Gary Polk Sr.

Founder of Polk Institute of Social Entrepreneurship

In 2016, Gary Polk became the Founder and first Executive Director of the Innovation Incubator at CSUDH. From the vision of its retired President, Wille Hagen, with his team he created an amazing business incubator that not only helped the Dominguez Hills students, but also the entrepreneurs throughout the Los Angeles Region. Unfortunately, in 2018, President Hagen retired and, with his retirement, the Innovation Incubator became a low priority of the new President and the University.

In 2017, Polk created a new course at CSUDH called Entrepreneurship for Everyone. It was literally the Introduction to Business 2.0. He used the same format from his 1991 course but gave it a cooler name so contemporary college students would want to take it. For the past three years, he taught almost 200 students, from Frosh to Seniors, plus students from Psychology to Digital Media, from Entrepreneurship to Biology.

In 2019, after a successful three and one-half years as ED, Polk resigned and returned to his true passion, teaching full-time at CSUDH.

Then, in March 2020, everything seemed to change for the worse with the novel coronavirus pandemic. This global pandemic has impacted literally everyone in the world at the same time. Regardless of nationality, age, socio-economic class, or religion, COVID-19 has been a challenge.

While it is without question that COVID-19 has created a great deal of hardship for many, the civil unrest in the streets has caused anger and confusion for others. To make matters worse, COVID-19 has unfortunately increased domestic violence and depression and, sadly, loss of life.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, in July 2020, Polk decided to finish the job that was started with the Innovation Incubator at CSUDH, but on a much grander scale, by creating the Polk Institute of Social Entrepreneurship (Pi), a 501(c) 3 pending.
Pi’s FIVE overarching goals are:
• To create a welfare withdrawal paradigm.
• To teach them how to fish.
• To teach them what they do not know about business.
• To create Fundable CEOs who are ethical and possess great character.
• To create Leaders who believe that People, Planet, and Profit is not zero sum.

Polk Institute officially launched on January 15, 2021 with a celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Pi’s first academy class, Entrepreneurship for Everyone, starts February 1, 2021, as Black History month begins.
Learn more at

Where did the idea for Polk Institute of Social Entrepreneurship come from?

This idea was literally started 30 years ago, in 1991 when I first started teaching at CA State University, Northridge.  I taught in the Minority Business Program that recruited Black and Latino Students to attend CSUN.  Now 30 years later, in January 2021, we launched the Polk Institute foundation (nonprofit), (501 (c) (3) pending) that also targets Black and Brown Founders to come full circle.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Because of C19, my days has been compacted into Zoom Calls all day.  There is NO such thing as a typical day, just a lot of busy days spread out over three business entities.

  • Serving as President & CEO of the Polk Institute;
  • Adjunct Professor of Business Management, Ethics, and Entrepreneurship at CA State University, Dominguez Hills located in Carson, CA ; &
  • Core Business Advisor with Pacific Coast Regional (PCR)/Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC). The SBDC is a division of the SBA (Small Business Administration).

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a creative person, and I love to ask the question, “What if…”  Ideas oftentimes come from questions and the ensuing answers.  I was a Marketing Major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles, so, creativity and imagination has been one of my strengths.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Educating people about the virtues of social entrepreneurship.  The Triple Bottom Line (or 3 Ps) include People + Planet + Profit (John Elkington, 1994) is nothing really new!  Social entrepreneurs want to do good while doing well.  Social entrepreneurs have both passion and compassion. Social entrepreneurs are mission-driven leaders.  A few Notable social entrepreneurs include Ben & Jerry Ice Cream, Patagonia, & Tom Shoes.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I love to teach.  Teaching is my passion.  I did not discover this until 1993 while teaching at CSUN.  Pursuing my passion of teaching makes me more productive as an educator.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Pursue your passion!  It is not about the money, the fame, or the glory.  At the end of the day, if you pursue your passion, you will not work a day in your life.  I left corporate America and gave up a middle-six income in insurance in order to pursue my passion of teaching and coaching high school girls basketball.  Not only was I able to pursue my two passions, I was also able to spend more time with my three kids at a critical time of their lives.  The decision to quit Corporate America has been the best decision I ever made.   I have not worked a day since!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That you can build a Founding Team based on sweat equity (volunteerism)

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be coachable.  If you are coachable, I can teach anybody, any business.  If you are not coachable, then I can help nobody.  Being coachable means a willingness to try and learn new things.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Developing a Founding Team if you want to have a business that is scalable above $1,000,000 in annual revenue!  With a team and a system, you can accomplish extraordinary things with ordinary people (Gerber, 2001)  When I decided to work on the Polk Institute, I knew that I would need a lot of help based on my aspirational goal of launching 1,000 new businesses in the next 10 years.  So, one of the first things that I did was go out and share my vision and recruit my Founding Team.  Today, I have recruited 12 people for my Founding Team and another eight people to form my Advisory Board.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My first entrepreneurial effort failed due to poor timing or a lack of research or a combination of both.  I learned that the outside economy can impact your success or failure and that research was the key to overcoming the timing issue.  Had I conducted more research about the economy at the time I started my business, the results would have been different.  Instead, I only lasted six months.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Tough question.  I would say stay away from restaurants as the mortality rate is too high and the margins to too thin to keep it sustainable.  Technology is here to stay so something in the tech industry such as esports, could be amazing.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Hmmm, flowers for one of our team members who lost their Dad due to C19.  They were very appreciative that we cared enough to show our condolences.  Little things still matter.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Since C19, without a doubt, Zoom has been a game changer.  I now use Zoom for all three facets of my business life and personal life.  Zoom is now an integral part of my Polk Institute classes, my PCR Advisement, and my teaching at CSUDH. My personal co-ed Book Club that was founded in 1995 has not had to cancel a single meeting due to C19.  Our attendance and readership has actually improved.  My only regret is that I did not buy Zoom stock in 2019 (smile)

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

This is almost unfair as I have too many to share.  Since 2014, my go to book has been “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup” by Bill Aulet, published in 2013 is an amazing book.  As the title indicates, these 24-Steps are key to winning the startup bet.  It focuses primarily on marketing, but Step 15, Design a Business Model is my favorite step as it focuses on how we make money, and he makes the big point that ‘free’ is not a business model!

What is your favorite quote?

“Live as if you were going to die tomorrow, Learn as if you were going to live forever”
This statement encapsulates who I am!

Key Learnings:

● Develop a Founding Team
● Be Coachable
● Read Bill Aulet’s “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup
● Pursue your passion!
● Risk Failure to Grow, Learn, and find Success!