Pitch Fest invests $5K into Reedley’s young entrepreneurs

Young adults work to open businesses in Reedley with help from investments made during the Reedley LaunchPad Pitch Fest

Contestants, judges and organizers pose with their final award checks at the Reedley LaunchPad Pitch Fest Dec. 15, 2023. The event was put on by Fresno Pacific University's Center for Community Transformation to help young entrepreneurs start businesses in Reedley. (Serena Bettis)
Contestants, judges and organizers pose with their final award checks at the Reedley LaunchPad Pitch Fest Dec. 15, 2023. The event was put on by Fresno Pacific University's Center for Community Transformation to help young entrepreneurs start businesses in Reedley. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published December 19, 2023  • 
12:00 pm

REEDLEY – Young adults took the stage in Reedley to show off their entrepreneurial spirit and compete for cash prizes that will help them start up their own business right here in town.

Five individuals were selected as finalists in the Reedley LaunchPad Pitch Fest put on by the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) at Fresno Pacific University after submitting their business proposal applications to the CCT in November. The competition was open to individuals aged 12 to 24 years old who live in Reedley or plan to open a business in the city.

“We’re focused on the investment of youth entrepreneurs who have a great idea, want to operate their business and maybe just need a little encouragement — a little push — to keep moving,” Bryan Feil, CCT associated director, said.

After working with CCT staff to hone in their business proposals, the finalists presented their pitches at the main event — which was free for the community to attend — on Dec. 15 at the West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) building located at 1010 G St. in Reedley. Though all contestants received cash prizes, Reedley local Miguel Cepeda took first place for his embroidery business Cater2You. 

Business partners Damian Peregrino and Steven Encinas took second place in the competition for their business Convenient Car Care, and they received the crowd favorite award as well. Jazmine Hernandez took third place for her business, Nails by Jaz, and Jesus Alvarado took fourth place for his business, named On the Side.

Each contestant gave a four-minute presentation about their business model followed by five minutes of questioning from the judges, who individually scored each presentation and deliberated privately to determine the winners of the competition. 

The judges panel consisted of three community professionals: Jerin Kliewer, COO of Kliewer Farms LLC, Josue Diaz, finance associate for the West Coast MCC, and Rodney Horton, community development director for the city of Reedley.

Miguel Cepeda, Cater 2 You Embroidery

Cepeda took home $2,000 for his business Cater 2 You Embroidery, which provides custom embroidery to students in the Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD). 

Cepeda currently works with Community Youth Ministries (CYM) to bring his embroidery to students involved in after-school programs; he serves six schools at the moment, but wants to expand to serve all schools in KCUSD and eventually branch out to other districts.

Students receive backpacks, shirts, hoodies, beanies and more embroidered with their own designs on-site. Cepeda said that any money invested into his business would be used to help with the purchase of more embroidery machines to leave at school sites and to hire other employees to also help with expansion. 

As someone who was involved in after-school programs from kindergarten to eighth grade, Cepeda said he geared his business toward these programs so that he could make a difference in students’ lives just as mentors in his after-school programs did for him.

“I’m able to make an impact on these younger students’ lives while also being able to provide them with clothing … free, at no cost to them,” Cepeda said.

Cepeda’s end goal is to start a foundation or nonprofit to further aid students in after-school programs.

Damian Peregrino and Steven Encinas, Convenient Car Care

Peregrino and Encinas took home second place and the crowd favorite award, earning $1,500 for their business Convenient Car Care. The two friends, who are business administration students at Reedley College, started their business a few months ago and have already had a couple dozen clients. 

Convenient Car Care is a mobile detailing and custom work business that Peregrino and Encinas hope to parlay into an auto shop one day. They currently find clients through Instagram and word of mouth, and will go to a client’s home to do exterior and interior detailing on their car. 

Peregrino said they decided to join the CCT Pitch Fest after winning a pitch fest at Reedley College and being encouraged by their instructors to take their business proposal to the LaunchPad competition. Their current business hook is the level of detail they take in their work, and that they will go to clients directly.

“Cars are a big part of our lives; our friends have cars, we go to car meets, stuff like that,” Encinas said. “It’s just something that we’re both really interested in, so we wanted to stick with that car community area, and we were just thinking about (custom work). Other people do it around here, but they don’t do it to the level that we started doing it.”

With the money they received from the Pitch Fest, Peregrino and Encinas hope to purchase more equipment that will help them with custom work, such as starlights and ceramic coatings. 

Jazmine Hernandez, Nails by Jaz

Hernandez received $1,000 and took home third place at the Pitch Fest for her business Nails by Jaz.

Nails by Jaz is a low-cost nail service that goes to its clients directly, Hernandez said. As someone who always loves getting her nails done, Hernandez said she wanted to create a nail service that was more affordable than what people can typically find at a salon. 

By having lower prices, Hernandez said she would be able to turn a profit by getting more clients because they would come to her for her low prices, and she would be able to reach a broader clientele, such as teenagers and young adults, who cannot afford salon prices.

Although there are many other nail services in Reedley and the broader area, Hernandez said that what makes her business stand out is that she is willing to go directly to a client. She said this is especially helpful for people who do not have a lot of time or who have children to take care of, because then they can get their nails done without worrying about childcare or watching their kids at a salon. 

Judges said that what stood out to them during Hernandez’s presentation was her passion for the work. Hernandez said that while it can be a simple thing, getting your nails done helps you feel good and refreshed, like “getting up in the morning and getting ready.”

“I love doing nails because … it’s a way to express myself,” Hernandez said. “Especially when a client tells me, ‘you can freestyle,’ …. (or) when I get referrals from customers, that makes me feel so good because it means that I was able to help someone improve their day.”

Eventually, Hernandez wants to have a salon — while keeping her low prices and offering in-home service — where she can both provide her services and be a starting point for other new nail technicians who want to get into the industry. 

With the investment she received at the Pitch Fest, Hernandez will be able to save up for nail equipment and a nail technician license.

Jesus Alvarado, On the Side

Alvarado took home fourth place and a $500 cash prize for his business named On the Side. 

On the Side is an app that connects individuals looking to earn a little extra money “on the side,” and clients who have specific jobs they need to do. Alvarado said that while other apps similar to his, like Uber and DoorDash, have generated a lot of business, his would be for a broad range of jobs, which makes it stand out. 

“People are always going to be busy, they’re always going to have a job to do and they’re not always going to have time to do home maintenance,” Alvarado said. “On the Side connects those busy people to someone who’s willing to do the job for them.” 

Judges questioned how Alvarado’s app would navigate around legal issues that apps like Uber have had in the past with contracting out work, but Alvarado said that because customers would set their own rates for the work, he would avoid that issue. 

After conducting a small Instagram poll, Alvarado found that there would definitely be interest in the app, and he will use the money earned at the competition to help with development costs. 

All participants in the Pitch Fest — which was the first of its kind put on by CCT involving young entrepreneurs — also received free tuition to CCT’s LaunchPad program, a seven-week business course.

The CCT partnered with the MCC, Central Valley Teen Challenge, Reedley College, Lee’s Service, Trinity Company, the city of Reedley, KCUSD and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fresno County to organize the event and raise funds for the investments into these new businesses.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter