For local entrepreneurs, the road to scoring valuable grant funding started with a five-week education series focused on all aspects of developing and starting a business. Then it was time to develop and present ideas at  Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s own “Shark Tank”-style business pitch competition. In the end, seven entrepreneurs emerged from the competition with a share of $20,000, funded by Farmer’s and Merchant Bank, to fuel their small business ideas.

Komal Gada, winner of the largest prize

In its fifth year, the Pitchfest Incubator Awards are given to Downtown business owners who share their unique plans to a judging panel of Long Beach’s economic and community leaders.

“DLBA continues to create opportunities for local entrepreneurs to grow their innovative ideas into successful businesses that we believe will enhance our Downtown economy, especially as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Austin Metoyer, Economic Development & Policy Manager, DLBA. “The free education series and annual Pitchfest is one of several programs designed to invest in a diverse group of growing businesses in Downtown including providing more opportunities for women and entrepreneurs of color.”

To qualify for Pitchfest, business owners had to first complete DLBA’s five-week Entrepreneur & Small Business Education Series, a program in partnership with Long Beach State University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Farmers & Merchants Bank.  On its own, the free education series is a significant and valuable resource opportunity for a small business.

Vanessa Hernandez of Mobile Wine Bar

In addition to cash grants, Pitchfest Incubator Award 2022 winners also receive one-on-one legal and business strategy support from Stone Law & Consulting. The winners included the following entrepreneurs:

  • Andrew Boven & Shadia Auguste ($3,000) to support the development of Cheri’s Caribbean Kitchen, a planned restaurant to bring Caribbean taste and culture to Downtown;

    Cheri’s Caribbean Kitchen

  • Mary Warner ($2,000) for the start-up Kelpie to create a swimsuit bottom that would be comfortable for trans children to wear;
  • Daniel Sherman ($2000), a financial advisor and coach, for MindWallet, his investment advisory business that provides “peace of mind for your wallet” and specializes in high yield bonds;
  • Komal Gada, a Ph.D. candidate ($6,500) to improve the efficiency and longevity of a wind turbine blade through a company called PAVANAS, which has created a vortex generator add-on tape that is patent pending;
  • Marta Wrobel & Christian Gruenert ($2,500) for plus3mm, a creative design studio that is launching operations in the United States and Germany;
  •  Vanessa Hernandez ($2,000) for her Mobile Wine Bar SoCal business concept; a pop-up mobile wine bar experience for any private event; and
  • Tonya Spurling ($2,000), an entrepreneur who developed SistaGals Baked Goods—her concept involves selling authentic Southern desserts “made from scratch with love and butter.”

    SistaGals Baked Goods

Komal Gada, who won the largest prize, will use the funding to continue his nature-inspired aerodynamically efficient work on wind turbine technology. Pursuing his doctorate in a joint program at CSULB and Claremont Graduate University, he believes solutions to fight global warming can be found in nature and said PAVANAS will one day help reduce CO2 emissions.

“I have been studying the aerodynamic characteristics of birds, drag reducing properties of shark skin, and the streamline body of dolphins for nearly a decade,” he said. “Putting together years of research and innovative thinking, I, along with my mentor, Dr. Hamid Rahai at CSU Long Beach, have developed a novel design which can be used on any slender body to improve its aerodynamic characteristics.”

According to Wade Martin, Director of the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at California State University, the Entrepreneurship Education Series in partnership with the DLBA is one of the first programs that the Institute launched over five years ago.

“Every year we are amazed by the energy and creativity of the participants as demonstrated in the concluding pitch competition.  The businesses that pitched this year are evident of the diversity of ideas and entrepreneurs in downtown Long Beach,” said Martin.  “We are excited about the partnership with DLBA and F&M Bank that makes this education series special and we look forward to expanding the impact of the program in the years ahead.”

Wishing the best for Gada and all of the ingenious Pitchfest awardees is legacy sponsor Farmers & Merchant Bank, which has committed $90,000 for award grants over three years (until 2023).

“I was honored to, once again, serve as a judge for DLBA’s Entrepreneur & Small Business Education Series Pitchfest competition. These new business ideas for the Downtown community are exciting,” said Kourosh Davatolhagh, Vice President and Relationship Manager at Farmers & Merchants Bank. “Congratulations to the Incubator Award winners and a job well done to all of the entrepreneurs who participated.”