than $225,000 worth of scholarships have been awarded to CSUSB students with measurable needs who are studying entrepreneurship.

CSUSB students also have the opportunity to participate in the Garner Holt Student Fast Pitch Competition. Every year, the IECE holds this innovative semi-final qualifying competition at the event’s named sponsor’s headquarters – Garner Holt Productions a week prior to the Spirit Awards gala. Up to 15 student entrepreneurs have the chance to give a 90-second pitch of their business idea to local investors. The students are judged by the panel, and the top five student pitchers move on to the finals at the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards. There, they deliver their pitches in front of the live audience, where the audience will vote to determine the winner who will receive the $4,000 cash prize. In years past, students who presented especially impressive pitches have dazzled investors in the crowd and secured funding for their ventures.

Purva Taur is a graduate assistant at IECE and enrolled in the Master of Science Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MSEI) program at CSUSB. An international student from India, Taur grew up in a family where many of her relatives owned businesses, and she knew that one day, she would follow in their footsteps. By working at the IECE with Stull and Assistant Director Stacey Allis, Taur has already noticed a change in how she approaches situations.

“I’ve learned how to be on my toes all the time,” she said. “If there’s a problem, you have to be quick with a solution and back up.” Taur is now working on a business plan to present in front of investors and feels that the comprehensive education she is receiving will give her a boost over her peers. “Being in this program has given me a lot of confidence that not every 22-year-old would have to begin their start-up, or any business,” she said. “I’ve learned how important it is to cultivate your business mindset.”

While Taur is preparing to launch her career, one CSUSB student-led venture named AxoTech is already commercializing technology developed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Corona.

“The company is innovating the diagnostic technology space, and is currently a part of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) Foundry program,” Stull said. “Overall, the impact to the region is tangible — over 40 percent of our more than 1,000 entrepreneurship alumni have created one or more ventures since graduation, and a large number of our graduates are intrapreneurs: managers and leaders in existing organizations who are innovative changemakers.”

IECE HAS IMPACT

The IECE has been leading the charge since it first opened its doors at CSUSB, with the mission of inspiring, developing, and nurturing up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the Inland Empire. It is the largest organization in the region supporting small business and entrepreneurial growth, and its staff is there every step of the way as people learn the ins and outs of starting and running a business, meeting with investors, finding mentors, and developing business models.

“We have an incredible team of professionals in the IECE — more than 60 — that are in the community every day having an impact on startup and existing companies,” Stull said. “The IECE has been recognized many times for its growth and impact, most recently by AACSB International, the accreditation body for business schools worldwide, as a Top 35 Program for Fostering Entrepreneurship and Innovation.”

There is always something in the works at the IECE, and in 2021, the center collaborated with the CSUSB School of Entrepreneurship to produce the region’s first-ever State of Entrepreneurship Report, which examined the trends and challenges of entrepreneurship in the Inland Empire. This year, the IECE has launched several new initiatives, including the Catapult Business Growth Network. Over the course of this intensive six-session program, entrepreneurs learn how to position their businesses for measurable growth.

The IECE is a driving force behind the economic expansion in the Inland Empire, and the proof is in the numbers — through its counseling, mentoring, and training programs, the IECE has served more than 150,000 entrepreneurs, supported the creation and retention of nearly 40,000 jobs, assisted with the startup of almost 2,000 new ventures, and had an economic impact in excess of $400 million.

“We are very proud that the IECE has grown to become one of the largest university-based Centers for Entrepreneurship in the world,” Stull said. “Since entrepreneurship is such an important driver of our local economy, having such a vibrant and impactful program such as the IECE is critical to supporting local businesses and their startup and growth.”

The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.

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Local Veteran and His Family Open New Graze Craze Charcuterie Business in Murrieta, California

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Southern California wine country gets another stylish culinary option, offering beautifully designed, hand-crafted grazing boards and picnic boxes

Graze Craze® has opened a new location close to the wine country of Southern California, where its artfully arranged sweet and savory grazing boards and boxes create a perfect pairing for food lovers. Located at 24530 Village Walk Place, Suite C, in Village Walk Plaza, the 1,021-square-foot store is owned and operated by disabled veteran Chris Stout and his wife, Stephanie Stout, with assistance from their teenage children.

At Graze Craze, highly trained experts known as Grazologists™ skillfully design charcuterie arrangements that feature an assortment of fine ingredients perfect for grazing, like fresh fruits and vegetables, premium meats and cheeses, artisanal sweets, nuts, house-made jams and more.

Chris Stout enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2001 and served several deployments before being discharged in 2012. Since then, he has worked as a field service engineer for an electronics company and in manufacturing sales. Stephanie Stout has a bachelor’s degree in business accounting from the University of Phoenix and worked for an insurance broker before the couple’s first child was born; she then devoted herself full-time to raising their three children, who are now in high school.

Graze Craze charcuterie boards offer something for every lifestyle, dietary preference or palate and are available in a variety of size options to cater to any occasion, big or small. They incorporate a medley of flavors, like the fan-favorite Gone Grazey board, a perfectly balanced mix of cured meats, premium cheeses, crackers, fresh produce, nuts and more. The Vegegrazian is impeccably designed with a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables for anyone embracing a plant-based lifestyle. Those with an undeniable sweet tooth can enjoy the Sweet & Grazey, a hand-crafted board featuring an abundance of delectable desserts like chocolates and baked goods paired with sweet dips to accent the irresistible flavors.

New to the Graze Craze menu is the Brunch Board, a gourmet and innovative twist on any morning routine. Packed with breakfast meats, fresh fruits, eggs, pastries and more, this board is the perfect bagel-and-donut brunch alternative. Grazers can also tackle watch-party cravings with a seasonal Game Day Board, featuring a feast of

crowd-pleasing ingredients, like peppered salami, Italian prosciutto, goat cheese, cranberry walnut bread, raspberry jam and chocolate bark, to name a few.

The artisan-inspired charcuterie offerings at Graze Craze are available in different size options, from Char-Cutie-Cups and Picnic Boxes for nibbling to sharing-size boards with enough fresh food to feed a large party. The food displays are ideal for elevating work meetings, family gatherings, lavish events and more, while they also make for memorable gifts that impress.

Besides sharing the flavorful menu with the area, the Stouts are actively involved in numerous local school, business and community organizations. The pair supports the Murrieta Valley High School Marching Band Boosters and California High School Rodeo Association District 8, in addition to the Boy Scouts of America California Inland Empire Council and Friends of Temecula Troop 309, where Christopher Stout is a part of the adult leadership team. The couple has also worked with Homes For Our Troops, an impactful nonprofit organization that builds specially adapted homes for post-9/11 disabled veterans.

Graze Craze Murrieta is open for pick-up, catering and free local delivery Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 951-942-7293.

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Partners in Action: How CalOSBA is bridging the gap in funding and resources for Inland Empire small businesses

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By Josaline Cuesta, California Program Director, Small Business Majority & IEBJ Content Contributor

For Tara Lynn Gray, Director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA), entrepreneurship has always been a core principle of her life. Her journey as an advocate for small businesses wasn’t built on textbooks, but on her family’s roots in small business ownership. As a young girl, she watched her grandmother empower and elevate Black women’s presences by styling their hair and instilling confidence in their personhood. She witnessed the direct impact of small businesses on community members in real time, and that’s always stayed with Tara.

As a key partner of Small Business Majority, she stands as a champion for the dreamers and risk-takers; the pillars of the communities across California and in the Inland Empire. I chatted with her to share more about her work at CalOSBA, what entrepreneurs can expect when they meet with a CalOSBA advisor, and the resources and community support available to help boost entrepreneurship in the Golden State.

Tell us about CalOSBA’s role in the small business community.

“California has the biggest small business community in the country, accounting for 4.1 million small businesses in 2023 alone. The overwhelming majority have no employees at all, except themselves, which means they don’t have a Board of Directors, expensive consultants, and they definitely don’t have lobbyists. I take my role as their advocate seriously, talking with and listening to small business owners from up and down the state. During the pandemic, we were under a very bright spotlight, administering nearly $5 billion in direct relief funding and we’re proud of the grant programs we still oversee. But that’s only a small part of what we do at CalOSBA.

My team connects small business owners to information and resources to help them get started, manage their business and, most importantly, to grow. If they’re looking for help, we want to be the first door they knock on. In addition, we offer Outsmart Disaster training, which focuses on how to mitigate risks associated with natural disasters and recovery avenues available to them. I always say the flagship of our office is our support for the statewide network of Small Business Centers, providing 1:1 business assistance and training for small business owners of all industries and in dozens of languages. In addition, supporting partners that deliver these services–all the federally funded centers like the Small Business Development Centers and the Women’s Business Centers but also Chambers of Commerce and other nonprofits—is a core function of my office. And a big source of pride because we know what a difference they make for their clients.”

What can small business owners expect from meeting with a California Small Business Center advisor?

“Small business owners can expect to meet someone who is fully invested in them. Our Centers cover the full spectrum of business needs, from writing a business plan and obtaining the right permits and licenses, to finding capital, planning a succession strategy and marketing to e-commerce. Our business advisors provide the experience and the objective perspective to help business owners optimize their best assets: ideas, energy, and ability to keep adapting and learning. And they do it because they love helping other people succeed. What’s more, business ownership can become isolating and it may be challenging for entrepreneurs to find assistance. But they don’t have to go at it alone–and they shouldn’t, when these no-cost and low-cost services are available to them.”

What’s the most rewarding part of your role at CalOSBA?

“I always say I have the best job in the state. And it’s because I frequently have the honor to watch someone’s dream come true. I love a ribbon-cutting ceremony–Every time, big or small. It means someone dreamed of accomplishing something and worked hard for it: They opened the doors to their business, they made a sale, and hopefully they will hire their first employee and then it’s off to the races. But no matter what happens to that business, that ribbon-cutting is a milestone they made happen for themselves. There are many other events I get invited to, where you can just see the hope and pride, and even fear in their faces. I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer emotion of it, and I’m always humbled that I get to participate in that person’s big milestone.”

What are some new programs that can benefit small business owners in the Inland Empire?

“The number one question my office gets asked is how to access small business financing. To help address this key need, we’re launching the Technical Assistance for Capital Readiness program this February. The program is part of a bigger effort to fill well-known funding gaps in the state to benefit very small businesses and Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Individuals (SEDI). Through investments from the U.S. Treasury, the State Treasurer’s Office and IBank, the program is going to support lenders to facilitate “high risk” loans that they normally would not approve.

In addition to supporting lenders, my office also received $25.3 million in U.S. Treasury funding to start the new Capital Readiness network. The Capital Readiness Coaches in this network will help business owners get ready for the lending marketplace, help them make the best choices in a high interest-rate environment, and optimize the use of the capital once they receive it. The network is also designed to help spread the word about this opportunity to these SEDI-owned businesses, and some of those partners will be focused on supporting the Inland Empire small business ecosystem.”

How can business owners get in touch with CalOSBA?

“That’s simple! Check out calosba.ca.gov and sign up for our monthly newsletter, where I write a column and showcase success stories from our network, along with deadlines and updates on grant and workforce support programs. We’re also on social media, so I would encourage business owners to check out all of our channels.”

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2024 Banking & Financial Industry Outlook: Where Knowledge Meets Opportunity in California’s Financial Landscape

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In an age where financial trends rapidly evolve and economic landscapes shift with increasing unpredictability, the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce stands as a beacon of knowledge and opportunity. It proudly announces its sold-out annual event, the Financial Industry Update, an exclusive gathering tailor-made for California and the Inland Empire region. This prestigious event is set to unfold on January 18, 2024, at the Ontario International Airport Authority Conference Center, promising an enriching experience for attendees.

A Gathering of Minds in the Financial Sphere

The Financial Industry Update is more than just an event; it’s a crucial nexus for professionals, businesses, and community leaders keen on gaining a deeper understanding of the financial nuances specific to California and the Inland Empire. This year’s event is particularly significant, given the rapid changes and challenges facing the financial sector in the region.

Keynote Speaker: A Treasury of Knowledge

Leading the charge is none other than California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, a figure renowned for her acumen in public finance, economic development, and responsible fiscal management. Her role as the keynote speaker underscores the event’s stature, offering invaluable insights into the financial future of California and the Inland Empire.

Featured Speakers: A Diverse Spectrum of Expertise

Joining Treasurer Ma is a lineup of distinguished speakers, each bringing unique perspectives and expertise:

  • Ivo Tjan: As the Chairman, President, and CEO of CommerceWest Bank, Tjan’s journey from founding the company to leading it through an IPO is nothing short of inspirational. His leadership and insights are eagerly anticipated.
  • Hilda Kennedy: The Founder/President of AmPac CDC and a trailblazer in local government and economic development, Kennedy’s impact on small businesses and community financing is profound.
  • Edward Ornelas, Jr.: The visionary force behind the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce, Ornelas’s innovative approaches to business and economic development have redefined the region’s business narrative.

Event Highlights: More Than Just Talks

The event promises more than just insightful presentations. It’s a unique opportunity for networking, where professionals can connect, collaborate, and engage with potential partners and influential community figures. The interactive Q&A sessions will allow attendees to delve deeper into subjects, clarifying doubts and gaining more profound knowledge.

A Confluence of Opportunity and Expertise

This event symbolizes the intersection of knowledge and opportunity in California’s dynamic financial landscape. It’s a platform where insights are shared, connections are made, and the future of the financial industry in the Inland Empire is contemplated and shaped.

As January 18 approaches, the anticipation among California’s financial community continues to build. This event is not just a meeting of minds; it’s a forge where the future of financial industry trends and strategies will be hammered out, shaping the economic future of the Inland Empire and beyond.

For more information about the event and the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce, visit www.iechamber.org

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