Walking down any business corridor, you can’t help but notice how the storefronts have changed in Long Beach. Some of our favorite businesses were in the process of closing before the pandemic. Others fell victim to the lockdowns. As the names over the doors change and some businesses close while others open, we can’t help but feel the shift. It makes me wonder what business in Long Beach will look like 10 years from now.
Long Beach has always been a working class city from the businesses that supported the bygone Naval Shipyard to the longshoremen at the port. Education is currently the largest employer in the city including the Long Beach Unified School District, California State University Long Beach, and Long Beach City College.
But what about the businesses we don’t see? There’s a swell of entrepreneurial talent in Long Beach that does not have the money or the infrastructure for a fancy storefront, but will make its mark in the city nonetheless.
My core responsibility as Associate Director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at Cal State Long Beach is campus programming. I host monthly Innovation Hours that discuss hot topics in entrepreneurship, curate an annual Behind the Screens program that explores how we can assist those made most vulnerable by the dark side of technology, and created a social justice entrepreneurship program that teaches how to develop cooperative, democratic, and regenerative businesses that support people, the planet, and profits. All of these programs are free and open to the public.
Moreover, many community members may not know that for the past 11 years, CSULB has awarded prizes for an annual business plan competition. The Apostle Incubator meets weekly and prepares students, community entrepreneurs, and teams to compete for $50,000 in cash and prizes from the Sunstone Innovation Challenge. Last year, with a $1.5 million gift from the John & Helen Apostle Foundation, CSULB launched The Apostle Enterprise Lab, a year-long immersive, interdisciplinary entrepreneurship sequence that engages students in the theory and practice of new business creation.
CSULB also partners to support underrepresented entrepreneurs. For example, Launch Long Beach is in partnership with the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, CSULB, CentroCha, the United Cambodian Community, and the Southern California Black Chamber of Commerce to provide mentoring, financial support, and technical assistance through an entrepreneurial mindset program.
In North Long Beach, in partnership with the city and CSULB, Accelerate Uptown’s mission is to “foster economic equity with a focus on women and minority owned businesses.” Black Business Strategies (BBS) is another initiative between CSULB and the small business development center (SBDC) to assist Black businesses with strategy and marketing to enhance the quality of life of both business owners and customers.
The city even has its own Long Beach Accelerator that supports early stage startups with access to $100,000 in capital, mentoring, and other resources. I am so proud of the talent Long Beach is nurturing through our unique public-private-university partnerships. Because we know that business building and economic mobility are community efforts, the university, the city, and various private partners are working together to make it happen. Yes, the city still has its share of red tape when it comes to starting a business, but for every hurdle, there are resources available.
Our entrepreneurial ecosystem is expanding exponentially. You can’t see it during a walk around your neighborhood, but I guarantee you there’s an entrepreneur inside one of those residences that you pass daily working diligently at the next best business idea that will make Long Beach proud.
Ebony A. Utley, Ph.D. is a professor of communication studies and Associate Director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at California State University Long Beach. She is a member of the Post’s Community Editorial Board.