Two Hollister entries advanced to the finals in the Startup Challenge Monterey Bay competition held over the weekend at CSUMB and now have a chance to win thousands of dollars in prize money.
Ohana Shave Ice and ARTI-Culture both advanced to the final rounds in their respective divisions. For Ohana Shave Ice, the Hawaiian-themed business located in downtown Hollister will compete in the Venture Division against 11 other finalists, while ARTI-Culture is competing in the Main Street Division against eight other finalists.
“We’re just really, really proud and really humbled,” said Rolan Resendiz, co-owner of ARTI-Culture along with partner Joel Esqueda. “It’s always important for us to stay grounded.”
“We’re super excited,” noted Peter Hernandez, co-owner of Ohana Shave Ice with wife Karina. “I really believe in our model. We both do.”
The Startup Challenge is a competition and accelerator program for new businesses in the Monterey Bay region. It has been held at California State University Monterey Bay for the past nine years and has awarded more than $350,000 to winners, according to the organization.
First place in the Venture division gets winners $20,000 with $5,000 going to second and third places. In the Main Street category, the winner gets $10,000 with $2,500 going to second and third places.
The final rounds will feature exhibits at a Venture Showcase and the championship competition at the Otter Tank. The finals will be May 12 at at the Salinas City Center.
Out of 81 businesses that entered this year’s Startup Challenge, a project run by the CSUMB Institute for Innovation and Economic Development, a total of 25 were named finalists in the Main Street, Venture and Student categories after making pitches to judges Saturday at the Monterey campus.
For Ohana Shave Ice, this is the second year in the competition, but in 2018 the business moved from the Main Street to the Venture division. Ohana serves a variety of food and drinks. The Hernandez family founded it as a catering business specializing in Hawaiian shave ice about five years ago, but in 2017 expanded into a storefront at 738 San Benito St. while now offering a variety of other food and drinks, such as the move toward serving Kona Coffee.
Last year, Ohana was runner-up in the Main Street division. Judges informed the couple that the one thing holding them back was their move to a storefront, while they felt that was the very reason why they would be a prime candidate to win the Venture division. Hernandez said they felt the storefront potential was a strength.
“We’re looking at growing where we think we can scale not only in this market but in other markets,” he said, adding how time constraints in the competition limited his ability to explain the model.
“Shave ice is so unique,” he went on. “You need a place to store your items. You need a central kitchen.”
Resendiz and Esqueda have plans to grow as well, prompting them to enter the contest.
“The reason we went to this thing is because we felt like our model works and we want to get a little bit more exposure,” Resendiz said, adding how they hope to “grow our model and replicate it in different communities.”
ARTI-Culture focuses on arts education and events that are affordable and accessible.
As for the presentation itself, ARTI-Culture brought several of the team members but decided to have Resendiz make the presentation due to time limits, something they figured out by attending workshops set up to help contestants prepare.
“This time, you’re going to have people mentor us the whole way,” he said, adding how they will prepare a more formal business plan.
With Hollister having two finalists, Resendiz said they would like to succeed for the community and that they’re happy to see Ohana make the finals, too.
“They’re great friends of ours,” he said. “They‘re local, Hollister business owners. It would so great for us to go and bring back the prize.”
Karina Hernandez also said the community aspect is key for Ohana and will be, even if they expand into other communities. She said property interests in other communities already have queried them about opening shop elsewhere.
“One of the things that’s been so exciting is to see how as Ohana Shave Ice has grown, how the community has embraced our business and how we’re doing,” she said.