Driving progress in economy

Driving progress in economy

CSULA’s new Small Business Development Center helps local tech companies expand with research and development

With his head tilted to the side, Ken Luna stares across the sheen of a gleaming automobile, meticulously searching for any imperfection in the paint.

Luna is owner of DP Tint in Tustin. His employees are car detail experts who go beyond the typical polishing used to minimize imperfections in paint, to actually removing flaws and bringing cars back to their original showroom luster.

Looking to improve and better promote his paint restoration system, Luna turned to Tammy Chan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Cal State L.A., who told him about the University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

The center, launched in fall 2011 within the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology (ECST), helps cultivate business and the economy in the region, and provides entrepreneurs with the tools and guidance needed to become successful in today’s economic climate.

“Through the SBDC, I’m hoping to learn and gain more experience in the business aspect of what I’m doing by developing, marketing, and pushing the business beyond my original expectations,” said Luna, who launched DP Tint in 1979.

The SBDC has a technology focus, explained ECST Director of Strategic Initiatives Lily Nguyen, which means the center concentrates on established businesses with an engineering or technology core that are looking to expand or diversify through the development of new products.

“Helping these clients allows their businesses to grow and brings more revenue to the region, which in turn spurs more hiring,” said Nguyen.

Funded largely by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the CSULA SBDC has already accepted a dozen clients. The location on campus also means that small business owners gain access to faculty, students and laboratories that may help their ideas become a reality.

As in Luna’s case, SBDC advisers match business owners with faculty members who specialize in a field close to the product concept. The faculty member selects students to design, build and test the product as part of the Senior Design Project, which fulfills a requirement for graduation.

The Pitch

The team of engineering students assigned to Luna’s project consisted of seniors Eddie Medina, Jin Zhao, Patrick Shiau, and James In, and was supervised by SBDC consultant and engineering Professor Fred Held and Senior Design Project Instructor David Raymond.

To prepare, the team’s work started with research and development of the science and engineering techniques needed to complete the project.

Dressed in suits and armed with a PowerPoint presentation, the team anxiously pitched their concept, presented theories, and answered rapid-fire questions from a panel of engineering professors and Luna.

“People have different views on what they want from the project,” said In, a mechanical and manufacturing senior.

“We had to accommodate and shuffle to try to please both the academic panel and the business owner.”

Research & Development

After the presentation, the students refined the concept, purchased materials and fine-tuned testing protocol to ensure each test would be consistent. Product design and testing was conducted during the winter and the team analyzed the results to make adjustments in preparation of their final presentation in June.

Often, clients will want to improve existing products or systems. Some have no engineering background, which enables CSULA’s engineering students to offer their knowledge while sharpening their communication skills in real-world business situations.

“Non-engineers come to engineers to fulfill their needs. They have an idea for a functional product and it’s our job as engineers to apply science to help them finish this goal,” said Raymond. “All the client really wants to know is that the equipment does what he or she wants it to.”

The team agreed the DP Tint project was unique from other Senior Design Projects in that it forced them to explore disciplines other than their major, and they felt the experience of working for an actual client like Luna will prove beneficial to their future careers.

“When we were first assigned this, we had a hunch it wasn’t going to be solely a mechanical engineering project,” said Shiau. “Other projects are more involved in design and in applying theories we learn through the courses. In this one, we had to get involved with a different field—physics—and combine it with other knowledge to make the design.”

The final presentation was a success and the students learned a lot during the process, said Medina, who added that the team took a special field trip to use some highly-specialized equipment during the testing phase.

Providing students this type of opportunity to grow while helping small local businesses succeed is at the heart of the SBDC mission.

“The SBDC at CSULA is excited to continue working with faculty to help students round out their education and make a difference in the small business community,” said Nguyen.

Link to Small Business Development Center: /sites/default/files/academic/ecst/sbdc/