Commemorating its 20th anniversary in celebrating the best business leaders in the inland region, the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship held its annual black-tie gala honoring the region’s best entrepreneurs and its Legacy Award to celebrate 20 years of spirit.

The Spirit of the Entrepreneur gala, held at the Riverside Convention Center in Riverside on Nov. 17, was created to recognize the accomplishments and resilience of local entrepreneurs who have strived to make a difference in the Inland Empire by building businesses into major contributors to the region’s economy.

“Over the last 20 years, the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards has grown to become the premier business event of the Inland Empire region,” said Mike Stull, director of the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship (IECE) at Cal State San Bernardino. “Looking back through our history, I am inspired by all the distinctive entrepreneurs the event has highlighted, and our 2022 event continued that tradition with some incredible stories of entrepreneurial success.”    

Stull, a professor of entrepreneurship and director of the CSUSB School of Entrepreneurship, came up with the idea for the awards shortly after becoming the center’s director, when he discovered students in the CSUSB entrepreneurship program couldn’t name any local entrepreneurial role models.

People on stage at the Spirit of the Entrepreneur gala

To date since its creation in 2003, the Spirit of the Entrepreneur has honored more than 200 entrepreneurs, Stull said.

This year the gala announced the Legacy Award, a special award recognizing the top entrepreneurs of the past 20 years of the Spirit of the Entrepreneur award recipients. Two winners were named from the 20 finalists that were selected from the field of past award recipients.

Spirit award sponsors are displayed on signage on the stage.

The Legacy Award winners were:

  • Laura and William Land, Accessory Export LLC Marketplace Valet, Riverside
  • Javier Vasquez, Miguel’s Jr., Corona

The recipients for the top entrepreneur awards were:

  • Best of the Best Entrepreneur and Distribution/Wholesale Entrepreneur – Bobby Tetsch, Modern Pro Solutions, Chino
  • Small/Emerging Enterprise – Joshua Morales, StarNav LLC, Riverside
  • Manufacturing Entrepreneur – Hindi Zeidman, The Ollie World, Rancho Cucamonga
  • B2C Service-Based Entrepreneur – Brandon Martini, NextGen Flight Academy, Inc., Riverside
  • B2B Service-Based Entrepreneur – Angelica Marie Gonzalez, A&G Infusion Nursing Services, Moreno Valley
  • Financial Services Entrepreneur – Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elizabeth’s Insurance Services, Inc., Moreno Valley
  • General Entrepreneur and Mary Anne Fox Top Female Entrepreneur – Michele Shams, Koury Engineering & Testing, Inc., Chino

Best of the Best Entrepreneur and Distribution/Wholesale Entrepreneur – Bobby Tetsch, Modern Pro Solutions, Chino

To be nominated, a person must meet two requirements: be in business for at least two years and have a minimum annual revenue of $400,000. Beyond that, nominees should be an innovator with a solid character known for having an entrepreneurial mindset and a record of strong leadership and performance.

Judges are selected based on their business experience and integrity and work independently of one another to evaluate the nominees, with almost all being previous winners of a Spirit of the Entrepreneur Award.

Garner Holt Student Fast Pitch Competition awards being announced.

The gala also held the annual Garner Holt Student Fast Pitch Competition, where budding Cal State San Bernardino student entrepreneurs had the opportunity to give a 90-second pitch of their business idea to local investors in a competition for cash prizes.

The winning students were:

  • Sadé Harper, junior, HeadZZZup
  • Jennifer Dring, junior, Greenfills
  • Juliana Garcia, sophomore, Pumps and Curls

Proceeds from the event go to the IECE’s Spirit of the Entrepreneur Scholarship Fund, which provides grants to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Since 2003, more than $225,000 worth of scholarships have been awarded to CSUSB students with measurable needs who are studying entrepreneurship.

The IECE is a driving force behind the economic expansion in the Inland Empire, and the proof is in the numbers — through its counseling, mentoring and training programs, the IECE has served more than 150,000 entrepreneurs, supported the creation and retention of nearly 40,000 jobs, assisted with the startup of almost 2,000 new ventures, and had an economic impact in excess of $400 million.

“We are very proud that the IECE has grown to become one of the largest university-based centers for entrepreneurship in the world,” Stull said. “Since entrepreneurship is such an important driver of our local economy, having such a vibrant and impactful program such as the IECE is critical to supporting local businesses and their startup and growth.”