Winners of the eight-annual Spark Tank Pitch Fest are pictured with their awards Thursday at Fresno Pacific University. Photos by Andrea Marin Contreras
Written by Andrea Marin Contreras
The Fresno Pacific University Center for Community Transformation (CCT) celebrated its eighth annual Spark Tank Pitch Fest competition on Thursday.
Carlos Huerta, associate director for the CCT, hosted the event at the Fresno Pacific University (FPU) Amphitheater in front of a cheerful and lively audience.
There were 26 submissions during this year’s awards, but only four contestants were awarded.
Made For Them Culinary, Trim A Tree With Me, Lighthouse Thrift and Impact Center Cafe were the winners of this year’s competition.
The CCT funds entrepreneurs whose businesses are focused on helping and improving the Fresno community.
Trim A Tree With Me, created by Delfina and Gabriel Vasquez, earned the highest amount of funding with $10,500 for giving homeless people work experience, training and finance classes.
“This journey began from a calling from the Lord,” Delfina Vasquez said.
Vasquez started making meals and distributing them from the trunk of her car to homeless people in Selma every day. Eventually, along with the Selma Community Out-Reach Ministries, she started helping the homeless by housing them. However, Vasquez realized that many homeless people kept getting rejected when they applied for jobs.
“The goal is to get them a hand up, not a hand down…to retrain their mind,” Vasquez said. With this idea, Trim A Tree With Me was created.
Lighthouse Thrift, launched by Vikki Luna, was awarded $4,100 for helping women who are recovering from drug and alcohol abuse by teaching them employment and people skills.
“We are moving women from welfare to work,” Luna said.
Impact Center Cafe received $6,500. Its goal is to help entrepreneurs reach economic independence while improving Fresno’s food service system.
Made For Them Culinary was created to give work experience to survivors of human trafficking and break generational cycles of poverty. It received $3,000.
In previous years, contestants pitched their business ideas in front of the judges and audience. Right after the pitches, winners would be announced, Huerta said.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s pitches happened privately over zoom. Winners went through CCT’s accelerator program and received their funds privately. The accelerator program is a two-month program that offers business leadership and information to guide winners through their business inquiries.
Previous winners, such as GiVE CULTURE and GD. STWRD, and non-profit organizations were present with booths full of information and goods to sell to the public.
This year’s judges were Anthony Armour, CEO of Neighborhood Industries; Amber Balakian, owner of Balakian Farms; Bryan Feil, vice president of real estate development at Bitwise Industries; Trevor Thomas-Uribe, vice president of investment at Bitwise Industries; Rob Bell, founder of Copper + Friant.; and Renee Chu-Jacoby, associate director of the graduate business program at Fresno State.
The event was sponsored by Bitwise Industries, Wawona, CDH Productions, Beneficial State Bank and more.
Entrepreneurs can expect new funds available for next year’s contest, Huerta said.