USC Public Policy Students Partner with Government Officials for Sunstone Economic Development Challenge

IRVINE, Calif. (May 9, 2023) – A plan to build on the recovering hospitality industry in Garden Grove has taken the top prize of the Sunstone Economic Development Challenge @ USC Price.

Student teams at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy have worked since the beginning of the year with government officials at four cities – Garden Grove, Long Beach, Irvine, and El Segundo – to come up with new strategies to leverage startups and workforce development to drive economic growth. The Price Challenge culminated in the USC CMF Summit & Sunstone Challenge Demo Day.

The team of ​Melanie Franceschini, Mariana Kramer de Luna, Heather Miau, and May Song, working with Garden Grove Economic Development Manager Greg Blodgett, took the $5,000 top prize with a detailed proposal to use existing workforce development assets with online recruitment and training, fund reallocation for marketing and a hospitality industry-wide job fair to address the need for more hospitality workers in all areas. Partnering with high school and community college hospitality programs and attracting a satellite campus of the Los Angeles Hospitality Training Academy also should be considered, the team said.

“I would be lying if I said this challenge was easy to do, especially because all of us were managing full-time jobs, a full class schedule, and our own personal lives,” Kramer de Luna said. “Despite the obstacles faced, our team was focused on providing feasible short-term and long-term goals, because we knew our work was going beyond an economic team; inevitably, our recommendations could have a lasting impact on the City of Garden Grove and members of the hospitality industry.”

This unique partnership of public policy students (mostly graduate students) and government economic development officials was sparked by the USC City/County Management Fellowship (CMF) and John Keisler, who is the CEO and managing partner at Sunstone Management, a USC Price School graduate and a member of the fellowship.

“This is exactly how the public-private educational partnership should work,” Keisler said. “Taking a fresh look at cities’ economic development efforts through the lens of the startup, workforce environment is valuable for everyone involved.”

“The Sunstone Economic Development Challenge is a win-win for our students and local governments, providing valuable experience to the next generation of public servants while helping today’s city leaders create jobs in their communities,” said Dana Goldman, dean and C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Chair of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. “We are grateful for Sunstone Management’s generous grant to make this program possible.”

Sunstone and USC have signed a five-year agreement where Sunstone also is providing mentorship, guidance, and facilitation for the Challenge. The grant, provided through Sunstone’s donor-advised fund, Sunstone Community Fund, totals $162,500.

Cities interested in participating in next year’s event should contact Jayro Sandoval, Sunstone’s economic development associate, at

Approaches Varied Depending on Community

Each of the teams came up with different approaches, designed specifically for their partner city.

The Long Beach team, working with the deputy mayor for economic development Lucius Martin, focused on the health industry there. The team of Haripriya Rachakonda, Jessy Kaur, Sachin Dubey, and Jeremy Chang focused on the need for space and capital for founders working on startup companies in the health area.

The Irvine team – Preet Patel, Phong Doozy, Yujun Chen, Clark Hsu and Shu Hong – took a broader approach, looking at technology, healthcare and education. With feedback from assistant city manager Pete Carmichael, the team offered a four-pronged approach to expand those areas.

El Segundo Mayor Pro Tem Chris Pimentel took the chance at the event to announce that the city will start an incubator soon. The student team of Anna Denecke, Daria Pugacheva, Feba George, John Belton, and Olga Corona De La Cruz want to build on that approach, with a plan to create the El Segundo Accelerator.

For more information about the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, go to For more about Sunstone Management and the Sunstone Community Fund, go to and

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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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