Support For Rising Entrepreneurs On University Campuses Central To Sunstone Way 

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Welcome back to The Sunstone Way. 

We’re all recovering from the end-of-the-school-year rush, I know. Institutions from kindergartens to universities love to celebrate the completion of another year with all sorts of activities – who came up with kindergarten graduation anyway? 

Here at Sunstone, year’s end means pitch contests at universities. We are very involved with California universities, particularly in our hometowns. 

Fight On 

If you’ve been around me for any length of time, you know that I received my MBA at USC – the University of Southern California. I got my grounding in public policy there and was pleased to help launch the Sunstone Economic Development Challenge @ USC Price. 

The challenge gives graduate students hands-on experience in economic development planning with professionals at cities around the Southland. It prepares the next generation of municipal leaders while providing fresh eyes to those looking for economic development now. 

And Sunstone is helping make that happen, because we believe in that public-private partnership. 

Go Beach 

Sunstone got its start in Long Beach, when founder John Shen added it to his portfolio that includes American Lending Center. So it was no surprise when he and Sunstone gravitated to the Cal State Long Beach Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. 

The concept of teaching young entrepreneurs how to start their own businesses, then helping them succeed is more than a good economic development strategy. It is near and dear to our hearts, perpetuating the process of innovation and the pursuit of the American Dream. 

Sunstone quickly became a sponsor of the IIE’s spring pitch contest. Taking the partnership a step further, John brought IIE director Wade Martin and me (as Economic Development Director for the city of Long Beach) together to create the Long Beach Accelerator. 

But in keeping with the support of university-level entrepreneurs, we also launched the systemwide CSU Startup Competition, where all 23 campuses in the California State University system participate. We are tapping into the best and brightest of a 550,000-member student body! 

Zot! Zot! 

The most recent pitch event we were involved in was the UCI Stella Zhang New Venture Competition. As any good Sunstone knows Stella is a partner in Sunstone Management as well as the COO of American Lending Center. She’s also a graduate of the University of California, Irvine – she got her MBA there. 

And of course our headquarters are now in Irvine at the Airport Tower. We do our best to support our adopted hometown. 

There’s plenty more to being involved in these events than providing the prize money ($100,000 was given out at the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition finals). Our team spends a lot of time at many of these events. 

For example, our Chief Investment Officer Mike Stone was a coach for one of the finalist teams at the UCI competition. He put in hours helping his students refine their product and prepare their pitch. 

I’m not sure whether that team knew just how lucky they were. Mike is a past master at this stuff, and is a sought-after judge for pitch competitions. He was one of the five finalist judges at the CSU Startup Challenge. 

Others on our team, particularly our Economic Development crew, get very involved too. Ryan Phong helped launch the Economic Development event at USC and still helps organize it. Jayro Sandoval is on the ground floor of planning for the CSU Startup Launch, and administers our Sunstone Community Fund – where the prize money comes from – as well. 

Making A Difference 

I am amazed at the concepts these student entrepreneurs develop. This year, the winner of Stella’s competition at UCI has developed an AI-enhanced system that watches over truck drives and warns them when they are drowsy or distracted. At the CSU Startup Competition, the winner has created a half-dollar-sized sensor that can be attached to a helmet (football, bicycle, etc.) and monitor for concussion-level collisions. 

These ideas and many more are making are communities better. And it’s happening on the campuses of our own universities.  

That’s The Sunstone Way. 

As always, be a Sunstone! 

John Keisler 

CEO & Managing Partner 

Sunstone Management, Inc. 

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©Sunstone Management, Inc. 2024 

More About Sunstone Management 
Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm headquartered in Southern California. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the latest Pitchbook rankings, Sunstone Management was #15 in the third quarter of 2023 nationally, and #18 in the fourth quarter.1 

  1. Rankings from Pitchbook Venture Monitor, Q3 and Q4. 

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