CSUN Launches a ‘Bull Ring’ for Student Entrepreneurs

David Nazarian, a CSUN alum and one of the people behind the idea for the Bull Ring, talking to students. Photo by Lee Choo.

David Nazarian, a CSUN alum and one of the people behind the idea for the Bull Ring, talking to students. Photo by Lee Choo.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist David Nazarian is teaming up with former California State University, Northridge classmate and businessman Jeff Marine to create CSUN’s own version of “Shark Tank,” called “The Bull Ring,” in which students will compete for $50,000 in prize money by pitching their innovative ideas for new business ventures.

Organizers are hoping the competition will attract students from across the campus — from English and the arts to engineering, the sciences and, of course, business — who are interested in exploring their entrepreneurial sides.

“Above all, what we’re really trying to encourage in our students is the entrepreneurial mindset,” said Ryan Holbrook, director of CSUN’s Entrepreneurship Program in the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics. “To me, this means being willing to experiment, step outside of your comfort zone and follow through on what inspires you.”

“For ‘The Bull Ring,’ all ideas are fair game — whether it’s in retail, mobile apps, sustainability, new technology, food and beverage, the nonprofit sector, or anything in between,” Holbrook continued. “It literally could be anything, as long as it’s a good idea, has some way to monetize and there’s a potential market for it.”

The Bull Ring New Venture Competition will take place in April. On April 7, the top 20 teams will be awarded $250 and asked to “fast pitch” their ideas to an audience and a group of judges who will be circulating in a room set up like a trade show. The final contest will take place April 26, when six teams will face off before a panel of judges. Third place will be awarded $5,000, second place $15,000 and first place $25,000.

From left, businessman Jeff Marine, who, with Nazarian came up with the idea for The Bull Ring, and Ryan Holbrook, director of CSUN's Entrepreneurship Program. Photo by Lee Choo.

From left, businessman Jeff Marine, who, with Nazarian came up with the idea for The Bull Ring, and Ryan Holbrook, director of CSUN’s Entrepreneurship Program. Photo by Lee Choo.

The idea for the competition grew out of a lunch meeting between Nazarian and Marine. While discussing ways to encourage entrepreneurial thinking among CSUN students, the conversation strayed into a discussion about “Shark Tank” — a reality television show that has aspiring entrepreneur contestants make business presentations to a panel of “shark” investors — and the idea for “The Bull Ring” 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 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Nazarian’s career as an investor and business builder began with his active involvement in his family’s early identification of the potential for wireless communications technology that ultimately became part of Qualcomm, Inc. As founder and CEO of Nimes Capital, Nazarian has established a consistent track record of identifying opportunities ahead of the pack, actively managing investments in the real estate, manufacturing, water and solar infrastructure, technology and hospitality industries. Two years ago, Nazarian announced his commitment to lead a $25-million fundraising drive for his alma mater, and he launched the campaign by personally pledging $10 million toward the effort.

“We need to encourage and educate the future generation to strive to innovate and to create new models for business,” he said. “I see ‘The Bull Ring’ as one of many new initiatives at CSUN that provide our entrepreneurial-minded students with the resources and skill base to do just that.”

Marine, who attended CSUN in the late 1970s, is currently CEO and president of JEM Sportswear and Awake Inc., headquartered in San Fernando. JEM Sportswear manufactures apparel for men and boys. It is distributed to many well-known stores, including Walmart, Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney and Target. The company produces private labels for many of those stores and also manufactures for Disney, Ford, DreamWorks, Sony and Universal.

“What excited me is being able to support these fantastic college students as they pursue their new venture ideas,” he said. “I think ‘The Bull Ring’ competition will give them exposure to great resources, and ultimately give them a head start on becoming an entrepreneur. My hope is that this competition will create opportunities that weren’t there before for students to realistically start the process of building a successful business that could one day change the world.”

Holbrook, local business leaders, CSUN alumni and business faculty are spending this month meeting with potential contestants and hosting a series of workshops designed to give the competitors an idea of what they need to launch a startup.

While attending the workshops is not required, Holbrook said it is recommended, “because we are effectively laying the foundation on the nuts and bolts of how to launch a new venture.”

Competing teams must have a minimum of two members, and at least half of the team must be comprised of current CSUN students as of the academic year 2015-16. Fall 2015 graduates are eligible. In order to compete, the “pitch” must be delivered by a current CSUN student.

The teams will be asked to submit a five- to seven-page written executive summary or a 10- to 25-page slide deck and a two-minute video about their idea. The deadline for submissions is March 6. The 20 semifinalists will be selected shortly thereafter. For more information about “The Bull Ring,: visit its website at http://www.csunbullring.com.

Entries will be judged on their feasibility, market potential, traction and quality of presentation.

“We want to see something that once it leaves the room, still has legs,” Holbrook said, adding that the winners will be required to use their prize money to make their proposal a reality. “We are serious about seeing CSUN students turn their ideas into reality. It’s exciting to think about the potential that’s out there, just waiting for a little boost. There could be someone walking on the CSUN campus right now whose idea could someday change the world.”

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