First Mentor Round Held at Sierra College

Two students who took Sierra College Business 141 last year and have already started their businesses – a college care package and family personal assistant — pitched to successful founders to get advice on how to scale their startups. Another current student did her elevator speech to glean early insights to infuse into a developing business startup plan for vegan meal services. They were followed by a startup team that just won $100,000 in a Sacramento startup competition to build Sacramento themed escape rooms. In all cases, these young entrepreneurs were inspiring and the sage advice from the assembled mentors and advisers was insightful to listen to for anyone contemplating a startup. This first “Startup Pitch Mentor Round” held on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 was the “start of something big” in the words of Willy Duncan, President, Sierra College.

Duncan expressed his appreciation to the mentors who are offering advice, connections and resources to students who represent a great untapped potential and just need some support to launch. In his opening remarks, Duncan explained that Sierra College is infusing entrepreneurship across many disciplines to germinate small businesses.

Steve Ricketts, Founder, SRicketts Consulting, recruited successful founders and serial entrepreneurs from Placer County and the surrounding Sacramento region to mentor student entrepreneurs through a series of “Startup Pitch Mentor Rounds.”

The mentors include: David Dwelle, Co-Founder, Flyers Energy, LLC and Pacific Power Renewables; Jason France, Founder, President and Sole Owner, ClipperCreek, Inc.; Mark Haney, Founder, CEO, HaneyBiz and Host, The Mark Haney Show; Rand Heer, Founder, CEO Piller Corporation and Alight, Inc.; Aaron Klein, Co-Founder, CEO Riskalyze, Inc.; Dr. Grover Lee, Founder, CEO, Wise Villa Winery and American Health Care; Don Whitaker, Founder, CEO CERONIX, Inc.; Craig Mitchell, Partners; Debbie Lowe Moramoto, Director, Women’s Business Center; Eric Ullrich, Co-Founder, Hacker Lab and Steve Ricketts, Founder SRicketts Consulting.

The idea behind the event was for students to present pitches to mentors and gain from immediate feedback, explained Steve Ricketts. “The audience will also benefit from the exchange as well as hearing suggestions from successful entrepreneurs,” said Ricketts. “The mentors will provide honest advice and referral to resources at no charge to increase students’ success in launching companies in the region.”

At the first session, mentors were introduced and business faculty members explained classes and certificates that Sierra College offers for entrepreneurs. Dennis Wingate, Professor, Business, used the Adobe Kickbox model to revamp the entrepreneurial courses and prepared the students to present their business ideas at “Startup Pitch Mentor Round.” Denise Bushnell, Professor, Business, announced a new noncredit certificate in Entrepreneurship for Makers as well as outlined the other entrepreneurship coursework and programs offered at Sierra College.

Taylor, a Sierra College student currently enrolled in Business 141, gave a brief pitch for Plant Power, a vegan food service. Mentors asked her questions about her cost model, where she finds customers, her desire to be a home-based service versus using a commercial kitchen, communication she plans to retain customers and plans for scaling her concept.

Alex, a former student of Wingate’s who is currently running her business, presented College Baux, a subscription service to send “adulting” knowledge and fun supplies in a care package to college students. Both the mentors and participants asked her questions and made suggestions. Mentors were receptive to her idea and suggested that her product is a way “send something that seems like a hug.” She was also reminded that new businesses are often surprised by the reality that “things cost more than expected and take longer than you think.” 

Westlie, another Business 141 student who took the class last semester, has found success running her company, Here for You, a personal family concierge service while she continues with college. She has also launched Mother’s Meals to meet another unmet need. Mentors asked about her plans for expansion and discussed the challenges of taking on and keeping employees or contractors.

Within 11 days of hearing about a startup contest in Sacramento, two local entrepreneurs Acme Lee and Gabriel Berzamina got serious about their passion for establishing an escape room business, created a video, developed a pitch and won $100,000 from the Downtown Sacramento Partnership 2018 Calling All Dreamers competition to create NEO Escape Rooms. The mentors didn’t hesitate to ask these two hard questions. One mentor said that she didn’t think that they should quit their day jobs in order to increase the chance of qualifying for loans. Another wanted to see more dramatic profit potential to excite him about the startup.

The next Sierra College Startup Pitch Mentor Round will be held February 20, 2019.

Read the Fall flyer for more information: Startup Pitch Mentor Round Oct. 17.

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