Sunstone Innovation Challenge Startup Winners Announced at CSULB

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 24, 2023) – The Sunstone Innovation Challenge announced this year’s winners after final pitches at California State University, Long Beach on Thursday, April 20. Student teams presented business plans that addressed core concepts of desirability, visibility, and feasibility to a panel of judges in the annual campus-wide competition. Event sponsor and private capital firm Sunstone Management provided $25,000 of the prize money through its donor-advised fund, Sunstone Community Fund.

The 2023 winning startup was reading social platform BookBound. The first place winner received seed capital and in-kind space, marketing, legal and accounting services totaling up to $35,000. BookBound’s five-member team, led by Elias Babaalian-Morales, worked for months developing a business plan under the aegis of the CSULB Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE). It was one of four finalists to present their pitch in Track One of the Innovation Challenge.

Second place winner MyEMSpath took home $10,000, and honorable mentions Routine and Penguin Pal received $5,000 each.

CSULB colleges of Business, Engineering, and the Arts also are part of the “Shark Tank” style Challenge. At least one member of each team had to be a CSULB student or recent graduate. This is the third year Sunstone has sponsored the competition, which began over a decade ago.

A second track of teams also competed. Hooked, an online education platform to offer resources and a network to help women develop the skills needed to advance their careers, took home the first place prize of $1,500. Mindaway, a travel and experience booking platform, was second with $1,000, and Immersion Spa and Social Creatures were honorable mentions, winning $500 each.

“Sunstone is proud to partner with CSULB to support young entrepreneurs,” said John Keisler, Sunstone Management CEO. “Supporting university-based entrepreneurship programs through charitable donor-advised funds like the Sunstone Community Fund is a vital component of Sunstone Management’s vision to enrich the community with a more diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Track One teams presented to judges Joe Platnick, Alan Pullman, and Andrea White-Kjoss. Track Two judges were Vivian Shimoyama, Lisa Mae Brunson, and Rod Rigole. In-kind services were provided by Keesal, Young & Logan; Fulwider Patton LLP; Commune Communication; BlankSpaces; and Windes.

“The Sunstone Innovation Challenge is the culmination of at least one year of commitment to creating a startup,” said Wade Martin, CSULB IIE director. “In their first semester, the students complete an ideation and design thinking course which is then followed in the second semester writing a business plan. These students do this while going to school full time and many work outside the university. Their commitment to starting a small business is exemplified in the finalists who pitched their startups.

“The teams have worked hard, and they are committed to the concept of entrepreneurship. Now we’ll see what they take away from this and what happens next.”

For more about the CSULB IIE, go to For more about Sunstone Management, go to

© Sunstone Management Inc.


About Sunstone Management

Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm located in Southern California that invests in diverse early-stage technology entrepreneurs who seek to build great companies. We believe in the aspirational power of the American economy to attract and inspire investors and entrepreneurs from throughout the world. We deliver new and exciting opportunities for economic growth through the creation of innovative public-private partnerships, and our unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row.

About Sunstone Community Fund

The Sunstone Community Fund is a Donor Advised Fund managed by the National Philanthropic Trust. It is an important component of Sunstone Management’s vision to advance public-benefit programs that support the development of inclusive and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems. The SCF supports a network of universities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that develop and implement university-based entrepreneurship programs, early-stage tech accelerators, and advance local economic development through inclusive entrepreneurship and innovation.

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