Coolhaus, America’s top women-led ice cream company. Gem Surprise Box, a STEM-focused gemstone and mineral subscription service. Okaya, a facial recognition mental health assessment tool for telehealth clinicians.
These are just a few of the UCLA alumni-owned businesses picked for the inaugural “Bruin Business 100” class. The business owners represent a diverse group of 100 businesses recognized not only for success, but for business models fostering positive social change.
The Bruin Business 100 distinction, which will be awarded to a new class annually by the UCLA Alumni Association, is a new stewardship platform aiming to engage roughly 500,000 alumni around the world in uplifting and amplifying alumni-owned businesses.
“We support one another, and we also hire one another, because that’s what Bruins do,” said Julie Sina, UCLA’s associate vice chancellor for alumni affairs, who spoke at the recognition ceremony, which was held May 19 at the James West Alumni Center. Of the 126 alumni recognized (some businesses have multiple owners), close to 80 attended the in-person event, during which they were joined by campus leaders and alumni association members.
“I am blown away by this room. The energy in here is vibrating. I can feel it,” said Ann Wang, president of the UCLA Alumni Association. Wang, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in international development studies, is no stranger to entrepreneurship, having co-founded the award-winning startup Enrou, an online marketplace aimed at creating a positive social, financial and sustainable impact on global communities. She also holds a Forbes 30 Under 30 distinction.
“Bruin Business 100 is really about amplifying the incredible hard work you all have put into your businesses and also creating community behind that,” Wang said. “We are on this pathway to not only support this class, but the many generations to come.”
The idea of honoring 100 alumni-owned businesses class came to alumni association board member Jaime Nack last year when she heard about a similar program at the University of Georgia. Nack, who is the founder and president of the sustainability consulting company Three Squares Inc., said she pitched it to the association with the assurance that UCLA would “do it better.” The initiative came together in less than a year, set on highlighting a diverse set of businesses.
The Bruin Business 100 application period opened in February of 2022 and used a broad social media campaign to recruit alumni entrepreneurs. When the campaign closed in March, a total of 142 applying businesses faced a 40-member UCLA judging panel that assessed each business against a rubric of “True Bruin” values — the UCLA code of ethics encouraging respect, accountability, integrity and service.
Based on this criteria and several short essay questions applicants answered, businesses were then given a numerical score. The top 100 businesses — which hailed from the United States, Japan, Australia and Great Britain — were then deemed the inaugural Bruin Business 100.
Among the largest industries represented were business and health care services, with food and beverage coming in a close second. Gerald Corporal, director of alumni career engagement, chalks these statistics up to Los Angeles being a major destination for food, and home to a bulk of the Bruin Business 100 class. Of the 97 recipients in the United States, 82 are based in California, and 68 in Los Angeles County.
Among Bruin Business 100 recipients with strong California roots are members of the 3B Collective, a Los Angeles-based group of artists and designers who met while doing their undergraduate studies at UCLA. According to the collective’s website, the founders’ work aims to make the arts more accessible by addressing social inequalities, creating public works through shared resources and providing peer support and mentorship for BIPOC artists.
“We’re happy to be here,” said Alfredo Diaz, who, with colleague Oscar Magallanes, attended the ceremony and the networking reception on behalf of the collective. “We’re glad that UCLA is acknowledging successful alumni, and we’re honored to be a part of it.”
Marketing executive Ania Puczylowska, who was also in attendance, said she was thrilled to share with her student interns that they were part of a Bruin Business 100 company. “It got them so excited and proud of being a part of the process,” she said.
Puczylowska, who earned her M.B.A. in 2020 from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, exclusively hires undergraduate students from UCLA to help her run Brand Socialite, a disruptor in the experiential marketing industry. Puczylowska said that it’s important to her to give back to a university that gave her the confidence to take risks she otherwise wouldn’t have had the courage to as a solo entrepreneur.
“I love being an entrepreneur. It excites me that I am able to provide a safe space to younger generations where they get to learn a set of skills that they might not have been exposed to if they had followed a more traditional career path. I enjoy working with the young minds and we have pivoted few times due to their recommendations,” she said. “UCLA is providing such an amazing ecosystem for all of us to be successful. I am proud to be a Bruin.”