The New Venture Competition, presented annually by the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Merage School, will be known as The Stella Zhang New Venture Competition for the next five years (2021-2026).

New Venture Competition Receives Naming Gift from Stella Zhang FEMBA ’05

January 13, 2022 • By Xanat Hernandez

Stella Zhang FEMBA ’05 makes it her business to help others succeed. After obtaining her MBA at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business, Zhang started American Lending Center where she helps small businesses grow. Now she continues to give back to her community through a gift to the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Merage School, made jointly with her husband John Shen.

Zhang was born in China and arrived in the U.S. in 1997, after finishing college and graduate school in China. Her experience as an immigrant to the United States sparked an interest in helping new immigrants thrive in their adopted country. Through the American Lending Center, which she founded in 2011 in Long Beach, CA, she helps small businesses grow and provides new immigrants with investment opportunities. In 2021, The Financial Times named American Lending Center one of the country’s fastest growing companies.  

“New immigrants to this country want to invest in the U.S. and build their American dream here,” explained Zhang. “We believe in supporting them every step along the way.”  

Return to Merage School  

Zhang describes her time at the Merage School from 2002-2005 as a “dream come true.” At the time, Zhang was working in operations at a local law firm where she worked with recent immigrants. Passionate about her role in helping newcomers to this country, she knew she wanted to do more and that an MBA could help her do it.  

“I’m thrilled to watch more and more people join the MBA program at the Merage School,” she said. “Not only is the classroom education top quality, but you get the opportunity to network. No matter what industry you are in, it matters who you know and who you work with.”  

After finding success in her venture as founder and COO of American Lending Center, Zhang was inspired to help businesses grow from the start-up stage, partnering with Cal State Long Beach and the City of Long Beach to form the Long Beach Accelerator 

It was through one of the start-ups accepted at the Long Beach Accelerator, Baby Box, that Zhang learned about the new Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship program and the New Venture Competition (NVC) at the Merage School. CEO Zarina Bahadur MIE ‘20 won NVC in 2020.  

This connection inspired her to learn more about NVC, the Beall Center and what opportunities there may be to give back to her School that aligned with her interests.  

“The success of a business should not be solely measured by profits,” she said. “A business should support and give back to the community wherever it can.”  

Introducing The Stella Zhang New Venture Competition  

The New Venture Competition is a program helping the UCI community make their business dreams a reality. Participants can form a team, attend educational workshops, launch a start-up, and obtain funding for their big idea (up to $100,000 in cash prizes). It is open to UCI students, faculty and staff and the seven-month journey culminates in a Shark Tank style competition held in May.  

This year NVC will kick off January 20 and will be officially known as the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition due to Zhang’s generous support of NVC’s vision.  

“The New Venture Competition is at a crucial stage, and I know that support at this stage will go a long way,” said Zhang. “I can’t wait to see the competition unfold this year.” 

Dean Ian O. Williamson shares Zhang’s hopes for the future of NVC. 

“Stella’s transformative gift to the School is emblematic of her passion for helping others succeed,” said Dean Williamson. “Her experience in setting up start-up accelerators in Southern California will be invaluable to the School and her generosity will help take the competition to the next level.”