Each semester, student and community teams present innovative business ideas and compete for valuable business development prizes through CSULB’s Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship’s (IIE) numerous pitch fest competitions.
Linda Nguyen, a key supporter of the IIE, was among the audience of a recent pitch fest and had come to see an investment of her own in action.
Nguyen is a vice president of community relations at Wells Fargo Foundation for Southern California. Her focus is community-level giving – funding programs and initiatives that support small businesses, particularly those in low to moderate income communities. That makes the economic ecosystem between CSULB and the City of Long Beach, and the work of the IIE, prime territory for her attention.
It was at a community event for the City of Long Beach’s “Everyone In” campaign, an economic inclusion initiative, that Nguyen met IIE Director Wade Martin. His office was relatively new at the time, a university-level initiative to empower diverse entrepreneurs and small business owners on campus and in the community. When Martin described the IIE’s mission, Nguyen knew she wanted to be involved.
“For ‘Everyone In,’ we were looking at people who had been historically disenfranchised or not included,” Nguyen said. “A major focus of the local Wells Fargo Foundation is to find business owners of color, and those on a low to moderate income track for the area, who would most benefit from funding. It turned out that our goals aligned with Wade’s and the IIE.”
The IIE’s entrepreneurial workshops, programs, and competitions are particularly impactful for underserved students and community members who are more likely to lack hands-on experience or business connections.
Shortly after that first meeting, the local Wells Fargo Foundation became one of the IIE’s primary donors, and its support became a pillar for the office’s programming.
Watching student teams pitch their business ideas, Nguyen could see the impact the Foundation’s investment has first-hand. Finalists benefit from funding, comprehensive business support through local partners, and ongoing mentorship from the IIE, giving them a fast-tracked entry point into the Long Beach economy.
Nguyen explains that the Foundation’s success is measured by the number of businesses their investments help sustain, the amount of revenue those businesses generate, and the access to capital they provide. Supporting the IIE gives the Foundation a unique opportunity to pursue their philanthropic goals in an energetic microcosm of the region.
In addition to small businesses, the Wells Fargo Foundation supports individual financial health and affordable housing initiatives, engaging low to middle income communities through the leadership of local marketing executives, employee volunteerism, and grant dollars.
As the relationship between the Wells Fargo Foundation and the IIE continues, so does the infusion of talented CSULB alumni into those communities, where the investments of partners like Nguyen and her team help ensure entrepreneurs and small business owners of all backgrounds can benefit from and contribute to the Long Beach business ecosystem.