It’s an understatement to say 2021 created hurdles for businesses and entrepreneurs.
While the past year was a challenge for the Institute of Innovation & Economic Development (iiED) at California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB), the organization went virtual to stay on target.
From TechStars Startup Weekend to Startup Challenge to Startup Investment & Community Capital (SICC) Expo to the monthly Startup Monterey Bay Connect meeting, iiED continued to provide events, mentorship, and other resources to virtually support entrepreneurs and businesses, while promoting inclusivity, diversity, ecology, and community throughout the region.
iiED Executive Director and CSUMB faculty Brad Barbeau is proud of iiED’s work in 2021 and feels confident about the year ahead.
“With all the disruptions, it’s created some very interesting opportunities and gotten people interested in having their own business rather than working for another business,” said Barbeau. “Every kind of change like that creates new opportunities. It disrupts and messes up how we do things, but it creates opportunities for new ways to do things. And that’s always an opportunity for entrepreneurship.”
Each year iiED holds three major events, Startup Weekend, Startup Challenge, and the SICC Expo.
“The Startup Weekend is about getting ideas started; the Startup Challenge is about getting the business ready to launch. And in the fall, we run the Startup Investment and Community Capital Expo. And that is about getting businesses funded,” said Barbeau.
Going Virtual in 2021
Last year began with Techstars Startup Weekend in February 2021.
The event hosted 150 participants who pitched business ideas and formed teams to develop each business model. Team members developed their business models by working with mentors, conducting community research, and pitching the developed idea at the end of the weekend. ZenSpace won first place and the Crowd Favorite Award, Seeds4STEM came in second place, and Lilliput in third place.
Barbeau was impressed by the results. “The teams worked together, totally online, and came up with, in total, 13 new businesses that were ideated during Startup Weekend, and several of them are still being pursued now,” he said.
In the Spring, iiED successfully ran the first-ever 100% virtual Startup Challenge, beginning with the Startup Challenge Qualifying Round. Applicants submitted a 5-minute pitch video reviewed by a panel of judges, who selected finalists. The finalists attended workshops, worked with mentors, and used other resources provided by the organization to prepare to compete in the Final Round competition on May 7, 2021.
While many promising companies placed in the competition, the 2021 Startup Challenge’s first-place winners were AGXactly, Seeds4STEM, Social Monterey, and Ironwood Makerspace.
In September, iiED held the annual SICC Expo, 16 companies pitched to investors for funding. This year, iiED used a new platform to host the event online, featuring a more realistic networking experience. The event also featured a diverse selection of panels.
“We had quite a few panels, “said Barbeau. “We had a panel on LatinX Entrepreneurship. We had a panel on Women In Venture Finance and other panels discussing sources of financing for scalable ventures and small businesses.”
In addition to the three main events, iiED ran the well-attended monthly Startup Monterey Bay Connect meeting online, with 70-100 attendees at each session. Topics ranged from drone, automation, and robotics technology (DART) to restaurant entrepreneurship.
What’s up next for 2022?
iiED will begin its annual cycle of entrepreneurship with Techstars Startup Weekend Monterey Bay. Barbeau is optimistic that the event will be in person on January 28-30, 2022, at the CSUMB Business and Information Technology building. Those interested can register on the event’s website.
“Anybody who has an idea that they want to pitch will have an opportunity to pitch their idea and form a team around that idea,” said Barbeau. “Typically, there are between 12 and 15 ideas that get selected for teams to work on through the weekend.”
Barbeau encourages anyone interested to jump in. “For some people, Startup Weekend can seem scary because it’s for people who have an idea, and they’re not sure whether it’s a good idea. But Startup Weekend is the place to have people jump in with you and help you develop your idea into one that could be started.”
Barbeau hopes to hold the 2022 Startup Challenge in person as well, and urges budding entrepreneurs to participate.
Those interested in participating in Startup Challenge can apply online to participate in one of four divisions: Venture, Social Venture, Mainstreet, and Student. Businesses intended to scale and provide venture-investor level returns compete in the Venture division. Those with a significant social mission compete in the Social Venture division. Small businesses and sole proprietorships compete in the Main Street Division, and students from middle to graduate school compete in the Student division.
“The purpose of the Startup Monterey Bay Connect monthly meeting is to get entrepreneurs together, to hear about what’s going on in the region, and to get ideas from other entrepreneurs,” said Barbeau. “In January, we’re going to do an outlook session. We’ve got a group of people coming from different sectors to talk about what hospitality, ag, education, and technology will look like in this region over the next year and what kinds of opportunities there will be out there.”
Barbeau encourages budding entrepreneurs to take advantage of iiED’s events, even if they are a little nervous.
“The hardest part of entrepreneurship is jumping in and being willing to get out on the skinny branches. Jump in there. We have mentors and coaches to work with you to help develop your ideas and help you find the information you need. Our goal is not just to hold events, but to really help entrepreneurs get started.”