Turning Business Ideas into Reality

One afternoon in late November, business students participated in Pitch Day, the culmination of a month-long series of workshops entitled Start-It-Up to take classroom concepts and turn them into businesses with the potential for real investment and growth.

Start-it-Up was created by the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies and the Up Club student organization of Cal State East Bay. The vision for Start-it-Up came from Economics Professor Christian Roessler and Management Professor Izzet Darendeli, directors of the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies.

“When I became interim director of the Smith Center, my view was that this mission should be primarily achieved not by theoretical advocacy, but by letting students immerse themselves in the market economy and see how they can create value for society through markets,” said Roessler. “Supporting student entrepreneurship fits naturally with the Smith Center for that reason.”

Professor Izzet Darendeli said, “We started back in 2018, thanks to generous support by the Smith family. We have been doing smaller-scale events closely connected to our MBA programs. We are trying to create an ecosystem in the College of Business and Economics [CBE], and it takes a village. It takes time, but I’m really excited that we are kick-starting it.”

Coming up with a thought-out business plan is a process that can usually take months or years, but students were able to do it in only a few weeks with supervision from faculty. One of the first steps in creating a business plan is identifying a need that isn’t being met and coming up with a product or service. After that, it’s a matter of addressing different areas such as the current market, target audience, and labor or material costs. These interactive workshops allowed teams to look at their idea from every possible angle, filling in the gaps and getting additional expert advice from faculty and mentors.

With a fairly open-ended prompt, some students came up with completely fresh ideas. For other students, this was an opportunity to build on a business model that they had already created in class, giving them a chance to gain additional exposure and further improve on their ideas.

MBA student Ubong Usen created Iniso, a soccer tournament held in his hometown in Nigeria that has expanded into an arts and education program for youth with the hopes of being recognized as a non-profit here in the U.S.. “The most challenging part was finding the partners and guidance on scaling Iniso to take it from where we currently are to becoming a state-recognized organization,” said group member and MBA student Jimmy Shi.

Similar to Shark Tank, each group presented and answered questions in front of a panel of judges consisting of alumni and community leaders that were CEOs, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs. Instead of a “handshake deal” and direct investment from the judges themselves, the teams that placed won prizes donated by CBE.

Each team had amazing ideas, but only one stood out from the rest to win first place. That team was Bonty. Bonty is “an electric facial cleansing brush designed to reach target areas that traditional brushes cannot,” said founder Elizabeth Reyes. “It is sustainable, effective, and gentle for all skin types.”

“My experience with Start-it-Up has been life-changing,” Reyes continued. “I’ve gotten the chance to view some individuals as mentors and truly witness their strong suits…I got to make great connections and work with admiring individuals, such as my teammate, Gabriella Johnson! Thank you Start-it-Up and the Smith Center for giving CSUEB students such a great opportunity!”

“This inaugural event was a huge success and aligns perfectly with the missions of the College and of the Smith Center,” said CBE Dean George Low. “We look forward to future Pitch Days and the impact that this program will have on building an entrepreneurship ecosystem for Cal State East Bay students.”