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The 2020 Sunstone Innovation Challenge Sparks Entrepreneurial Spirit

Published May 13, 2020

Social distancing and virtual collaboration were just another business hurdle for the student groups competing in CSULB’s 10th annual Innovation Challenge.  

The final round of the competition streamed live on Facebook, and each of the four finalists presented their business plans to a five-by-five grid of judges, organizers, and campus leaders. Despite the technical twist, the event went off without a hitch, and each team presented compelling plans to solve problems from food insecurity to clothing industry waste.  

The Innovation Challenge is organized by CSULB’s Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE) and represents a collaboration between the Colleges of Business, Engineering, and the Arts. This year’s Challenge was the first with partner and sponsor Sunstone Management, a local investment company that supports Long Beach’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and sustainable businesses in the region.  

According to IIE Director Wade Martin, Sunstone’s investment has “provided an opportunity to increase the prize package and expand the participation across the entire university. Students that compete in the Sunstone Innovation Challenge at CSULB gain an incredible experience that prepares them to succeed whatever path they take following graduation.” 

In this final round of pitches, each team had 6 minutes to present their business plans, and then another 15 to answer questions from the judges – a panel of entrepreneurs and start-up experts in the Long Beach area. The Zoom conference moved fluidly between presenters and judges, and each team answered questions about the viability of their business proposals as though in a live setting.  

After a break for deliberation, John Shen, Sunstone’s founding partner, took the virtual stage to congratulate the field of over 40 competitors and announce the winners. In a prerecorded video, Shen shook gloved hands with Wade Martin, Director for the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and presented a prize check of $25,000.  

First place was awarded to PeriDeals, an app that connects users with markdown deals on perishable food at local markets. PeriDeals founder and community health senior Josh Haber accepted on behalf of the team. The runner up was White Rabbit, a startup that uses innovative production processes to increase clothing and plastics recycling and minimize waste. In addition to seed funding, Sunstone will provide PeriDeals workspace, marketing, legal and accounting services worth up to $35,000. White Rabbit will also receive $10,000 in funding.  

True to its name, the 2020 Sunstone Innovation Challenge demonstrated the resilience of CSULB’s indomitable student entrepreneurs and the value of mutually beneficial public-private partnerships for the public good.  

“The support for non-curricular activities is challenging for universities in today’s funding climate,” Martin noted. “We are always looking for committed mentors and additional funding to support the program and the teams competing.” 

“With the sponsorship and 10th anniversary, it feels a little different tonight,” Shen remarked in his closing statement. “Sunstone is proud to be part of this successful competition, hopefully for many years to come.”