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Developing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

See how CSU programs bring students’ business ideas from conception to market.


While each of the 23 universities in the California State University system offers a degree in business, they also offer activities and programs outside the classroom that enable students from all disciplines to launch their idea or company before they even cross the commencement stage.

The CSU is strengthening its systemwide network of support for budding businesspeople, enabling faculty and staff to share best practices for supporting students and creating an entrepreneurial ecosystemthe sharing of talent, information and resourcesthat blankets the state.

Learn about this work and how it benefits California's business economy.

Members of one of the first-prize winning teams, Solubrin, pose with Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition coordinators. Members of one of the first-prize winning teams, Solubrin, pose with Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition coordinators.


For the first time in its history, the CSU invited students from across the state to compete in a systemwide business pitch competition in spring 2023, gathering nearly 100 of its top student innovators and entrepreneurs and connecting them with funds to launch or grow their fledgling companies.

Thirty-six student teams from 18 universities competed in the inaugural Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition, hosted by San José State, to pitch ideas that address some of today's major issues, like food scarcity, fentanyl misuse and hiring challenges.

Many of the business ideas were born out of various startup incubator programs on CSU campuses which provide valuable mentoring, networking and professional development opportunities to help students prepare for pitches and presentations to investors.

The Startup Launch Competition was funded in large part by Sunstone Management, a diversified private capital firm with a long history of supporting entrepreneurial activity at the CSU.

“The founders of Sunstone Management believe the CSU system, with its 23 great universities and nearly 460,000 creative and talented students, will be responsible for creating several new technology startups that will shape the future of California's economy,” says Sunstone CEO John Keisler.

Fifteen student teams took home a total of $200,000 in prize money provided by Sunstone, who announced at the awards ceremony a five-year, $1 million commitment to the university to support the competition and continue promoting the pursuit of business innovation.

“Being able to tap into and support the brain power and energy of students and professors in the CSU system is both our honor and duty,” Keisler says.

Ganesh Raman, associate vice chancellor of research at the CSU Chancellor's Office, says the annual competition also brings students and campuses together to share ideas, adding that this collaboration is crucial to strengthening the university's entrepreneurship network and promoting cross pollination.

See what three first-place winners of the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition say about the support they received from the university.

Students from the CSU-7 Community Grant Builder (CBG) pilot program take part in marketing training. Students from the CSU-7 Community Grant Builder (CBG) pilot program take part in marketing training.


A systemwide pitch competition is only the first step to connecting all 23 universities in an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Faculty at Cal State Long Beach's Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship​ are developing a systemwide network of support programs, thanks to a CSU-7 Community Grant Builder (CBG) from the Sunstone Community Fund. Seven CSU campuses, including CSULB, are participating in the pilot program: Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona and San José.

The goals of the CBG are to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem on each campus by building awareness and engagement for programs and activities around entrepreneurship and map for each campus that will include information on each of the programs, resources for entrepreneurs, opportunities to collaborate and much more.

Ingrid Martin, a professor of marketing at CSULB says they hope to eventually create a roadmap to extend the collaboration model to all 23 universities. Faculty are currently seeking funding for a platform that will be the hub for information, resources and collaboration.

“The idea is that one day, all this information will be available in one place so that a CSU entrepreneur—or even members of the public—can immediately see what startup programs and activities are available, not just at their own campus but across the state,” Martin says. “This will also increase collaboration so that if a student at one campus has a business idea but doesn’t possess the technological skills they need to bring it to fruition, we can connect them to a student at program at another campus who does.”

The funding also enabled CBG partner campuses to hire and train student assistants to develop messaging, track performance and help promote the programs at the participating campuses.

As a trial, five of the seven CSUs helped raise awareness of and promote the February 2023 California Celebrates Entrepreneurship (SCCE) event to their campus communities. Martin says the coordinated efforts were successful in increasing student participation and will be used as a model for future events.

"This collaboration laid the groundwork for the CBG to leverage the size of the CSU to provide its entrepreneurs with unparalleled access to resources and opportunities at a scale unheard of anywhere else in the country," says David Ochi, executive director for the CSU Dominguez Hills Innovation Incubator​. "As we expand our efforts, the message to students and the community will become undeniably clear: CSU is the best place to become an entrepreneur."

ParkStash Founder and CEO Sameer Saran, a San José State alumnus, speaks at The SpartUp Incubator grand opening. ParkStash Founder and CEO Sameer Saran, a San José State alumnus, speaks at The SpartUp Incubator grand opening.


Located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, San José State attracts thousands of entrepreneurial-minded students looking to connect with innovation and technology leaders and build successful companies.

The SpartUp Incubator, launched by the university in fall 2022, is a focal point for SJSU entrepreneurial activity that leverages campus and community resources to create a unique experiential environment for students to gain real-world knowledge and acts as an engine for economic growth.

Students with innovative ideas, affectionately called Spartaneurs, are guided along a clear entrepreneurial journey beginning in the fall and culminating in the spring with the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition. Students master four specific milestones on their journey: ideation, prototyping, planning and fundraising.

Because the incubator is housed in SJSU's Office of Innovation, rather than in any one college, students from all disciplines are encouraged to participate in SpartUp activities, bringing with them their myriad strengths and experiences and diversifying the pool of ideas. SpartUp also partners with organizations across the university, including the Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship, The Ideas Lab and the Society of Women Engineers.

SpartUp director Michael “Mash” Ashley says 42% of SJSU's students are first-generation and 83% are students of color and, because of their lived experiences, many Spartaneurs come to them with a passion for social enterprises and changing their communities, but they often lack the support needed to bring their ideas to market.

"Typically when someone has a business idea, they go to a financial advisor and that advisor tells them to go raise money, to reach out to their network of friends and family and crowdsource the funds they need to start their business or launch their idea, but many of our students don't have that network," Ashley says. "We approach our students' ideas without any assumptions."

"Our goal is to put first-generation founders on a level playing field in the Valley," says Abby Queale, director of innovation at SJSU. "We want to leverage SJSU's stellar reputation as a workforce pipeline to become a pipeline of the next generation of entrepreneurs."

New this summer, SJSU hand-picked six of their top SpartUp student teams who have created legitimate businesses to participate in a three-week intensive program as a capstone. The program invites these Spartaneurs to live on campus with startup funders, some of whom are from Venture Partners, an educational organization with a mission to diversify the decision makers in venture capital and entrepreneurship.

"We call it 'accelerated serendipity'taking the founders and funders and making them live together and answer these questions of how to be successful together," Ashley says. "And we're helping to get more diversity into the funding ecosystem, which is critical to supporting more diversity in the founder ecosystem."

The incubator program boasts successful alumni like Sameer Saran (SJSU ‘18) who created an app called ParkSt​ash—known as the “Airbnb of parking”—which connects property owners with unused parking spots to drivers, helping to alleviate a big frustration faced by people living in overpopulated cities.

Watch the video below to learn more about SJSU’s SpartUp program.

Cal State San Bernardino students and alumni Jorge Alberto Cervantes, Gustavo Cruz, Lizette Velasquez and Oscar Flores Gonzalez at the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition. Cal State San Bernardino students and alumni Jorge Alberto Cervantes, Gustavo Cruz, Lizette Velazquez and Oscar Flores Gonzalez at the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition.


The prevalence of fentanyl has given rise to a devastating drug epidemic in the United States, and the current methods of detection are limited and inadequate in effectively combating its distribution. AxoTech, a company formed by a group of Cal State San Bernardino students and alumni in collaboration ​with​ the U.S. Navy and CSUSB's Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship, has developed a device capable of detecting and capturing fentanyl particles more quickly and accurately.

The technology has the power to save lives, reduce the cost of overdoses on the medical industry and reduce exposure to first responders, members of the military and K-9 officers.

“CSUSB has been an instrumental player in helping us transform our idea into a viable business,” co-founder and CSUSB alumnus Gustavo Cruz (’21) says. “Their support was crucial in propelling us forward and establishing a meaningful collaboration with industry experts and organizations.”

AxoTech’s journey began in a commercialization course led by Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Anna Long-Ruboyianes. Students were presented with various patents from the Corona Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division (NSWC-Corona), which Cruz says sparked his and his classmates' curiosity and ignited their entrepreneurial spirit. They were approached by Navy scientists after class to discuss further development of their chosen patent and eventually formed the company.

“The class served as a springboard, enabling us to shape our idea and lay the foundation for AxoTech's development,” Cruz says. “Furthermore, CSUSB facilitated our collaboration with the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), opening doors to valuable partnerships and connections within the defense innovation ecosystem.”

CSUSB also connected the team, which includes Cruz, Lizette Velazquez (‘23), Oscar Abraham Flores Gonzalez and Jorge Alberto Cervantes (‘23), with the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition in which they won first place in product track one. The team took home $25,000 to continue their journey.

“The university has shown a deep commitment to supporting its students and fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Cruz says.

Learn more about how the CSU supports entrepreneurship and innovation amongst students and community members across California.