Entrepreneurship Center Launches in North Orange County  Feature Story

June 16, 2023

Christa Tipton, a social worker in Orange County, had an innovative idea to use jigsaw puzzle pieces as a tool to help people express themselves as they work to improve their mental health. She realized it could be a game and one she could sell. But without a small business background, she had no idea how to develop a new product.

“I didn’t even know where to begin!” said Tipton.

Then, she heard about the new Center for Entrepreneurship at North Orange County Community College District (NOCCCD) and its inaugural boot camp for social entrepreneurs in January. As a leader in the National Association of Social Workers, she got involved with the Center to support entrepreneurship among social workers. She realized she could help herself, too.

“The Center’s boot camp was a place where I could discuss my product with multiple mentors and get immediate feedback,” said Tipton, who also gained a foundation in business strategy. “It was a pivotal point for me. It allowed me that space to take my idea and make it a reality.”

She now has a business plan for her company, Puzzle Connector, and a patent pending. Perhaps more importantly, she has built a network of entrepreneurs willing to share their expertise to guide her in the future.

Celebrating the Center

Many of these entrepreneurs were in attendance for the official launch of the Center for Entrepreneurship at NOCCCD on May 4, 2023. About 100 community members, business leaders, and college representatives attended the Center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at NOCCCD’s Anaheim Campus, which houses the Center on its 10th floor.

“The Center provides support, resources, access to professional mentors, business basics, and applied learning for our students, community members, and region,” said Dr. Cathleen Greiner, director of the Center. “It creates a genuine sense of community for participants and partners.”

Greiner was one of several event speakers, including Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton); Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton); Ambassador for Orange County in the 4th District Paulette Chaffee; RevHubOC Founding Partner Tim Shaw; NOCCCD Trustee Stephen Blount, NOCCCD Chancellor, Dr. Byron D. Clift Breland; and Vice Chancellor, Educational Services and Technology, Dr. Cherry Li-Bugg.

“Our district has always been at the forefront of fostering future leaders, and by establishing this center, we are reinforcing our commitment to developing future entrepreneurs who will shape not only OC but the world,” said Chancellor Breland.

The Start of the Startup

The Center is funded by a portion of an $8.5 million grant awarded by the state and Senator Newman to the NorthSTAR OC Collaborative, a consortium of organizations that pool resources to help social innovators address social and environmental issues. It includes NOCCCD, Advance OC, CIELO, the OC Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the OC MultiEthnic Collaborative of Community Agencies, the Center for Entrepreneurship at Cal State Fullerton, the Social Science Research Center at Cal State Fullerton, OneOC, and RevHubOC.

Shaw emphasized the uneven playing field some entrepreneurs face. He said of the billions of dollars invested in startups, only 2 percent went to women-owned businesses. “It’s worse if you’re a Black woman or a Hispanic woman,” Shaw said. “We believe Orange County can be the center of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise and create an illuminated pathway to entrepreneurship for underrepresented and under-resourced entrepreneurs who get left out of these opportunities.”

NOCCCD is an ideal host for the Center. The district, which includes Cypress College, Fullerton College, and North Orange Continuing Education, represents 68,000 enrollees from an amazing array of diverse populations in Orange County and beyond. The district understands how to engage with community members and partners with community and business organizations.

More importantly, North Orange County has a strong culture of entrepreneurship, from immigrants opening storefronts and young people adding side hustles to entrepreneurs expanding businesses, said Greiner. Despite the pandemic and inflation, the small business sector of the economy continues to grow, and owners remain positive: 66 percent expect an increase in revenues, and 52 percent plan to expand their businesses in 2023, according to a Bank of America survey.

Greiner looks forward to working with established entrepreneurs to help expand the Center’s offerings.

“We have a community of professional experts who are willing and able and authentically interested in providing that assistance,” said Greiner.

Tapping Local Expertise

Mark Manguera, a coach and mentor at both the CSU Fullerton and NOCCCD entrepreneurship centers, is one of a cadre of professional experts and engaged partners across the region. “Entrepreneurship is the cornerstone of our economy,” said Manguera, a culinary entrepreneur and founder of the successful Kogi Korean BBQ. “There are so many great ideas out there, but these ideas end up falling by the wayside because there are so many unknowns. This Center is helping to answer all of those questions and to provide guidance and feedback that will grow entrepreneurship.”

NOCCCD’s Center works closely with the well-established California State University, Fullerton Center for Entrepreneurship. CSU Fullerton’s Center recently provided two NOCCCD Center participants each with a $5,000 grant to join CSU Fullerton’s Startup Incubator, a six-month residency program for entrepreneurs.

Greiner said this partnership and sharing resources create an effective pipeline of opportunity from ideation to development and eventually to opportunities where participants can seek additional funding. 

“I’d like to see an ongoing crop of young entrepreneurs in that pipeline,” said Greiner. She is developing workshops on current topics, such as effectively using ChatGPT to attract Gen Z and its successor, Gen Alpha (those born starting in 2010).

“The younger generations go into entrepreneurship wanting to make a bigger impact with their work,” Catlin Tran, co-founder with Caitlyn Yang of Irvine-based C & C Group (Catlin/Caitlyn). “They want to create their own future, create sustainability in their actions, and make an impact.”

Tran’s company provides support and consultation for entrepreneurs, specializing in young entrepreneurs, and is working with the Center to develop content designed for this demographic.

Tran, who launched her first startup, Nutripair, when she was a UC Irvine sophomore and while her mother was battling cancer, understands the challenges new entrepreneurs face, especially those with family obligations. She looks forward to helping people find a balance that will lead them to success. 

“When it comes to building a business, maybe that’s not for everyone, but the skills you learn along the way can be applied to anything else you want to go for in life,” she said.

Entrepreneurship at OC Community Colleges

Greiner praised Orange County’s community colleges for building strong business programs that include entrepreneurship. These programs respond quickly to market demands and provide relevant coursework.

Coastline College, for example, recently revamped its Entrepreneurship Certificate Series. At the end of the three-course series, students will have a completed Business Model Canvas and a full business plan, complete with financial projections.

At the ceremony, Greiner called attention to three college partners for the excellent content and resources they provide students: John Russo, faculty lead of the entrepreneurship program at Irvine Valley College; Henry Hua, former dean of business and computer information systems at Cypress College and now interim vice president administrative services at Fullerton College; and Carlos Ayon, dean of business, computer information systems, and economic workforce development at Fullerton College.

“They get it,” she said. “They are promoting it to their students and are very much part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

For Tipton, joining the entrepreneurial ecosystem was challenging before she joined the Center. The local resources for entrepreneurs seemed to be for enrolled students or people with business experience, and she was neither. She is especially grateful to be part of the Center.

“It’s overwhelming to find the right resources and get started if we aren’t already in the entrepreneurial space. That’s especially true for women and people from under-resourced communities,” Tipton said. “These are people who might feel that they won’t find a supportive environment, which is why this Center is so important. That’s what I loved about it. It’s accessible to everyone and that’s wonderful.”

Click here to learn more about the Center for Entrepreneurship at NOCCCD.