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    Building the Small Path to Big Growth
    January 5, 2015


    SAN BERNARDINO, CA—Already a logistics hub, San Bernardino County is growing in an often overlooked segment: small business. And the opportunity is ripe, says Mike Stull, director for the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship (IECE). The award-winning organization supports and promotes entrepreneurship on the California State University campus here and in the community through education, outreach and advocacy. GlobeSt.com met with Stull to discuss how entrepreneurship is encouraging business and job growth in San Bernardino County.

    GlobeSt.com: How does IECE help business growth?

    Mike Stull: The Center delivers a wide range of programs in the areas of formal education, experiential learning and business assistance programs for entrepreneurs. Our focus is to achieve impact–creating entrepreneurial startups and entrepreneurial managers, helping businesses in the community achieve new levels of success and raising the awareness of and support for entrepreneurship throughout the Inland Empire. We’ve been recognized nationally by Entrepreneur magazine, The Princeton Review and the US Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the latter of which gave us the National Excellence in Entrepreneurship Education Award. This national recognition has helped us to bring additional resources into the area and broaden our reach to the business community.

    "Typically large and well-established firms are not the drivers of job creation – entrepreneurial firms lead in that area," said Stull.

    GlobeSt.com: What programs are most supportive of entrepreneurs in the County?

    Stull: IECE has been the most consistent and extensive supporter of entrepreneurship in the County. For students that want to pursue an entrepreneurial path, we provide a strong educational foundation but also supplement it with an experiential component that helps them move from idea to startup.  We just launched a campus-based accelerator program that nurtures promising student startups and have established a small seed fund to provide startup capital as part of the accelerator.

    On the community side, our Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Women’s Business Center (WBC) programs, offered in partnership with the US Small Business Administration, provide a wealth of support through consulting and training programs.  Collectively those programs have impacted more than 54,000 business owners over the last 12 years, resulting in more than 2,000 new jobs created and nearly $100 million in economic impact (consisting of capital raised through debt and equity, increase in sales, profits, etc.).

    GlobeSt.com: Can you cite industry successes in the County?

    Stull: The County has a diverse group of businesses, both geographically and industry-wise. That said, we’re seeing an increase in the number of microbreweries, mirroring a trend here in the West and other parts of the country.  In 2008 we had one craft brewer in the County. Now we have more than 10. I think it’s conceivable that the County could be home to 25 to 50 microbreweries.

    For example, one of the fastest growing companies is Hangar 24 Craft Brewery in Redlands.  The company’s business savvy and focus on great products and innovation has taken them from a small startup to the fastest growing microbrewery in the Pacific region, on pace to brew more than 100,000 barrels of beer in 2015.

    In the County’s High Desert, you have companies such as Exquadrum, Inc. of Adelanto, a technology firm that focuses on rapid and continuous innovation for the Department of Defense, NASA and large aerospace prime contractors. Another technology start-up is Universal Surveillance Systems LLC of Rancho Cucamonga, an industry leader in providing solutions to prevent and deter theft in retail stores and other locations. The company is now the largest privately-held loss prevention solutions company in the US manufacturing state-of-the-art electronic article tags, access control systems and closed-circuit television systems for customers such as Nordstrom, Macys, Bloomingdales and Rite Aid.

    Despite the increased amount of offshore manufacturing, the County still has a strong base of companies that manufacture here.  OW Lee Co., Inc. designs and produces casual patio and outdoor furniture from its 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Ontario. The company combines centuries-old techniques with state-of-the-art equipment to produce beautiful casual furniture. Led by third generation family member and President Terri Lee Rogers, the firm is not only an industry leader but also one of the few remaining US outdoor furniture manufacturers.

    GlobeSt.com: How would you describe the angel investors/VC community?

    Stull: While this has historically been a challenge, IECE and others are working hard to change that.  We are strong supporters of Tech Coast Angels, which established a chapter in the region in 2007, working collaboratively with them to help develop companies, presenting events with them such as a fast pitch competition and serving as a corporate sponsor for the local chapter. 

    On the venture capital side, as the region continues to grow and mature, especially relative to technology businesses, we will see more activity in this area.

    GlobeSt.com: How can public agencies foster entrepreneurship?

    Stull: Local entities need to support programs that are often already in place that support local entrepreneurs: Universities, Community Colleges, SBDCs, WBCs, Chambers of Commerce and local industry groups. In addition, they really need to view entrepreneurs as one of the most significant economic generators. Typically large and well-established firms are not the drivers of job creation – entrepreneurial firms lead in that area. Recognizing this and ensuring that support is in place (appropriate incentives, laws and regulations) will enable these firms to grow.

    GlobeSt.com: What would you tell a startup business about the entrepreneurial spirit in the County?

    Stull: The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the County and opportunities are out there for those that are willing to take the risk to purse a new venture.  We have a very supportive group of successful entrepreneurs that go out of their way to help and support new entrepreneurs through advice, mentoring, etc. along with a support network of programs and business assistance groups that entrepreneurs can tap into.
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