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Record crowd as awards honor business leaders, star students

By   /   Friday, June 13th, 2014  /   Comments Off

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More than 700 business and community members turned out to the 20th annual South Coast Business and Technology Awards dinner on June 12.

The attendance was the highest yet for the event, which has helped raise $1.6 million in scholarships to more than 650 students over the past two decades.

The event honors leaders from the business and technology fields, but its focus is students such as Arlene Budiardjono, scholarship recipient who spoke in front of the crowd. Budiardjono’s family left Indonesia in 1999 and came to the United States with nothing. After graduating at the top of her class at San Marcos High School, she’s now a junior at UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering, with assistance from the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation.

“My mother was and still is working two jobs to support our family, while my father took up working nights,” she told the crowd. “Growing up the way I did, I never imagined I would go through my higher education like this. I always heard horror stories … . I have now have money for tuition. I have money  for books. I have money to keep on the path of success.”

Goleta-based CMC Rescue took home the Excellence in Service award. The company makes more than 800 products, from safety harnesses to packs and belts, that rescue personnel use during missions. The company recently purchased its own headquarters and became employee-owned when its founder retired. “When [founder] Jim [Frank] got ready to start a company, he didn’t start thinking, ‘How can I make the most money?’ He was thinking ‘How can I save lives?’ ” said CEO Rich Phillips.

Victor Schaff of S&S Seeds in Caprinteria took home the Entrepreneur of the Year award. In the 1960s, Schaff packed up his car and drove with his wife to Santa Barbara to continue his education at UCSB after being convinced that a degree would be a better bet than a pizza venture in his home state of North Dakota. While earning extra money collecting seeds for a local company, he found there were no firms selling native, drought-resistant seeds even as demand rose for such plants in landscaping projects. So he started what’s now the largest native seed company in the state. He has also been an active real estate investor on the South Coast. “Just because I’ve been standing out in lupine and poppy fields for a long time doesn’t mean I’m outstanding in any particular field,” Schaff quipped.

Be Green Packaging took home the Company of the Year award. The Santa Barbara firm makes everything from salad trays to laptop packaging from sustainable materials such as cattails. Though it sold a 60 percent stake to a private equity group, the company’s founders remain involved and will be opening a factory in South Carolina this year. “We want to make sure the products we make aren’t just less bad, but more good,” said co-founder Ron Blitzer.

Craig Zimmerman of the Towbes Group was named Executive of the Year. He oversees one of the most successful real estate firms in the region, with thousands of residential units and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space. But when he was a junior at USC, his circumstances suddenly changed, and he had no money for tuition. He was reduced to scanning the classifieds in the Los Angeles Times for game-show opportunities, and lucked out when he went on a show where contestants guessed car prices. He had arrived with $20 to his name but left with enough money to pay for another semester of school. “I believe offering a path to a motivated kid is a better than leaving it to chance,” he said of the evening’s mission.

Herbert Kroemer, a Nobel prize-winning physicist from UCSB, was the evening’s Pioneer Award winner. He invented a way of making semiconductors out of more than one material that led to the development of the lasers used in CD and DVD players as well as a advances in non-laser LED lights. But back in the mid-1970s, when a UCSB official showed up in his office to recruit him, the school’s solid-state electronics department wasn’t the world leader it was today.

“He knew I was familiar with what was going on at UCSB, but he didn’t know I wasn’t very impressed,” Kroemer told the crowd. “He said, ‘Herb, what would you do with that lab?’ I said, ‘Sure as hell not what you’re doing with it.’”

The next few minutes were tense, but resulted in job offer that started UCSB down the path to its current leadership position in the field of solid-state electronics. “He said, ‘Well, we’re looking for someone to rock the boat, and you might be that person,’ ” Kroemer recalled.

• Read coverage of this year’s South Coast Business and Technology Awards winners here.

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