SD County, USD Launch Small Business Accelerator, "Innovate Up", in Underserved Communities

The University of San Diego and San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher announced on Monday the launch of Innovate Up, a new public-private partnership to provide a free, immersive and integrated small business program designed to support those in the communities of Chollas, City Heights, Encanto, Linda Vista (home of USD campus), Rolando and Redwood Village.


The announcement, held at the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in Southeast San Diego, featured comments from Supervisor Fletcher, USD President James T. Harris and two aspiring entrepreneurs who each commended the formation of Innovate Up, a small business accelerator set to serve six San Diego-based underserved neighborhoods.

“Inspiration, ideas and entrepreneurship they know no geographic fence, but unfortunately, access to capital, mentors, doors being opened, they often do,” Fletcher said. “We’re here today to kick off a program we think can help to address this equity issue and insuring folks in communities that historically have been left behind, that they have the ability to have those doors open. So that the ideas they have, the initiative they have, the inspiration they have, the hard work ethic and drive they have can be realized in a way that will have a meaningful impact in the communities in my district and all around San Diego County.”

Innovate Up received a $300,000 County of San Diego Community Enhancement grant and combined with funding from multiple entities within USD and beyond, Fletcher and Harris confirmed that $1.5 million has been invested to support it.

The focus is on helping people with the verticals of success for small businesses, including ideation, business formation, branding, product development, marketing, finance, manufacturing, distribution and legal support. Innovate Up is for start-up businesses and existing businesses in these specific communities can get advice on scaling up.

“We believe it will accomplish three things: One, it will increase financial literacy among all who participate; Two, it will encourage the development of new businesses; and three, it will create jobs and government contracts with small businesses around the county,” Harris said.

“Innovate Up will create a community-based outreach program to engage underserved individuals, entrepreneurs and small business owners. As a locally engaged anchor institution, we strongly believe it is in our mission to promote local economic development and we strongly believe this is who we are as a Catholic university.”

Harris also touted the success of The Brink, the name of USD's Small Business Development Center for Innovation and the team, which is led by Director Mysty Rusk, who attended the launch event. 

Said Fletcher: “I’m incredibly grateful to the University of San Diego for their willingness to engage, initiate and collaborate, to put skin in the game to make a real investment and commitment to try and find solutions to help communities that have historically been under-resourced.”

Fletcher also thanked San Diego and Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center, Procurement and Technical Assistance Center San Diego, International Rescue Committee, El Cajon Business Improvement District, Access and the Diamond Business Association and San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation President and its Chief Executive Officer, Mark Cafferty for their support.

Aspiring, Thankful Entrepreneurs

Both Ruth Young-Loaeza of City Heights and Andre Mattson of Chollas were present to share their respective entrepreneurial ideas and to praise the creation of Innovate Up, a program they will both utilize.

Young, who has already worked closely with The Brink, has a patent pending for Genius On Development. A housekeeper for 24 years, Young has always had trouble with bed sheets when making a bed. She went and created a stretchable corners bed sheet and another sheet that when applied, makes it easy and faster to make a bed. It stays in place the first time and every time.

“I was tired of waiting for someone else to create a solution,” she said. Now, as she awaits the patent confirmation, she will keep enhancing her business sense and skillset through Innovate Up. “I thank everyone who has made this possible.”

Mattson’s idea is a lower leg strengthening device to help everyone from professional athletes to Weekend Warriors get back to doing what they love instead of suffering with ankle pain. Serving recently as a seasonal assistant strength and conditioning coach with the NBA’s New York Knicks, he got the idea while working with Knicks players and seeing them struggle to heal quickly.

“I created a device where the foot and ankle work together to strengthen the tissue and lock the joint up,” he said. I think the device can help. An ankle brace is like a bandage. If you take it off, you still have the problem.”

Mattson said finances have hampered his progress, including paying for patent fees and lawyers to make it happen. He’s scoured the Internet in the past for entrepreneurial answers on next steps. Getting involved through the Innovate-Up program, he’s eager to learn more from professionals.

Fletcher said small business owners in the specific communities can attend upcoming workshops on topics such as: Start-up Business Basics, Business Scale-up, Small Business Certification and a Business Innovation Boot Camp. The boot camp is next, running Thursday, Aug. 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Malcolm X Library in Valencia Park. Visit or call (619) 260-4547 for more information.

— Ryan T. Blystone


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