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Saturday, August 13, 2022

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Alexander Gray (left) and his mentor, Zeynep Ilgaz ('00), were paired together for the 2016-18 Lavin VentureStart cohort. Alexander Gray (left) and his mentor, Zeynep Ilgaz ('00), were paired together for the 2016-18 Lavin VentureStart cohort.

Local Mentors for Tomorrow's Business Leaders

The Lavin VentureStart program connects students with successful entrepreneurs.
By Katie White

Members of the local business community are sharing their insights with talented San Diego State University undergraduate students as mentors for the 2016-18 Lavin VentureStart cohort. Each business leader is taking one student under their wing for the next two years.

The 31 students were selected for their strong entrepreneurial drive and talents. Graduates of the two-year program will be able to identify and evaluate new business opportunities, understand the responsibilities of an entrepreneur and deploy resources in order to launch new ventures. In addition to their mentors, students also get the opportunity to network with industry experts, as well as faculty and staff at the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center.

“The Lavin Program has so far made a tremendous change in my life,” said Stellan Christensen, a junior majoring in international business. “Before entering the program, I felt like I could do everything. I joined numerous student organizations, was on the club hockey team and changed my major several times. I was all over the place.”

But thanks to the Lavin Entrepreneur Program, Christensen has focused his academic and career goals and is now plotting his next big move.

“Next year I plan on studying abroad in Madrid,” said Christensen. “As I am a Swedish citizen, I may consider moving to Europe after college. I want to leave the possibility of starting a business in another country open.”

major Alexander Gray is equally excited about the opportunities the Lavin Entrepreneur Program provides. Gray was paired with local businesswoman Zeynep Ilgaz and says he admires her drive for success and giving back to the community.

“The best piece of advice I have received from my mentor is to always sleep on big decisions and to not let emotions distort logical business decisions,” Gray said.

Ilgaz (’00) is president and CEO of Confirm BioSciences Inc., a leading provider of drug and alcohol testing kits. She said she owes her success in part to the classes and programs she participated in during her time at SDSU and is excited to give back to her alma mater.

“I am so grateful for everything I learned at SDSU,” Ilgaz said. “I had amazing professors, and the fact that SDSU is connected to the business community is very valuable. I remember I had my first job lined up right after I graduated.”

Like Ilgaz, nearly half of the mentors in the Lavin Entrepreneur Program are alumni. Christensen’s mentor, Matt DeCelles (’10), was in the second cohort of the Lavin Entrepreneur Program. Presently a partner at HearNow technologies, DeCelles fondly recalls his time at SDSU and with the Lavin Entrepreneur Program.

“I had a revelation when mentors would come in and tell their stories,” DeCelles said. “They told tales of success, failure, emotional chaos, and seemingly unsurmountable challenges. It taught me that successful stories have incredible insight that could help me shortcut my path to success. I absolutely loved my time at SDSU and am constantly impressed with the next generation of entrepreneurs coming out of the school.”

More information about each of the 2016-18 Lavin Entrepreneurs is available on the Lavin Entrepreneur Program website.