CSUN Matadors enter a 'bull ring' with hot business ideas

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Cal State Northridge students participate in “The Bull Ring” -- in which students compete for $50,000 in prizes by pitching their best ideas for new business or nonprofit ventures. (Photo by David Crane/Southern California News Group)
Cal State Northridge students participate in “The Bull Ring” — in which students compete for $50,000 in prizes by pitching their best ideas for new business or nonprofit ventures. (Photo by David Crane/Southern California News Group)

NORTHRIDGE >> Matadors finally faced the bulls at Cal State Northridge on Thursday — only they didn’t flash their capes before snorting steers.

Instead, dozens of student entrepreneurs charged into a CSUN “bull ring” to dash off ideas for the next hot business startup before a lineup of bullish business alumni and student judges. Their potential reward: cash prizes up to $25,000.

“I come from nothing — zero,” said Salvador Garcia, 20, of Panorama City, with a team Estevez clothing line with a bull and owl logo, signifying strength and smarts. “And now we’re going to be the best clothing in the world in 10 years.”

Modeled on the ABC reality TV show “Shark Tank,” the CSUN Bull Ring New Venture Competition pits teams of students who must fast-pitch proposals for innovative business ventures.

Nearly 60 teams entered the bullring this year, of which 20 went head to head Thursday during a trade show-style semifinals that earned each $250. The final contest will take place April 26, when five teams will face off — Shark Tank-style — for a first prize of $25,000, second place $15,000 and third purse of $5,000.

The new Bull Ring is intended to spark a new generation of dynamic business leaders.

“This is the first of what we hope to be many events,” said Ryan Holbrook, director of CSUN’s Entrepreneurship Program in the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, as throngs of students milled about showcasing the Next Idea. “Regardless of who ends up actually winning, any single one of these business proposals could be the seed of a fantastic business just waiting for a little boost,”

The Bull Ring competition was hatched by entrepreneur and philanthropist David Nazarian and former CSUN classmate and businessman Jeff Marine. When discussing how to spur entrepreneurial thinking among students, talk strayed to “Shark Tank,” and the bovine hotseat competition was born.

“Startups and small businesses are the backbone of our community, and the future of our nation,” said Nazarian, who graduated from CSUN in 1982 in business administration, in a statement.

Finals judges will include Nazarian, founder and CEO of Nimes Capital; Marine, CEO and President of JEM Sportswear and Awake Inc. of San Fernando; Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, co-founder and executive vice president of OPI; Zack Schuler, founder of Ninjio LLC and founder and former CEO of Cal Net Technology Group; and William Wang, founder and CEO of VIZIO.

On Thursday, 11 judges and a student audience helped winnow down the finals entrees.

“The first thing that hit me when I got into the is the tremendous energy, enthusiasm and focus on ideas,” said Thomas Backer, director of Valley Nonprofit Resources at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, a Bull Ring judge.

Bull Ring proposals ranged from high tech to retail, from food and beverage to manufacturing. In addition, many involved social causes.

They included Team Guzzle, the world’s first ride-share network for concertgoers, with ridesharing as its main draw and profit source. For $1 and a few cents a mile, drivers can hook up with fans from Staple Center to Coachella, its makers say.

“We’re disrupting three industries — transportation, social media and live music,” said Michele Muriyan, 22, a senior majoring in marketing systems. “This is different from Uber, because we’re creating the first social network for concertgoers, with ride-sharing as its main mechanism.”

And they included Team Sabroso Cafe, the dream of Kery Ramirez, a business major with a degree in culinary arts who wanted to convert his grandmother’s recipes from Guadalajara, Mexico, into high-end healthy Mexican restaurants from a gentrifying Boyle Heights to West Hollywood.

“We are tapping into a booming, hipster segment — people who love what they put into their mouths and willing to pay premium for Mexican food,” said Ramirez, 35, dishing up fresh chorizo tacos, with green salsa and ceviche on the side.

“We are revolutionizing delicious.”



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