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Grant-Funded UC San Diego Talent Foundry Open to Community Members

By facilitating partnerships, strengthening the network of support, and providing access to financial resources, the Talent Foundry aims to diversify and fortify San Diego’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A stylized image of a woman and man standing next to each other in a room.
Christiana Russell (left) and David Favela, MPIA ’96 (right) offer support, guidance and networking opportunities for San Diego entrepreneurs. Photo: Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego

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This article originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of UC San Diego Magazine as “Extraordinary Ideas.”

A dynamic duo is leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs in San Diego. David Favela, MPIA ’96 and Christiana Russell lead UC San Diego’s Talent Foundry, a support service for startups and entrepreneurs from historically underrepresented communities. With the support of a three-year, $929,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Talent Foundry will increase the diversity of founders in the startup space, particularly in tech, biotech, blue tech and life science. Additionally, it will provide the San Diego community with access to university resources at the newly opened Design and Innovation Building

“In San Diego, there are exclusive startup events where money and ideas flow,” says Favela, program director of the Talent Foundry. “Wealth is created at these events and perpetuates itself. And so when a diverse group of entrepreneurs is not represented, it’s already a segregated situation.”

By facilitating partnerships, strengthening the network of support and providing access to financial resources, the Talent Foundry aims to diversify and fortify San Diego’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“To us, the Talent Foundry is a way of giving back to the community,” says Favela.

Participating founders work in a broad range of fields, from education to molecular biology and from hospitality to health. Current startups include RoomChazer, a student-housing roommate-matching online platform; Neet Sheets, a timesaving new bedsheet for the hospitality industry; and Promo Drone, a rapid-response aerial drone communication system. The Talent Foundry works with entrepreneurs at all stages of development, from ideation through the scaling process. 

“The Talent Foundry has provided me with a professional network, a physical location, financial assistance, mentorship and much more,” says Carlos Munoz, co-founder of ReBlood Rx, a bioengineered protein to oxygenate vital organs when blood is not immediately available. “This type of support is exactly what a company needs to survive to reach the first few milestones to be self-sustaining.” 

With Favela and Russell at the helm, the approach is more holistic than your classic business accelerator or mentorship program. There is no curriculum and no timeline. Although they follow the lean startup methodology, which involves a build–measure–learn feedback loop, the program unfolds differently for each participant. The Talent Foundry offers specialized training in areas where individual founders need specific operational support to build their business acumen or navigate obstacles in their personal lives. The program’s customized “whole person” approach is invaluable in an entrepreneurship program for populations whose self-confidence, risk perception or social participation have been impacted by marginalization. 

“We believe entrepreneurialism is a state of mind, and you need to cultivate it,” says Favela. “When you come from a diverse background, you may not have had it modeled for you.”

Russell, the Talent Foundry’s program coordinator and co-partner of We Tha Plug, a startup network that brings together founders and funding opportunities in Los Angeles, puts it another way.

“In order to do extraordinary things, you have to know you’re extraordinary,” she says. “Recognizing that, owning it and celebrating it often needs nurturing from the outside in.”

Undoubtedly, Favela and Russell each have their own language for speaking about the work they do. This is where the strength of their partnership lies, and the program is thriving under their collaborative leadership. 

“I am so grateful for David and Christiana,” says Christine Olory, founder and CEO of RoomChazer. “Their approach is very different from other coaches or business accelerators. It’s closer, more intimate, more vulnerable, more aware of the challenges of being a minority founder, which creates a safe space that I desperately needed.”

“Our program is a hands-on model,” Favela says. “We roll up our sleeves and sit side by side with the founders and help them chart their paths and give them different ways of thinking.”

Favela’s enthusiasm for working with founders from underserved communities comes in part from his own family story. His father immigrated from Mexico to Chicago, unable to speak, read or write in English. Yet through a combination of hard work and good luck, he was able to provide a comfortable and stable environment for his family with all of his children graduating from college and obtaining advanced degrees.

“When I see anyone trying to create a life for themselves, I see my parents making a generational legacy for their own kids, for their own community,” he says.

In 2014, after two decades working at Hewlett Packard, Favela opened Border X Brewing in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood. Today, it’s the largest Latino-owned craft brewery in the U.S. 

“Because of his 20-plus years of experience, David does a lot of the business coaching,” says Russell, “and I work as a support system to help the founders understand what blockages are keeping them from executing their plans.” 

Russell, author of the Talent Foundry’s grant, came to the project with 15 years of experience in grant funding and management, a large network of connections and familiarity with the startup space through We Tha Plug. But she also brings another skill that is unexpectedly valuable in the startup space: emotional intelligence.

Through her early career in youth and family services counseling, Russell gained a thorough understanding of the impacts of marginalization on entire communities. It’s important to her that each person she spends time with feels seen, heard and recognized and for founders to understand who they are and how it connects with the greater vision that they are pushing forward. Both are crucial to their ability to build and scale their ideas.

With its first year complete, the Talent Foundry is flourishing with 85 companies in its pipeline and 15 now housed in the Design and Innovation Building. 

“Diversity in the startup space at UC San Diego and in the wider San Diego region not only enriches the academic and business landscapes but also contributes to economic growth, social equity and global competitiveness,” says Russell. “We hope that seeing this diverse group of founders on campus will inspire underrepresented students to pursue entrepreneurship, knowing they have the support and resources to succeed.”   

Learn more about the Talent Foundry at 

This article originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of UC San Diego Magazine as “Extraordinary Ideas.”

“In order to do extraordinary things, you have to know you’re extraordinary. Recognizing that, owning it and celebrating it often needs nurturing from the outside in.”
Christiana Russell

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