“Do you know what’s in your food? What about your baby’s food? The average baby food sits on a shelf for two years before ending [up] in front of your child,” said Jackie Olin, one of seven finalists in UC Santa Cruz’s first-ever Business Plan Competition (BPC), as she presented her business plan to a panel of judges. “Sustainabites is a local, fresh and seasonal baby food company that will work to provide consumers with ‘farm-to-fork’ information, where you can trace your child’s food back to the farm.”
Olin, a recent UCSC graduate, was not only a finalist but also the winner of the competition. After all seven teams presented their future companies and entrepreneurships, a panel of eight judges, — constituted of successful CEOs, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and lawyers from Santa Cruz and Silicon Valley — retired to a quiet room to decide on a winner.
The Ringold Rotunda, where the reception was held, was anything but quiet. The event was a success in attracting people from the city, the university, and “over the hill.” Everyone mingled noisily in this ambitious and creative atmosphere, as students rubbed shoulders with CEOs and inventors.
Santa Cruz mayor Cynthia Mathews attended the event.
“The energy, the excitement and the potential in this room is amazing,” Mathews said. “It’s everything we hoped it would be.”
As for Olin’s Sustainabites, Mathews said she is happy with the judges’ choice.
“Our goal and motivation in this competition was to help a business that would stay and prosper in Santa Cruz,” Mathews said. “It’s a perfect match.”
The BPC was organized by a group of seven highly motivated UCSC students led by Eric Gonzalez, a recent UCSC graduate and former president of the University Economic Association.
Divya Sharma is the co-chair of the BPC and a second-year majoring in business management economics and industrial engineering and operations research.
“There have been some ups and downs, and I’ve loved every second of it,” Sharma said. “I’ve had students come to me and say that having this competition has changed the direction they were heading towards. It’s been a very rewarding four months, and the competition has far exceeded our expectations.”
Although Sharma is transferring next year, this competition, she said, will be her lasting legacy at UCSC.
Chancellor George Blumenthal said he was enthusiastic about the effort put into the BPC by the team of students.
The competition represents “what we are as a university — encouraging students and their ideas,” he said.
“Who knows, maybe they’ll create the next Microsoft,” Blumenthal joked. “On second thought, maybe not something that big. Maybe just the next Google.”
With other teams boasting online services, video game programming, pharmaceutical compliances and biomolecular engineering, Olin said she saw herself as the local underdog. But in the end, her hard work was rewarded with a $12,000 jumbo check.
“This is awesome,” Olin said. “Don’t ever worry about being the dark horse. This is it right here — this is what will enable us to stay in Santa Cruz. I have all the permits, the knowledge, the kitchen, everything lined up.”
Thanks to the competition, Olin said, Sustainabites will become a reality, and “you will see us in the farmers market two months from now.”
This premier BPC was an immense success, creating important partnerships and generating over $20,000 in funding and donations. BPC founder Gonzalez has big plans for the young competition as preparations are made for next year.
“I hope it becomes a foundation for the university,” Gonzalez said. “The students here are entrepreneurial, creative and the best people I’ve ever met. They’re people I can count on to make a difference.”