Rex Richardson was elected the new mayor of Long Beach in November 2022 as a young, progressive, equity-aware politician, and he wasted little time offering up a new path for the city’s economy.

Richardson called it “Grow Long Beach,” with one of the stated goals of launching 100 new and diverse technology startup companies in the City of Long Beach over the next five years. He announced the program at his State of the City address on Jan. 10 — and less than two weeks later, he was beaming as eight partners signed a pledge to follow through on that promise.

In many ways, Richardson’s initiative is an expansion of a partnership that already existed in Long Beach. California State University, Long Beach, had begun an Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which in turn created the Long Beach Accelerator. 

That accelerator was the focus of a true P3 partnership — the university, the city’s Economic Development Department and Sunstone Management, a young venture capitalist firm focused on helping startups succeed. Since 2020, the Long Beach Accelerator has graduated 37 startups through its four-month program, with support from the city, investment from Sunstone and expertise from all sides.

Long Beach’s young mayor recognized a good thing when he saw one. And he came up with a vision to make the approach bigger and better — much bigger and with a wider scope.

He has said he sees this approach to building the city’s economy as the answer to one of Long Beach’s fundamental problems. For much of the last century, the city has leaned on revenue from oil drilling to bolster its general fund, its capital projects along the waterfront, even its public safety staffing.

Weaning the city away from fossil fuels without causing budget cuts, pain and more is a political challenge, to say the least. Richardson explained it this way at the Launch Beach signing ceremony.

“Now we have to figure out how we can continue to provide services in a sustainable way. It’s our responsibility to create a new economy that’s environmentally- and climate-friendly.

“But we don’t want just any startups,” he added. “We want to focus on the strengths of Long Beach’s economy. We want startups in aerospace, in shipping and goods movement, in healthcare, in education, in tourism. And with the partnership we’re creating in this room, we can do it.”

Richardson didn’t just offer up a dream, either. He brought new partners to the table.

As a council member, Richardson had helped launch the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion. The center is a nonprofit supported by the city that works to help minorities and women get a leg up with new businesses or growth of small businesses — a close fit with Long Beach Accelerator work.

Then there’s the Long Beach Economic Partnership. Created in tandem with the city’s Blueprint for Economic Development, the Economic Partnership casts a broad net of collaboration, from real estate developers and financiers to humanitarian nonprofits. It offers expertise, research and connections.

Both the Center for Economic Inclusion and the Economic Partnership are focused on raising up Long Beach residents through work and entrepreneurship. The Partnership works more on the big picture, offering information about trends while initiating things like their Advanced Air Mobility Task Force, while the Center for Economic Inclusion goes all the way down to the level of a single person starting a small business of their own.

In other words, the depth and breadth of this partnership is impressive.

But there’s more.

Imprint Venture Labs, a cutting-edge business incubator focusing on creative uses of technology with a humanitarian bent, is a member of the Launch Beach partnership. Founder Julia Huang happens to be the CEO of interTrend Communications, a pioneering advertising and marketing agency, and the group also has launched the inspirational Imprint Culture Lab.

Sunstone Community Fund is a nonprofit, donor-directed fund that has committed to supporting the nonprofits in the Launch Beach partnership with grants to help them implement their programs. So far, the fund has committed to $500,000 in grants over the five years.

Sunstone Management is the first venture capital firm to step up for Launch Beach. Sunstone CEO John Keisler committed to work with the coalition of partners to raise $25 million in private investment to fund the 100 early-stage technology startups over the five-year period.

Synergies and Collaborations

Sunstone — and Launch Beach — have a secret weapon in Keisler. He was the city of Long Beach’s Economic Development director until last year, when Sunstone founder John Shen convinced Keisler to help Sunstone grow as its CEO and managing partner.

Shen and Keisler had met two years before, when the Long Beach Accelerator became a reality. That took a partnership too, between the Cal State Long Beach Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the city of Long Beach’s Economic Development and a private investor — namely Sunstone Management. Since the Accelerator’s inception, Sunstone has invested in the startup entrepreneurs, offered prizes in pitch competitions, connected business experts with the novices and more.

Mayor Richardson has asked the participants in Launch Beach to work in that same spirit of increasing impact through partnerships. Keisler said at the partnership signing ceremony that Sunstone and the other partners are ready and willing to come through for the city and its residents.

“Sunstone was founded based on three things — investment, entrepreneurship and community,” he said. “Community is key. We want to make our hopes and dreams come true; we want to bring business startups and investors together.

“We have eight partners here — eight is a very auspicious number in Chinese society. We will do this.”

Roles for Everyone

A structure for Launch Beach: 100 Startups Campaign has been put together by emphasizing each partner’s strengths and expertise. Here’s a brief glance at the partners and their roles.

  • City of Long Beach Economic Development Department. Provide access to city resources including small business loan programs, offer navigational support for licensing and permitting, assist fundraising for nonprofit partners, and develop a long-term strategy for attracting early-stage investors.
  • Long Beach Economic Partnership. Coordinate the marketing, communications, economic research, impact reports and special events to create awareness and attract investments. Work with Sunstone Management to create a strategy to attract venture capital investors and establish a mentor network.
  • Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion. Attract and prepare pre-accelerator candidates for application and admission to the Long Beach Accelerator, with a special focus on under-represented entrepreneurs including women, people of color and others to promote diversity and access to coalition resources.
  • CSULB Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Support day-to-day operations of the Long Beach Accelerator, collaborate with the Center for Economic Inclusion to recruit and provide pre-accelerator and community-based startups and support the Economic Partnership with research efforts.
  • Imprint Venture Lab. Assist with creative marketing and promotion of Launch Beach. Help build the pipeline of creative design-centric technology startups.
  • Long Beach Accelerator. The accelerator will be central to Launch Beach by recruiting, selecting and supporting 100 early-stage startups over five years. Its four-month training and mentoring program will run cohorts of approximately 10 early-stage startup companies twice a year to reach the 100 startups goal. Organize a network of mentors, advisors and subject matter experts.
  • Sunstone Management. Develop, register and manage the Long Beach Venture Fund. Open the fund to accredited venture capital investors after investors pass an industry standard survey. Provide financial, administrative and compliance services to support coalition activities.
  • Sunstone Community Fund. Secure grant funding to support nonprofit coalition partners. Work with the city of Long Beach and other non-governmental partners to identify matching funds to expand the $100,000 per year already committed by Sunstone Management to support the partners.

Energy in the room at the signing ceremony was palpable, with clusters of experts gathering to begin plotting how to make the dream of Launch Beach become reality.

Mayor Richardson concluded the meeting with this:

“There’s work to be done. Let’s get to it.”