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.”
Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce to Lead California Delegation at GITEX GLOBAL 2023 in Dubai
Fostering Technological Synergy: Bridging the Tech Gap with Global Partners
Demonstrating the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce’s (IERCC) commitment to global tech collaboration and innovation, the organization will lead a California delegation to the world-renowned GITEX GLOBAL event in Dubai from October 16-20, 2023. Though the original invitation extended to IERCC’s President & CEO, Mr. Edward Ornelas, Jr., he will not be in attendance. Instead, the California delegation will be spearheaded by the Chamber’s newly-appointed CTO, Mr. Gabriel Rangel.
Organized by the Dubai World Trade Centre, GITEX GLOBAL 2023 promises to be grander than ever. The event is set to host over 6,000 exhibiting companies and startups, drawing more than 170,000 tech and business executives from over 170 countries. The mega-event will sprawl across 41 vast halls and, for the first time ever, will be held at two prominent venues – the iconic Dubai World Trade Centre and the new Dubai Harbour for Expand North Star, making it the host for the world’s largest startup event.
Mr. Edward Ornelas, Jr. commented, “While I regret not attending GITEX personally, I am proud to have Mr. Rangel at the helm of this effort. I’m confident that our delegation will foster new collaborations and present the Golden State as a tech powerhouse.”
This year’s conference adopts the compelling theme of “The Year to Imagine AI in Everything”. Attendees are poised to witness the grandest showcase of AI tech giants and industry frontrunners. Additionally, it promises to kindle profound dialogues and debates concerning the socio-economic implications of burgeoning AI technology.
“Leading the California delegation at GITEX offers us an unmatched platform to nurture and solidify relationships with global tech partners,” said Mr. Gabriel Rangel, CTO of IERCC. “As the technology landscape continues to evolve, it’s critical for us to be a part of these international collaborations. I’m honored to spearhead this mission on behalf of the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce.”
An integral part of the California delegation, Mr. Ram Thanapandian, Principal Technology Consultant to the State of California and Chair of CA State Treasurer Fiona Ma’s Technical Advisory Commission, will be present, providing invaluable insights and representing the State of California Treasurer’s Office.
IERCC’s leadership in organizing this delegation underscores the crucial role that California plays in the global tech ecosystem and mirrors Dubai’s ambitious vision as encapsulated in the Dubai Economic Agenda (D33). This strategy aims to substantially expand Dubai’s economic landscape in the upcoming decade, securing its stature among the world’s leading global cities.
Trixie LohMirmand, Executive Vice President of the Dubai World Trade Centre and CEO of KAOUN International, remarked on the invaluable contributions the California delegation will bring to the event. She looks forward to an event marked by knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and pioneering discussions.
For additional information on GITEX GLOBAL 2023, please refer to: GITEX 2023 Preview.
Economist Christopher Thornberg, State Treasurer Fiona Ma Headline New Forecast Conference
Coming October 5th
Economic Horizon 2024: What Lies Ahead?
The Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce, in collaboration with Beacon Economics and the County of San Bernardino, is thrilled to announce that the anticipated economic forecast conference, Economic Horizon 2024: What Lies Ahead, Inland Empire? will be held October 5th from 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM at the El Prado Golf Courses in the vibrant city of Chino, California.
Esteemed economist, Dr. Christopher Thornberg will present complete outlooks for the U.S., California, and Inland Empire economies. “The Inland Empire stands at the crossroads of remarkable economic opportunities and challenges,” said Thornberg. “I’m excited to unpack the trends and shifts that will define the region’s economic landscape in the next year, and beyond.”
Known for his razor-sharp observations, and fun, energized delivery, Thornberg’s presentation will include pointed discussions about inflation, the Fed’s next move, housing markets, strengths and instabilities in the economy, and what current trends mean for the nation, state, and local region.
The conference will also be graced by the insights of California State Treasurer Fiona Ma as keynote speaker. In her words, “The strength of California’s economy is deeply interwoven with the growth trajectories of its regions. The Inland Empire, with its dynamism and resilience, is a testament to this synergy. I am honored to join ‘Economic Horizon 2024’ and share a vision where policies, partnerships, and potentials converge to elevate the Inland Empire to unprecedented economic heights.”
“This conference is a testament to the collaborative spirit of the Inland Empire and our commitment to fostering a robust, resilient economy,” said Edward Ornelas, Jr., President of the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Our partnership with Beacon Economics and the County of San Bernardino aims to offer a platform for profound economic discussion, forecasting, and strategic future planning.”
Attendees can anticipate not only expert insights into the economy but also networking opportunities and a chance to connect with key business, government, and nonprofit leaders from across the region.
Full event details are available at: economy.iechamber.org
Webb Investments acquires Silver Creek Industries, an industry leader in modular construction for schools
Webb Investments today announced the launch of a new company, Silver Creek Modular, after acquiring the assets of Silver Creek Industries, a highly respected modular construction company known for bringing innovative, sustainable and cost-effective solutions to the education industry.
Silver Creek Industries’ existing business, including its employees and its Perris, Calif., manufacturing facility, will remain with the new company, with Webb providing the investment capital, resources and expertise to enhance Silver Creek’s presence in the modular construction marketplace.
The acquisition closed in June of 2023, following Silver Creek Industries’ Chapter 11 filing in the Central Bankruptcy Court of California.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring Silver Creek into our family business, and look forward to building on our shared commitment to improving educational opportunities within communities across our region,” said Kiana Webb, CEO of Webb Family Enterprises. “This acquisition aligns with our strategy to invest in established firms that can help us drive community revitalization and inclusive growth, while improving quality of life and increasing economic output.”
Silver Creek Industries was founded in 2004 and has completed more than 1,000 projects in the education, commercial, medical, military, government and multi-family housing markets. More recently, the company’s focus has been on providing high-quality, sustainable modular buildings for schools and educational institutions. Silver Creek Industries is well known for delivering projects on time and on budget, with minimal disruption to school and the community.
Webb Investments is a privately held, family-owned company focusing on creating a community development ecosystem that drives inclusive, organic growth and transforms the areas they serve.
For more information on Webb Investments, please visit webbinvestments.com.
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