Biola University alumnus Carlos Ventura (’22) — a first generation student dedicated to helping his Los Angeles community of Hispanic families — is empowering street vendors through his startup. His app, CityVend, is the first-place winner of the 2023 Biola Startup Competition and aims to connect street vendors with customers who want to shop small and build thriving local economies.

“Our goal is to create an all-in-one solution, because these folks could be much more successful with just a little help,” said Ventura.

Inspired by the story of Maria, a single mother struggling to support her family despite working two minimum wage jobs, Ventura set out to create CityVend. Recognizing the hurdles faced by street vendors, including inconsistent locations, limited marketing opportunities, cash-only operations and a lack of business skills, Ventura aimed to provide a comprehensive platform that would empower vendors and enhance their chances of success.

With over 12,000 street vendors in Los Angeles alone, turnover rates as high as 42% underscore the need for stability and support in this industry according to Ventura.

“Like most vendors, Maria's biggest challenge is a lack of stable income; one day is good, the next day is great, but the third and fourth days could be terrible. These fluctuations occur due to factors unrelated to the quality of Maria's food,” said Ventura.

To address these issues, CityVend offers an interactive map feature that provides real-time location updates for subscribing vendors, whether they operate from carts, trucks or stands. By offering a consistent and dynamic presence, vendors can attract and retain customers, fostering repeat business. In addition, CityVend facilitates online purchasing by connecting vendors' accounts to the app, eliminating the need for cash transactions and expanding customer convenience.

Recognizing the limited marketing capabilities of street vendors, CityVend also provides a cost-effective marketing platform and review system. This enables vendors to showcase their unique offerings and receive feedback from satisfied customers, further enhancing their reputation and customer base.

“Maria is based on a real person — a young woman who is very close to my family. When she told me that they weren’t making it financially, I wanted to step up, but since we both came from a low-income area, I couldn't really offer her financial support,” said Ventura. “But I was driven to do something, and out of that came CityVend. I didn’t want to create just another app. I want to give our vendors and our community financial freedom.”

As the winner of the Biola Startup Competition, CityVend received a $10,000 cash prize along with a gift-in-kind legal package valued at $25,000 from Holland & Knight and a $2,000 branding package from Vividly Creative Co. The competition, sponsored by Biola's Office of Innovation, serves as a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs like Ventura to transform their ideas into successful startup companies.

Ventura's vision for CityVend represents the convergence of technology, entrepreneurship and community empowerment. By addressing the specific needs of street vendors, CityVend aims to create a more level playing field, enabling vendors to thrive and contribute to the local economy. With its AI-driven features, CityVend has the potential to revolutionize the street vendor industry and uplift communities by promoting financial stability and growth.

The startup competition is the culmination of Biola’s Student Startup Incubator that offers all current Biola undergraduate students, graduate students and recent (2020 or later) alumni the opportunity to transform a promising idea into a successful startup company. Aided by experienced executives and business leaders, teams have the chance to pitch their concepts, develop a business plan, gain valuable real-world insight and compete for capital.

Read about all of this year’s Biola Startup Competition winners.

Read a Q&A with CityVend founder Carlos Ventura.

Learn more about Biola University’s entrepreneurship emphasis within Crowell’s bachelor’s degree in business administration. 

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