Santa Cruz Social Ventures Get A Boost

By Jondi Gumz
Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.


With a masterful pitch, Valeria Miranda and Stacey Smith earned the title of “Game-changer” Wednesday night for their nonprofit startup that plans to launch a food truck specializing in a healthy menu, staffed by men and women released from jail, newly trained by professional chef Rebecca Mastoris.

“They need a transition from jail to employment that puts them in a safe setting,” said Smith.

“Food is healing,” said Miranda. “We’re breaking down stereotypes.”

In a video describing the nonprofit, Food for Change, a woman who spent four years in jail said of her fellow inmates, “They’re not bad people, they’re just people who made bad choices.”

With the title came $2,000 to support Food for Change, which plans a pop-up fundraiser Jan. 29 serving soup with jazz at the Food Lounge, 1001 Center St.

Runnerup Ned LeBlond won the “Catalyst” award and $1,000 for Zealful Homes, pitched as a matching service for renters and homeowners based on their needs and preferences, helping owners burdened by property taxes and filling unused rooms with compatible individuals.

The three are the first to graduate from a three-month accelerator program created by The Inspiring Enterprise, a new nonprofit founded by Janneke Lang, a UC Santa Cruz alum whose goal is to bring social innovation and change to Santa Cruz County.

Robert Singleton, co-founder of Civinomics and a board member of The Inspiring Enterprise, said he envisions Santa Cruz as the capital for social entrepreneurship.

Miranda and Smith said they aim to raise $75,000 to outfit a food truck, provide six months of training to four people and serve healthy quick lunch items in downtown Santa Cruz. They plan to train six people in the second round and 20 in the third round, with capacity to serve 400 meals a day.

One of the judges, Sue Carter of UCSC’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development, asked them to consider the university campus.

“There’s 23,000 people looking for lunch,” she said, referring to the students, faculty and staff. “We don’t have enough food options.”

Another judge, Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp co-founder Doug Erickson, asked about the vetting process to get into the program.

Smith, who ran a re-entry program, said candidates would apply and the Sheriff’s Office would make recommendations.

“I’m excited about what you’re doing,” Santa Cruz resident Maureen Davidson said afterward.

LeBlond aims to match 10 rentals the first year, 200 the second year and in the third year offer home services such as dog-walking, cooking and yard work. Revenues would come from monthly subscriptions and contract fees.

Carter asked about his estimate of a 37 percent market share and how he could assure this matching service would be the AirBandB for long-term rentals.

“It’s being first in the marketplace,” LeBlond said. “Refining how to do the matching so we are best in class.”

Daniel Heras, a fellow alum from the Presidio Graduate School, is developing the back end of the system.

About 75 people attended the graduation ceremony at the Museum of Art & History, where the keynote speaker was Jacob Martinez, founder of the nonprofit Digital NEST of Watsonville, where youth learn about technology.

“He is the perfect example of the type of social venture The Inspiring Enterprise hopes to launch,” Lang said.

In a year, Digital NEST has grown from 50 to 450 students, some coming from Salinas and Santa Cruz. Next year, the NEST will move from a 1,500-square-foot location to a 4,500-square-foot space in downtown Watsonville.

“I knew it would take off but I didn’t think it would be this quick,” said Martinez. “Social entrepreneurs need people to believe in them.”

He called on those in the audience to fund new social ventures, join boards, create websites and most importantly, expand the entrepreneur’s network via introductions.

Santa Cruz Food for Change
Founders: Valeria Miranda and Stacey Smith.
Mission: Launch a food truck selling healthy menu items prepared by men and women released from jail and trained by professional chef Rebecca Mastoris.
Goal: To raise $75,000 to buy and outfit the truck; popup soup fundraiser Jan. 29 at Food Lounge, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz.
Details: or

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