Creating a Community to Help Student Entrepreneurs

Featured Interview with Regina Bernal, USC Entrepreneurship & Experiential Learning  

Regina Bernal leads entrepreneurship initiatives in the School of Business Administration at the University of San Diego (USD). As the entrepreneurship and experiential learning coordinator she empowers student entrepreneurs to turn their venture ideas into a reality through the V2 Pitch Competition, the Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference, and the year-long coaching and mentoring program.

“The goal of these initiatives is to help the next-generation of entrepreneurs go from an idea or inspiration to a venture concept, and maybe even launch their own business,” said Regina. “Regardless of the career path the students choose, they will learn the foundations of how to start up and move their ideas forward.” While the initiatives were born out of the School of Business Administration, they are open to students campus-wide—undergrad, MBA, and international.

What makes the initiatives unique is that they leverage the international theme of USD. “USD has had very close ties to Mexico, so we are initially focusing on the Cali-Baja mega region,” said Regina. With a USD track and a binational track, the initiatives provide resources for entrepreneurs on both sides of the border. Altogether the initiatives received more than 100 projects this year—55 for USD and 67 for binational. 

The highlight event each year is the V2 Pitch Competition, which has tripled in entrants, prize money, and attendees since its first run three years ago. “This is basically academia meets the real world,” said Regina. The students work directly with angel investors who look at business proposals on a day-to-day basis. “V2 has been a huge success on the extracurricular side. Members of the community come to network with the angel investors and meet the student ventures. It’s a huge celebration for entrepreneurship in San Diego,” said Regina. “Our first event had 15 entrants and now we’re up to 55. The ventures are very diverse and include technology, digital apps, devices, and lifestyle brands.”

The V2 Pitch Competition offers credibility that young entrepreneurs don’t typically have early on. “Winning students can say they are the best company coming out of USD, and that they have already received investment,” Regina explained. “One company took $40,000 out of a $50,000 fund. Investors are now interested to talk to them and willing to accept meetings.” V2 winners have gone to raise more than a million dollars. One is part of 500 Startups in San Francisco, a leading global venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator. “At the same time, it’s about the learning experience. We’ve identified successful companies through V2, but we’re just as concerned about the other companies. Our job as an academic institution is to be that educational port for entrepreneurship,” said Regina.

The program relies on input from different organizations in the community such as CONNECT, EvoNexus, and HeraHub. “People from the community are the main coaches and mentors for the students,” said Regina. Angel investors such as Analytic Ventures, Tech Coast Angels, and The Startup Garage are an important part of the initiatives, volunteering their time and expertise to review projects and pitch decks. While the events are free and open to the community, the initiatives depend on sponsorship to raise the money for the student prizes. For example, Startup Garage provides in-kind support for prize money. “Startup Garage offered $4,000 in prize money for a student entrepreneur, which is huge for us,” said Regina.

In preparation for the V2 competition the program provides workshops to help students build their pitch deck and design their business model. “Our professors lead a lot of the workshops, but we like to bring in people from the outside to share their expertise,” said Regina. They are plenty of opportunities for SDEE members to get involved. “If there are SDEE members that have product-to-market know-how, want to make themselves available to students, and be part of this millennial generation, I would be more than happy to make the connection,” said Regina. There are opportunities in the coaching and mentoring initiative, as a speaker for the entrepreneurship club, or as part of the deciding panel for the V2 Pitch Competition or the Legacy Entrepreneur Conference. “It’s beyond volunteering because you make connections to future entrepreneurs,” said Regina. “It’s magic when communities and academia come together. These amazing synergies benefit everyone involved.”

To learn more about the initiatives, please visit http://usdentrepreneurship.com/.

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