Co-leader, Mayor’s Cup
Los Angeles, CA
“Big Muppets fan, so…” Rainbow Connection. “It always relays hopefulness.”
At a time when half the world seems to watch Shark Tank and wants to start a business, two young men in city government, Eric and his colleague Juan Vasquez, thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could encourage the best and brightest students around LA to think up clever new ideas to improve the city?” Maybe they could beautify abandoned areas, build affordable housing, get more small businesses on their feet, and create jobs. And in the process develop an enduring entrepreneurial ecosystem on LA campuses that thinks about civic issues and imagines innovative ways to deal with them.
Accordingly, the Mayor’s office, in partnership with LA City Partners (a civic-minded business group) devised a contest for grad students, undergrads, faculty, and staff at colleges throughout LA County to dream up businesses to solve local government problems. Candidates would pitch to a panel of real-world judges, and the winner would get $25,000 and 8 weeks of an office in City Hall to incubate its idea. Working with sponsors like USC’s Marshall School of Business, the Mayor’s Cup attracted 103 contenders, and over a nine month period from March to December of last year winnowed them into 30 semifinalists, then five finalists, and eventually a single winner. In a field with such cutting-edge tech ideas as trash can sensors to alert collectors when cans are full, the winner was an undergraduate team with an old-fashioned idea. It proposed sending mobile library-type vehicles into underserved neighborhoods to provide training and resources for starting businesses.
Eric says participants found it exciting not just to be designing feel-good stories but ideas that are really market-viable. And coaches came to realize that their best advice to contestants was to say to them, “If you were to invest in something like this with your own money, what would you really want to hear?”
Eric’s Personal Background
He came from both the civic and business worlds, having worked with TEDx, the Creative Horizon Foundation, and the venture accelerator Amplify LA.
LA Confidential (Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito, 1997)
“I was once homeless and living in my car for a brief period of time. An experience that changed my life.”