It starts with a spark, an inkling, a glimpse of something just out of sight, hiding in the corners of the mind’s eye. If you’re lucky, it’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it, meander into your thoughts without invitation, pop up in your dreams and make you wake up with a start. More than just a thought or a notion, it’s a flash of genuine brilliance, an actual revelation of the life-changing sort. For some of us, ideas are plentiful, gathered up in overflowing armfuls like wildflowers collected from a meadow. For others, they’re more like diamonds, made more precious because of their rarity, honed and mined only after intense effort. Either way, when big ideas reveal themselves at last, the exciting part is just getting started. Because merely having a big idea is just the first step. The tricky part? Turning contemplation into destination. But if done right, big ideas can grow into even bigger, even better realities.
To bring the Italian community together
Tom Cesarini ’07 (MA) has a vision. He describes the Convivio Society, the nonprofit he founded in 2003, as akin to a state of mind. “Whenever you might see a group of people breaking bread together as the Italians so famously do — enjoying the moment, the company and the conversation — that is the essence of Convivio.”
A year ago, his grand idea found a home; a spacious storefront dubbed the Convivio Center and Little Italy Heritage Museum that provides a gathering place for those interested in preserving the history of the area’s thriving Italian community. “We wanted to create your living room,” he explains. “A place where people can come together.”
His passion and enthusiasm for Italian culture and historical preservation led him to USD’s master’s in nonprofit leadership and management program. “Everything you see here, I learned there,” he says, gesturing at the art exhibits, the performance space, the coffee bar and welcoming cozy tables. He’s even partnered with academia to create the Italian Community Digital Archives and is pursuing his doctorate at USD.
“We aim to expand the scope and influence of San Diego’s rich and vibrant Italian culture and heritage and strive toward increased social consciousness,” he says. “We can dance in the streets all day long, but this space is about bringing the community together as one.” — Julene Snyder
To honor indigenous artists and traditions
Eileen Lofgren ’11 (BA) is an artist, a humanitarian and a preserver of tradition. In less than a year, her Child of Wild website has brought a conscious aesthetic to her corner of the fashion industry. Both an art gallery and a source for jewelry of cultural relevance, the site is reinventing commerce as a means to educate and elevate.
Lofgren’s intricately beaded cow skulls share the spotlight with pewter Turkish collars, coral and turquoise Tibetan bangles, silver Hmong tribal necklaces, and more.
Her mission? To connect each piece to its cultural roots and artisan creators. She was deeply saddened by the careless imitation of cultural symbols she saw in commercial fashion accessories with little regard for their significance.
“That spawned a big pull to create a studied, researched site that gives authentic pieces recognition,” she says.
Through Child of Wild, Lofgren brings credit to these artists and, in turn, a greater understanding of their heritage to an appreciative clientele. With more than 150,000 unique visitors in its first year — using new media to bring products to life — her site is a measure of the value of authenticity.
And just like her artists and clients, she treasures the power and depth within each work of art she carries.
“I believe my pieces literally have radiance,” explains Lofgren, as she slides on the silver Hmong warrior cuff that she wears every day. “If you are in tune with that, you feel it.” — Trisha J. Ratledge
To understand the true value of time
For sophomore Nathan Resnick, time is of the essence. His company, Yes Man Watches, directs customers to make the most valuable use of their time. The concept is simple: Everyone has the same 24 hours, but we have a choice when it comes to deciding how to spend each precious second.
“This is more than just a watch, it’s a way to inspire people to consider their use of time,” Resnick explains. “There’s a reason our logo is positioned at the five o’clock mark on the dial. Too many people feel restricted by nine-to-five jobs, when in effect, nine-to-five is only one third of your day.”
Though the company only started last summer, Resnick is already seeing great success. Through
Kickstarter, an online platform that relies on crowdfunding to build small business with big ideas, Yes Man Watches raised $32,000 and is now going into production. Resnick says that online pre-orders are going exceedingly well, and social media venues are being flooded with positive reviews about the concept.
The watches also feature a patent-pending innovative watch buckle that allows for twice as many sizing options and a sleeker fit. As Resnick sees it, success in entrepreneurship comes down to three factors: passion, perseverance and persistence. “You have to live your business,” he says. — Rashmi Chugani ‘13
To squeeze fruits and veggies into meals
You’d never know by watching them work their juice into a frenzied whir at the Gaslamp Third Avenue Farmers Market — mixing, say, apples, beets and carrots — that not too long ago, Mike O’Malley ’11 (BA) and his partner, Lauren South, were soda-drinking, fast food types who didn’t think twice about stopping at Wendy’s for a spicy chicken sandwich.
Times have changed. The pair recently launched Earth Squeeze, a pop-up juice company fueled by Kickstarter, the online crowdfunding platform. During their four-week Kickstarter campaign they raised just over $3,500 from 49 friends, family and strangers.
They purchased a canopy, industrial juicers and rented commercial kitchen space to store and prep the produce they buy from local farmers. “Getting involved in food activism changed my outlook on the entire food industry,” says O’Malley, who pays more for produce to make sure each drink is not only healthier, but environmentally friendly and consistent with their mission to save the world one cup at a time. “It changed my view of food, and what it means to be healthy.”
South loves their business model. “Drinking juice is easy when you can’t load up your plate with fruits and vegetables. We can change our menu depending on what’s in season,” she says. “We can pop up anywhere — street fairs, sporting events, concerts. All we need is a table and a juicer.” — Krystn Shrieve
To make a living without compromising ethics
Antoine Didienne ‘01 (BBA) was frustrated, as was his buddy Dan Amaro ’04 (BBA). The pair had met as undergraduates a decade earlier, and had remained friends over the years. “We were hanging out at a bar talking about the lack of ethical products available and how we wanted to be able to buy products that stood for something,” recalls Didienne (pictured, at right). “Then we suddenly looked at each other and said, ‘Why don’t we work on a solution together?’”
After talking it over with a third partner, Linda Amaro, the trio created their company, VavaVida, which sells fashion accessories that aren’t just stylish, but are produced with deliberate emphasis on ethics and fair trade in particular. Toward that end, every sale gives back a percentage to Project Concern International, which is actively involved in improving the wellness of women around the globe.
Why go to such lengths? After Didienne earned his masters degree, he knew one thing for sure: “I wanted a job, but not if I had to sacrifice my ethics.” That first conversation with Amaro led to the development of a business plan that didn’t compromise on ideals, a fair-trade jewelry retail store that’s “in the business of changing the world through fair-trade fashion.”
“Fashion can be ethical and fun,” stresses Didienne. “Looking good doesn’t have to come at the expense of others.” — Julene Snyder
To weave a safety net for the enlisted
Back on USD’s campus recently, Tony Teravainen ’12 (MSEL) was considering his options. He had a solid job, two opportunities for increased pay, and one for a pay cut.
“I was on the same balcony where I stood when I was in the graduate program, looking out over Mission Bay, dreaming about how I was going to change the world,” he remembers. Teravainen opted for the pay cut.
As the chairman and chief executive officer of Support the Enlisted Project, he is leading the nonprofit through the labyrinth of a reorganization, rebranding and restructuring after separating from its national group. The work — providing emergency financial grants to qualified enlisted or recently discharged service members — touches his heart. “I’ve seen the need. I’ve lived it. I understand it,” says Teravainen, who was raised in an enlisted family and served in the Navy himself. He witnessed the second jobs, the long absences and the financial emergencies that turned struggle to crisis overnight.
With an elite four-star rating from Charity Navigator, STEP serves an average of 60 Southern California
families each month with a combined $45,000 in worry-free grants. So, what about that decision back at USD? “I’ve worked in front of nuclear power panels on submarines, but this is the most responsibility I’ve had,” he says. “How could I not do it?” — Trisha J. Ratledge
To help golfers see how air affects ball flight
In February 2013, Nate Regimbal ’06 (MBA) received a phone call from his long-time friend and fellow golf aficionado, Mark Stratz. “Nate, I need you to take a look at this; I have what I think is a pretty good idea for a golf app.” Intrigued by the claim, Regimbal pressed Stratz for more details. “I believe we can solve a question golfers have been asking for centuries: ‘How are the playing conditions affecting my golf shot?’”
That conversation led to the creation of FlagHi, an innovative golf app technology that provides golfers worldwide with the ability to utilize temperature, elevation and humidity conditions in helping them ascertain the distance their golf ball will travel through the air — known in golf parlance as “carry.”
Formerly a strategy and software consultant with IBM, Regimbal architected the app’s patent-pending formula that allows golfers to enter the specific distance they hit each club at their home course, and then recalibrate those distances to the current conditions of wherever they happen to be playing.
Despite its relative nascence, FlagHi has already caught the attention of touring professionals, collegiate players and amateur golfers; all of whom play in changing conditions. “When the conditions change, your carry distances change,” Regimbal says. “FlagHi calculates the effect, which helps golfers select the right club for the shot, wherever they may be playing.” — Mike Sauer