Centered between business startup zealotry, a rapidly changing global economy and the financial realities of sustaining a company in 2014 and beyond, Bay Area entrepreneurs are turning to a not-yet-four-year-old angel investor.

Launched in late 2010 and operating out of facilities in Concord, the Pleasant Hill-based John F. Kennedy University's Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership (IEL) is aimed at growing businesses and creating jobs in the Bay Area.

Founded and directed by Dr. Raul A. Deju, a business professor, author and former executive, the program graduated 86 students in 2013. According to Deju, IEL's undergraduate, masters and mentorship services have been responsible for students' companies raising nearly $2.5 billion in revenue.

"These are companies, I promise you, that you will be seeing long-term," Deju said, at the third annual Entrepreneurs of the Year Awards at Danville's Blackhawk Auto Museum on May 16, profiling successful student-launched or alumni-operated companies.

Supported through tuition, donors and corporate sponsors like Chevron, AT&T, Wells Fargo and the city of Concord, Deju said the IEL will offer more than $100,000 in scholarships next year.

For Kim Evans, owner/operator of 2GORJIS, a full-service health, beauty and wellness salon in Pleasant Hill, qualifying for a scholarship made all the difference. Restarting the company she'd run for 16 years, since launching it in Walnut Creek in 1997, she had completed JFK University's masters in holistic health education and nutrition.

"I had maxed out financial aid," she said. "Without the scholarship, I couldn't have done it, even though I knew I had to do the one-year IEL program for my business to grow."

Evans said she received an upgraded business plan, a PowerPoint presentation she uses during motivational speaking luncheons for companies like Disney, Charles Schwab and others, and a regained sense of purpose.

"When you're working and going to school, you lose that," she said. "The networking you get is phenomenal. Sure, they work with startups, but they also work with companies like mine, that need to re-brand."

Cecelia Sullivan, president and CEO of 100 percent woman-owned PTI Solutions, a cabling and electrical services provider, attended IEL on a scholarship from AT&T. A 10-year veteran at the 30-year-old company, she said gaining an "entrepreneurial mindset" for an established company was a terrific boon.

"We now have a five-year plan, an expanded line of credit, and on June 30, we're opening an office in Concord," she said.

Salient Technology International LLC, based in Concord and run by managing director Rob Liu, and his son and business partner, Philip Liu, profited from IEL's mentorship program.

Shifting from computer hardware to education software in 2013, Liu said he learned valuable lessons as Deju mentored the development of Salient's artificial intelligence-based learning technology for K-12 students.

"The two most valuable insights I have learned are: no single person or business can make it on his/her/its own and doing is easy, planning is hard -- planning skill is gold," he noted.

Although the Liu's did not require scholarships or financial support, he said working with Deju as a business mentor was an "unexpected bonus."

The awards included the finals of IEP's yearlong E2 Pitch Contest, won by Campbell resident Kebron Dejene, CEO and founder of digital "video authorization" startup Viditure, promising "something in your cell phone that will authorize your documents."

Entrepreneurial help
For more information about the Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership, visit www.jfku.edu/Programs-and-Courses/Institute-of-Entrepreneurial-Leadership.html.