How CSULB's Marketing Business Center is supporting local small businesses

Published July 21, 2023

Kevyn Lee fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His possessions were gone and his family was scattered throughout the South. 

He drove across the country to Southern California, where he arrived at a Red Cross, which gave him food, shelter and $1,000. He used the money to buy clothes for a job interview. He secured a job and years later became a vice president of U.S. Foods, a La Mirada food service distributor.  

Although he found success in California, he missed his New Orleans culture.  

“I was walking through Venice Beach hot, frustrated and depressed. All I wanted was a sno-ball and nobody had them. I decided I was going to bring New Orleans to California. I kept working my job and rose to vice president of U.S. Foods, but in 2020 when COVID-19 happened, I decided to step out on faith and start my own company.”  

And from that longing, Fluffy’s Sno-Balls was born, a gourmet shaved ice shop in Long Beach. But, as the owner of a business created in the middle of the pandemic, Lee needed help. 

The mission of Cal State Long Beach's Marketing Business Center (MBC) is to help small businesses like Lee’s by providing free marketing services from College of Business students.  

 “I knew that I couldn’t just rely on my lived experience to push this company forward,” Lee said. “After working with different cohorts, my business came across CSULB’s desk, and they reached out to me about the MBC. Once I learned they could help me with marketing and social media, and it also gave me a chance to mentor students. I hopped on the opportunity.” 

Thanks to the generous support of an anonymous Northern California-based foundation, the MBC can continue elevating the community and advancing the public good – priorities of CSULB’s No Barriers comprehensive fundraising campaign – while giving students the critical training to prepare them for the workforce. 

"This program gives students hands-on experience that is necessary for their careers, it also pushes forward the community by providing services that would otherwise be costly," said Christine Baratta, owner of Baratta Enterprises, an auto registration agency in Long Beach. "Local businesses get the chance to receive new skills from these marketing students, that benefits their company and also build relationships with prospective employees.”  

For students like Tina Nguyen, the center’s program provided a great opportunity to gain experience working directly with a business.  

“I was in charge of the website design. We created a website that reflected the brand and brought awareness to the company,” said the third-year marketing major. “Working hands-on with a small business gave me more experience in writing scripts, filming content, and learning how to take initiative.” 

Nguyen, joined by fellow students Justin Schwarz, Leila Vaught, and Aniyiah Gantt, spent a semester working on digital marketing strategies, as well as delving into ways Lee could increase engagement online. 

“We saw the areas where we could improve the website and the social media accounts, so we set small goals. To achieve the goals and see things come to fruition is rewarding, especially creating a website that he is proud of and will be using going forward. He would tell us how customers would come in and say they heard about the business from our website or a social media page. That felt great,” said Nguyen.  

The MBC helps businesses that may not be able to hire a full staff while simultaneously giving students a chance to gain internship experience. 

“Having this opportunity already put into a class, made it easier to manage time as opposed to having to find an internship outside of school on your own time. And this class counts as full unit. This works well with students,” Nguyen said.  

And for small-business owners like Baratta, the program is priceless. 

“I will continue to work with them as long as I can,” she said.  

@fluffyssnoballs 🦕🍬 Can you guess what flavor this is? 🤔👀 Hint: It tastes like a rainbow! 🌈👅 #mysteryflavor #neworleansfood #shavedice #snoballs #blackownedbusiness #community ♬ dancin - 🤍🎧
@fluffyssnoballs It isn't easy making snoballs, but they're still more delicious than we make them seem 🤣 Watch the marketing team attempt to make their own snoballs 🍧😂 Will they impress the boss? Stay tuned to find out! #snoballs #shavedice #neworleansfood #longbeach #blackownedbusiness #community ♬ Glamour - Lux-Inspira