Lavin Mentors

Entrepreneurial SDSU students selected for the VentureStart Program

 Lavin VentureStart Program 2018 — 2020 

Mike Hoefer

I love discovering brands that are small, but have huge opportunities in front of them, if executed correctly. Too many great brands are left on the side of the road due to ownership issues, lack of funding and poor execution. For 16 years I was a Partner & EVP of Business Development at Nixon. During this time, we built a market leading, award winning brand that was distributed in over 85 countries and achieved a sale price of $465 million. Currently I am Partner and CEO of The James Brand, a start-up that designs and builds everyday carry tools for the modern-day explorer. James was founded to fill a void in the space and disrupt an industry that is hundreds of years old through modern design and unparalleled brand experience. In a digital world, people need an analog experience. After running a company with over 200 people, it is great to be in a start-up working from our garage. Prior to Nixon and James, I was in NY, owner of a 10+ million-dollar sales agency for Burton Snowboards and Arnette Sunglasses. I am a believer that if you combine what you love and what you are good at, with what the world needs, you will be successful.

Carmen Bianchi

Carmen Bianchi has been a Family Business Consultant since 1991. She was the founder and director of the EMC Business Forum at San Diego State University, servicing the growth needs of family and closely held businesses. She was the founder of the University of Texas at El Paso Family Business Forum and was the executive director of the Forum. Ms. Bianchi has relocated to the San Diego area and is the founder and a principal of Carmen Bianchi & Associates, a consulting firm in Family Business. She currently teaches in the College of Business at SDSU to graduating seniors, a class on Family Business Management. As a family business consultant, Ms. Bianchi has served as a facilitator for family business retreats, facilitator for conflict resolution and an advisor on a variety of strategic business issues. Ms. Bianchi is also an expert in family systems and the relationship between family, business ownership and the professional roles within a family firm. Ms. Bianchi received national recognition and was elected to be the President 2007-2009 of the Family Firm Institute, the premier organization in the U.S. for professionals specializing in family business and wealth management. The Family Firm Institute in recognition of her outstanding achievements and contributions to the field of family business advising awarded her fellowship status. She was the Conference Chair for the FFI Global Summit 2013 held in San Diego. Carmen is the recipient of the Barbara Hollander Award, which exemplifies Barbara Hollander's love of education and learning, life-long commitment to social causes, dedication to civic responsibility, belief in the human capacity to change for the better, and belief in giving to others generously.


Brett Bernstein

I'm a two-time founder. I sold my first company at age 24, worked at Box through their IPO, and started my latest company, Gatsby, in 2017. I've been through a ton of entrepreneurial up's and downs, from founder feuds, to fundraising fears, to selling a business that helps 50,000 students eat healthier every year. Gatsby is a SaaS platform to help brands capture, engage, and grow their social customers at scale. We've been through a San Francisco accelerator, raised a little bit of money, and are currently in growth mode. I believe in early mornings, accountability, and jumping in the ocean whenever possible.

Anna Warpe-Lillian

Whether solving problems or creating new opportunities I love working with people. My thirty plus years both in sales and marketing have given me an unique perspective on how to work with people and be an effective entrepreneur and business leader. My experience spans several industries both in the US and internationally which includes consumer products, retail, financial services, tourism and travel services, and software. I began my career in sales which I think is the best place to start if you want to be an entrepreneur. I worked for Fortune 500 companies such as Bristol-Myers Squipp, The Gillette Company, The NutraSweet Company, Mc Donalds's and Johnson and Johnson and gained the foundation that I needed. Then I launched my company and a spirit brand from Mexico. That was many years ago but I remember it all as if it were yesterday - the passion, hard work and, most importantly, the people I met and worked with closely for many years. Currently, I am a Tax Advisor with a leading software company and also part owner of a tour company in San Francisco - two very different businesses but with more similarities than not.I am delighted to share my enthusiasm and experience with The Lavin Entrepreneur Center.

Jim Kalb

I am currently the President of OptiFuse, an innovative high-growth manufacturer of power protection components distributed by high-quality select wholesalers throughout the world. My passion is the creation and growth of start-ups companies and the overall management and leadership of entrepreneurial operations. Philosophically, I believe in and practice the 6 business principles of: Values (higher purpose), Company Culture, Fostering Relationships, Leadership by Example, Community Investment, and Sustained and Profitable Growth... In terms of technology, I am an expert in the field of low voltage power protection especially in area of over-current and over-voltage component protection.


Tim Garrett

Tim is a seasoned business leader with deep experience in marketing, apparel and action sports. Tim’s current entrepreneurial venture is building a technical apparel line around partner and legendary waterman, Laird Hamilton. As President of Laird Apparel LLC, Tim is responsible for the operations, sales and marketing of the brand. Along with William Cawley, Chief Creative Officer/Partner, Laird Apparel launched in October, 2015 after 2 years in development and fundraising. Laird Apparel has seen strong sales online, at resorts, and is now getting placement in traditional retail. Prior to Laird Apparel, Tim was part of a very successful launch and sale of SIMPLE Mobile LLC, a prepaid, no contract wireless service working off of the T-Mobile network. As SVP of Marketing, Tim was part of a team that built SIMPLE Mobile to the fastest growing Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) in history in 2 short years. In June 2012, SIMPLE sold to prepaid wireless giant, TracFone Wireless, Inc. Before SIMPLE Mobile, Tim spent over 20 years building brands in the action sports industry. He spent more than five years with apparel licensee, La Jolla Group, where he was first the Vice-President of Marketing for O’Neill Clothing then the President of ...Lost Clothing. Prior to that, Tim served as Vice-President of Global Marketing for Australian based Globe Shoes. Tim also was a founding partner and SVP of McElroy Communications, a youth/action sports marketing firm with accounts such as Vans, Quiksilver, Volcom, PacSun, Taco Bell and XBOX. Tim helped drive the sell of McElroy Communications to then advertising powerhouse, Foote, Cone and Belding in the early 2000s. Tim has consulted for start-up action sports and outdoor companies through his consortium of industry professionals, The Action Sports Collective Inc. (TASC). He is also a mentor at SDSU’s Lavin Entrepreneurial Management Center where he helps students develop and implement new business concepts. Tim graduated from SDSU in 1988 with a BA in Journalism and minor in Psychology.

Rich Christiansen

Rich started his professional career as a freelance journalist for a small aviation publication while studying mechanical engineering. During this time, Rich gained an appreciation for the freedom and challenge of starting and running your own business. After completing his degree, Rich spent one year working as a design engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems where he learned that I didn’t really like engineering, but discovered his passion for law, arguing, and winning. This realization led Rich to law school, and he has now practiced IP law for nine years. Rich’s legal focus is helping small and large companies develop, protect, and use their intellectual property. Rich focuses his time on the spaces of medical and mechanical devices and software. Rich has also started and ran multiple businesses including a pearl import business and a military equipment business.

Duncan McLaren

Experienced entrepreneur with a demonstrated history of working in mobile and the internet. Skilled inMobile Advertising, Monetization, E-commerce, Entrepreneurship, and Venture Capital. Strongbusiness development professional.


Mark Schmid

Mark developed multiple industry leading companies in the action sports space. He has 32 years of experience in product design, brand launch, management, manufacturing, marketing, professional athlete management & distribution in both hard goods & soft goods resulting in the sales of hundreds of millions of dollars in branded product.

Gail Naughton

Gail K. Naughton, Ph.D., has been in tissue engineering research for 30 years, holds over 105 patents, and founded two regenerative medicine companies. Her current venture, Histogen, is focused on novel products from hypoxia induced stem cells. She is the Company’s CSO/CBDO and invented its core technology. She was the founder/co-inventor at Advanced Tissue Sciences, oversaw the design and development of the world’s first up-scaled manufacturing facility for tissue engineered products, established major corporate development partnerships, raised over $350M, and brought four products from concept through market launch. At Histogen Dr. Naughton developed a new skin care product, ReGenica, which was recently acquired by Allergan. Dr. Naughton has been extensively published and a frequent speaker in the field of tissue engineering. In 2000, Dr.Naughton received the 27 th Annual National Inventor of the Year award by the Intellectual Property Owners Association in honor of her pioneering work in regenerative medicine. She served as the Dean of the SDSU College of Business Administration from 2002-2011.

Daniel Obodovksi

Daniel is an Internet of Things thought leader, keynote speaker, and founder/CEO of the The Silent Intelligence - a boutique management & technology consulting company, focused on IOT & digital transformation. Most of their clients are Fortune 500 companies. Prior to starting The Silent Intelligence, Daniel worked as Director of Business Development at Qualcomm Inc. Daniel has extensive background in new business incubation and technology commercialization. Throughout his career at Qualcomm, Daniel led commercialization and market launch of multiple businesses, many originated as R&D concepts. After leaving Qualcomm in 2013, Daniel co-authored "The Silent Intelligence: the Internet of Things", one of the first books about an upcoming technology revolution, which the following year became a top 10 book on technology and investing on Amazon. In 2016 Daniel organized the Diego Smart City hackathon, focused on the Climate Action Plan and bringing together the City of San Diego and University of California San Diego along with multiple corporate partners. In 2017 Inspired by the success of the hackathon and having passion for smart city solutions, together with a group of investors Daniel co-founded SCALE San Diego (Smart Cities Accelerator, Labs + Environment).


Gregg Anderson

Gregg is a marketing and revenue growth specialist in property management, consumer goods, solar, biotech, and hospitality industries. He is a Veteran of the Armed Forces and a graduate of San Diego State University, holding a Bachelor’s degree in Management & Entrepreneurship. Gregg’s experience in the marketing industry ranges from auditing and planning marketing strategies for the small business next door, to crafting strategies for multimillion-dollar ventures. He also has experience in the startup, angel, and venture capital environments. Gregg is a regular speaker and volunteer at The Zahn Innovation Center, SDSU’s startup incubator.

Matt DeCelles

Matt DeCelles co-founded William Painter Inc., a premium direct-to-consumer eyewear company by launching a Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Since then they have launched an additional six crowdfunding campaigns and have developed an expertise in the industry. Their latest Kickstarter campaign “The Empire” is the largest non-technical sunglasses crowdfunded campaign of all time. Matt has significant knowledge of e-commerce strategies and tactics. These skill sets combined with the repeated success through crowdfunding has fueled William Painter to be in the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies.

Angela Hill

Angela Hill is the CEO of Incitrio, a San Diego-based marketing and branding agency. With over 25 years of branding, design, and marketing experience, she has worked with Fortune 500 and SMB clients to brand them nationally and around the world. Ms. Hill earned her BFA in Visual Communications from Washington University in Saint Louis. She has spoken at international conferences, a former adjunct marketing professor at USD, and a former adjunct design professor at SDSU. She has served on numerous boards and is currently active with BBBS (Big Brothers Big Sisters). She is active in the non-profit community, focused on: arts and education. She has been nominated for: Fastest Growing Company, TWIN, Women Who Mean Business, Top Young Influential, and Top Influential. Her firm has won: GDUSA National Design Award, Create Magazine National Design Award (Gold), Neenah Paper National Design Award (Gold), Davey International Design Award (Silver), and more.


Greg Crisci

Greg Crisci sold his first startup at 26, is a graduate of SDSU with a Bachelors in Marketing and is an alumni of the Lavin Class of 2010.During his time at SDSU and during while participating in the Lavin Program he founded his startup, Tip Network and worked at San Diego's largest and most well-known digital marketing agency Digitaria (now Mirum). Greg left Digitaria in 2013 to pursue Tip Network, a platform that makes it easy to manage tips in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. In 2014, Tip Network was accepted to the Plug and Play accelerator, providing a space in the heart of Silicon Valley to develop the idea. In 2015, only one year after launching their first client, Tip Network was acquired by one of the largest payment processing and prepaid card providers in the US. Greg can speak first hand of the value of the Lavin Program and how to make the most of out it. In addition, Greg has experience in building a company from the early stages (you have an idea) to acquisition (fundraising, negotiation, etc...) and everything in between.

Julien Brandt

Julien Brandt is the Founder and CEO of Organik SEO, a digital marketing agency that is dedicated to supporting the growth of organizations that use business as a force for good. Organik helps purpose-driven brands and organizations grow online by leveraging the power of digital marketing (through SEO, SEM, Social Media, Content and Marketing Automation). Organik SEO is headquartered in Coastal Carlsbad with a current in-house team of about 20 people.

Organik SEO is a certified Benefit Corporation and ranked #51 on the list of San Diego's 150 fastest growing companies for 2016. Organik SEO was awarded the Torch Award for Environmental Ethics in 2017 and they are a certified Google Partner and a Hubspot Platinum Partner.

Aside from leading the vision and direction of Organik SEO, Julien also:

  • Speaks regularly at local universities, organizations and conferences on the topic of digital marketing, social enterprise and entrepreneurship
  • Serves as a founding board member with the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce
  • Serves on the board of the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
  • Is a member of EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and served on the board of their Accelerator program
  • Was a recipient of the San Diego 40 under 40 award
  • Was a recipient of the San Diego Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO's award
  • Frequently contributes to publications as a thought leader in the digital marketing industry
  • When not at work or volunteering you can him traveling the world with his wife, exploring new restaurants, spending time with friends or driving the race car he built
Eric Birkemeier

Eric is the founder and CEO of ShredLights, a company that provides lighting solutions for action sports and personal electric vehicles. The company started as a skateboard lighting company, but has recently evolved into other markets under the direction of Eric. The success of ShredLights has been based on the growth of electric skateboards and other electric vehicles for last mile transportation. Eric also started another company in his senior year at SDSU, called Riptide, which made electric skateboards. Through a crowdfunding campaign they were able to raise 200% of their $50,000 goal giving them the money to purchase a first round of inventory. Eric has since left the company to focus on ShredLights, but the company continues to sell electric skateboards today.

Eric is a graduate of the SDSU film program, and has created marketing content for several startups including ShredLights and Riptide. He has an eye for content that will engage an audience and has a deep understanding of what type of content makes people purchase. He was a part of the Lavin Entrepreneurship program from 2015 - 2017. He spends his free time skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, reading, and shooting photos.


Jeffrey Hinshaw

Jeffrey Hinshaw has successfully combined his strong research and academic based way of solving problems to his many entrepreneurial successes.

He is a Venture Partner at BlockTerra Capital, a digital asset focused hedge fund that specializes in serving professional athletes, family offices, and accredited investors. He is one of the owners of Balance Tracking Systems, which produces a portable force plate used to assess balance for fall risk analysis, concussion management, and athletic research. He is also an owner of ABC Mining, a digital asset mining company that is focused on extensive data and financial analytic research for their clients.

Jeff is an active member of multiple angel investor and venture capital groups. He has also held both consultant and analytical roles at two Fortune 500s.

He is a current adjunct faculty at SDSU where he lectures in the ENS department. He has two master’s degrees from SDSU: an MBA in Finance, and a Master’s in Kinesiology. He was also a graduate researcher in SDSUs Biomechanics lab for two years, where he became a published scientific author.

Jeff spends his free time at the gym and at the beach. He is extremely passionate about finance, entrepreneurship and teaching—and finding ways to add value and create synergies drawing from his experience scaling multiple successful business endeavors.

Drew Haines

Drew Haines is the Founder & CTO of HoursLogger, a time tracking and invoicing system that syncs with QuickBooks Online. He is an expert at building web applications using HTML, CSS, JS, Ruby on Rails and React. Drew is responsible for the design, development, testing, and deployment of new features. He also handles customer support and various marketing activities.

Drew received a BS in Electrical Engineering from San Diego State University. He is a Lavin Entrepreneur graduate and was in the Zahn Innovation Center. During school, Drew ran a profitable tutoring company called The SDSU EE Tutor. After graduating, he started a software consultancy called DevCo. DevCo worked multiple applications including a custom accounting system, a photography management platform, and chiropractic software. He enjoys making ideas come to life and still consults on the side.

He is an active member of SD Ruby and consistently mentors junior devs through the LEARN Internship Program. When Drew isn't programming, he enjoys surfing, running, or reading a book.

Sean Dreiling
Sean Dreiling is a serial entrepreneur and currently serving as the Founder & CEO of Restoar, a health and wellness company focused on delivering innovative skin care, personal care and nutritional based supplements. In addition, Sean is the Creative Director for 8020 Health, an online education and media platform founded to share accurate, effective and actionable information where together, Restoar and 8020 Health exist to simplify health & personal care. Lastly, Sean serves as the Managing Partner of Maada Group, a conscious marketing agency designed to create extraordinary consumer experiences that lead to long-term, exponential growth.


Scott Manning

After a 30+ year in pharmaceutical and medical device country and area international business,leadership, strategic planning, product launch management, key accounts, channel development, market research, and public relations, I have transitioned to teaching business courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. During my business career I utilized a global mindset to quickly study and diagnose business issues and opportunities in international market operations. I have worked as a intrapreneur and entrepreneur for both large and small companies and launched a startup of my own.

I have transitioned from a corporate career to Lecturing at San Diego State University. I have been teaching B2B Marketing, International Management and Contemporary Issues in Marketing Theory and Practice.

Paul Kitchin

Paul dropped out of Georgia State University and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1995. Paul sustained a career ending injury in 2001 and finished his undergraduate work at Park University while undergoing surgeries before being honorably discharged as Staff Sergeant in 2002. Paul rapidly found that only entry level work was available for a newly degreed former Marine with no relevant experience, and successfully gained entry into SDSU Graduate School of Business. Paul worked as a full-charge bookkeeper at a small business while a student and served on the SDSU Aztec Equity Fund. Paul earned an MBA with dual emphases in Accountancy and Finance in 2004 and was recruited as a Senior Consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton where he was introduced to government consulting support performing financial and workforce analyses for the Comptroller of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in Old Town, SD. After realizing that moving forward and gaining experience quickly in a giant organization would be difficult, Paul gained employment as an Operations Manager with Liberty Woods International in 2006 where he was able to quickly take on responsibility and enjoyed the latitude to implement solutions with direct access to executive management. Paul began a side project relying on his accounting education, experience as a full-charge bookkeeper, and USMC small unit leadership to help his former boss at Booz Allen (now in Charleston, SC) stand up his own consulting company. Paul was rapidly pulled in full-time to serve as the CEO and co-owner and left Liberty Woods in 2007 to stand up the San Diego office of Atlas Executive Consulting, LLC (Atlas).

Atlas has now grown to $12M in annual revenues with 101 employees spanning six states. Atlas primarily focuses on providing professional support services to Federal Agencies. Atlas’s winning value proposition of cultivating and providing high quality consultants from a lean, agile, and cost-conscious organization has resulted in steady growth in a highly competitive market for over a decade. Recent awards and recognitions include;

2016 San Diego Business Journal “#1 Medium Sized Company to Work for in San Diego”
2017 Consulting Magazine’s one of “Seven Small Jewels”
2017 Inc. 5000 “#1211 Fastest Growing Small Businesses”
2017 South Carolina Business Journal “#1 Fastest Growing Business in South Carolina”
2018 Inc. 5000 “# 1035 Fastest Growing Small Businesses”
Even though Paul routinely spends 60+ hours a week at a desk or at client locations, he maintains a passion for outdoor adventure from his days in the Marines. Paul can frequently be found surfing, hiking and backpacking, mountaineering, or riding dirk-bikes in the local deserts.

Jim Matteo
Defining Story: When I was 9 years old I asked my father for a go kart. As the youngest of 10 kids in the family I would frequently ask for things. My father said that I could have whatever I wanted. This got my attention and I immediately asked how. He said I just had to go out and work for it. That was the start of my entrepreneurial journey and what defines me as a CEO. I feel that we can achieve all of our goals in life through hard work and commitment. Background: Jim Matteo founded Bird Rock Systems on the waves in 2003 at one of his favorite surf spots, Bird Rock. Since inception, Jim has built a company with 13 years of consecutive growth and profitability and continues to bring tremendous value to his customers by creating a world class company culture. In 2012, Jim was awarded the EO- San Diego, Entrepreneur of the Year Award. His vision to provide ‘Best in Class’ technical solutions and customer services is rooted from his company’s core values.
Alex Martinez

Alex Martinez is the Founder & CEO of Real Estate Skills, a real estate education company providing coaching, tools, and resources to start a successful real estate business or career.

Alex started his real estate journey at the age of 20 when he started flipping houses while in college.

After taking part in hundreds of real estate investments & transactions, Alex now enjoys helping others establish the necessary skills to excel in the real estate industry.

As an active real estate investor & consultant, Alex has personally built investment companies and has been able to consistently deliver ROI in any market for his clients. Alex's clients have been featured on A&E's Hit T.V. Show "Flip This House!" for multiple seasons, and have also made the Inc. 500 List of America's Fastest-Growing Private Companies several times.

Marc Bennett
My specialty is small business and more specifically service based businesses. I’m a self taught and serial small business entrepreneur. I barely graduated high school and played in a band for a few years touring the world in my 20’s before deciding to move to California from New Jersey in the year 2000. After discovering Tony Robbins and personal development in 2002 my whole life changed. I always took pride in being the best employee at whatever job I worked but after being exposed to self improvement I knew I had to do something on my own. I started from scratch with no money, no education, no support from family or friends and no real skill in business. I figured out how to start, own and operate 4 small businesses, generating 7 figures annually simply through trial and error and by surrounding myself around good mentors. I’m excited to share my story and limited knowledge with anyone who feels they can benefit. Gratitude is key and success without fulfillment is ultimate failure!!
Kirsten Iversen
Kirsten Iversen