Local entrepreneurs have taken their innovative ideas from prototype to the market with the help of Innovate-Up, a program offered through the Brink Small Business Development Center (Brink SBDC) at the University of San Diego that launched last year and is supported in part through a $300,000 County of San Diego grant from Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

While the pandemic has introduced new challenges for small business owners, Innovate-Up has focused on virtual events and one-on-one consulting to help businesses pivot to digital delivery and embrace new opportunities that the shift opened to entrepreneurs.

Innovate-Up from the Brink SBC at the University of San Diego

The Innovate-Up program includes special outreach and on-ramps for entrepreneurs from six under-resourced San Diego neighborhoods near and important to USD — Chollas, City Heights, Encanto, Linda Vista, Rolando Park and Redwood Village — with a full suite of completely free resources to start and scale up their businesses.

“Prior to coming to the Brink and the Innovate-Up program, I spent close to $15,000 on the prior patent attorney,” said Ruth Young-Loaeza, an entrepreneur and creator of the patented product, Neet Sheets. “I have just received my second patent… and I haven’t paid a dime. It definitely has made the difference for my business and my product.”

Throughout the program, Innovate Up has leveraged the power of USD and San Diego Imperial Small Business Development Center Network to support over 248 clients in these neighborhoods with business advice, supported 16 new business starts, helped 13 companies increase sales, and created over 50 jobs, supporting many more.

Hear from University President and Supervisor Fletcher

“The Innovate-Up program is a bright spot in a year that has been difficult for so many,” said James T. Harris III, D.Ed., president of the University of San Diego. “I applaud the work of the Brink and am grateful to the County, knowing that the impressive entrepreneurs served by this program are going to help San Diego emerge stronger.”

“Operating a small business is difficult under normal circumstances, but COVID-19 has made this year much harder. Thanks to our Innovate-Up partners our program participants have remained resilient,” said Supervisor Fletcher. “This collaboration has given San Diegans a path to fulfill their dreams and grow our local economy. I look forward to the continued success of more businesses and this partnership with USD and the Brink SBDC.”

The Brink SBDC will continue to provide support via the Innovate-Up program through the spring of 2021 and has already been connecting USD student projects to meet company marketing and other needs.

Small businesses looking for innovation-specific assistance and mentoring can reach out for free resources. Visit www.sandiego.edu/sbdc/innovateup, call 619-260-4547 or email SBDC@sandiego.edu.


  • Anayo Nworjih, founder of Cook Casa. Nworjih was a Linda Vista resident when he founded his at-home chef business and started receiving one-on-one advising from the Brink SBDC through the InnovateUp program. Nworjih has credited the Brink with helping him increase sales by 33% on his platform for chefs to cook in private residences via cookcasa.com. Most recently, Nworjih won $7,500 by winning a startup competition through Connect All at the Jacobs Center, a diversity-focused incubator in Southeast San Diego. During the pandemic, he has been able to help chefs earn extra income by pivoting to backyard private dining.
  • Ruth Young-Loaeza, founder of Neet Sheets. Young-Loaeza, who grew up and raised her children in City Heights, obtained a patent for her hotel and commercial sheet innovation and has filed a second patent. The Brink has also helped her to negotiate with manufacturers to begin mass production of her products. She has secured product sales in boutique hotels and Airbnbs in northern California.
  • Rachel Lozano Castro, Director of the Brink Small Business Development Center at USD, who can provide details about the program
  • Nathan Fletcher, County Supervisor for San Diego’s 4th Supervisorial District
  • James T. Harris III, D.Ed., President, University of San Diego


About The Brink

The Brink Small Business Development Center at University of San Diego offers world-class business consulting, and relevant and insightful guidance to growth-oriented, innovation-based entrepreneurs, who are running small businesses. To date, The Brink has supported over 900 small businesses and helped them raise over $72 Million in capital.

About Supervisor Nathan Fletcher

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher represents the County of San Diego’s Fourth District. Key priorities for his first term are to improve the County’s behavioral health system, strengthen the child welfare system, tackle climate change and work to improve air quality. He is also a champion of small business, and believes we must create opportunities for local businesses to thrive in San Diego’s growing economy. During the COVID-19 crisis, Supervisor Fletcher has passed several County policies that have provided tens-of-millions of dollars to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. Visit www.SupervisorNathanFletcher.com, follow him at @SupFletcher on Twitter, email him at Nathan.Fletcher@sdcounty.ca.gov or call 619-531-5544.


The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges. With more than 9,000 students from 69 countries and 50 states, USD is the youngest independent institution on the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 universities in the United States. The university’s eight academic divisions include the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, the School of Law, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and the Division of Professional and Continuing Education. USD’s Envisioning 2024 strategic plan capitalizes on the university’s recent progress and aligns new strategic goals with current strengths to help shape a vision for the future as the university looks ahead to its 75th anniversary in the year 2024.


Daniel Telles
(619) 260-7862