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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Alex DeNoble, director of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, in class with Chad Vardas, left, Paige Doherty and Michael Kosoff. Alex DeNoble, director of the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, in class with Chad Vardas, left, Paige Doherty and Michael Kosoff.

An Investment in Hard Work

Carol Lavin Bernick continues her parents’ legacy of supporting entrepreneurship at SDSU through a gift to the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center..
By SDSU News Team

This story is featured in the spring 2019 issue of 360: The Magazine of San Diego State University. 
Carol Lavin Bernick recalls her father’s accounts of the enterprising students he met during frequent visits to San Diego State University. 

“I heard my dad talk about these students and saw him invest in their hard work,” she said. 

Bernick’s father is Leonard H. Lavin, who along with his wife Bernice, transformed a regional beauty supply manufacturer into the international Fortune 1000 company Alberto Culver. After years of personal involvement as a guest lecturer and mentor at SDSU, Lavin endowed the university’s entrepreneurship center, which was renamed in his honor.  

Bernick worked alongside her father as president of Alberto-Culver Consumer Products Worldwide and eventually as executive chair of the parent company, initiating its sale to Unilever in 2011. 

Currently CEO of Polished Nickel Capital Management, Bernick is continuing the family tradition of investing in SDSU with a significant, multiyear gift to support promising student startups developed through the university’s nationally-recognized entrepreneurship and innovation hubs. She was inspired to give after meeting with SDSU entrepreneurship students in late 2017.

SDSU’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, part of the Fowler College of Business, offers professional mentoring, internship programs, guest lectures and curriculum guidance for aspiring business owners and CEOs. 

A number of prestigious awards underscore the center’s success. In 2017, SDSU was named the Model Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Program by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and in 2018, the Lavin Center received the NASDAQ Center of Entrepreneurial Excellence award from the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers. 

The right time

Bernick’s gift provides seed funding for another facet of the Lavin Center’s work—helping students launch startups. Fourteen students working individually and in teams received support for their fledgling businesses last year. Some are still in the conceptual stage; others are developing prototypes and several are already up-and-running.  

Josh Munoz is the co-founder with Austin Wulf of Truely, which will sell bioplastic food containers free of toxins that can leach into food.  

“This seed money came at just the right time for us,” said Munoz. “We have a prototype, and now we need funding to buy the materials.” The team is planning to file a utility patent for its product with the U.S. Patent Technology Office.

Bernick’s gift also funded a series of informal working dinners at which entrepreneurs answer student questions and recount their stories of success and lessons learned. The guests in 2018 included Zeynep Ilgaz, co-founder and president of Confirm BioSciences; Inc.; Ralph Rubio, co-founder of the fish taco restaurant chain Rubio’s; Gail Naughton, founder, CEO and board chair of Histogen Inc.; and Steve Lake, founder of Sector 9, a skateboard manufacturer.

Sharing life lessons

Bernick has shared her success story with students, too, both personally and through “Gather As You Go,” published in 2018. The book includes stories and personal observations about business, leadership, 
philanthropy, building connections and other “lessons learned along the way.” 

“Gather As You Go” also pays tribute to Bernick’s parents. Her father was “the consummate entrepreneur,” she said. “He had vision and an unyielding sense of drive. You could knock him down, and he would always get back up.” Bernice was Leonard’s equal, Bernick said. “She was truly a co-founder of the company. I learned so much from them.”

The Lavins were philanthropists, and their generosity is a lesson Bernick took to heart. She has supported several universities in addition to SDSU. She also created Enchanted Backpack, a nonprofit that delivers school supplies, books and winter clothing, as well as art, music and physical education tools to under-resourced schools. 

“Dr. Leonard H. Lavin’s gift represented a transformational opportunity for SDSU to offer world class entrepreneurship education to future generations of students,” said Alex DeNoble, Lavin Center director. “True to her family tradition, Carol has embraced Leonard’s legacy and provided us with the ability to support some amazing individuals pursuing highly creative and innovative ideas.”