Two alums join Sac State president on mayor’s technology council

Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen and two University alumni are among the 19 individuals selected for the City of Sacramento’s Technology Council, an advisory group that will provide input to the Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Sacramento Business Journal reported today.

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Amy Tong

Along with Nelsen, Amy Tong ’94 (Management Information Systems), MBA ’98, and Ryan Montoya EMBA ’16 will serve on the committee, the latest example of how Sacramento State is playing an important role in the Capital Region’s growth. Tong serves as director and chief information officer for the California Department of Technology. Montoya is the chief technology officer for the Sacramento Kings.

President Nelsen has made innovation and entrepreneurship a key priority for the University, and one that recently was boosted by a $6 million donation to establish a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on campus.

As CTO of the most populous state in the U.S., Tong is responsible for keeping technology up and running for more than 130 government agencies, as well as providing strategic guidance for California’s IT programs and policy. Montoya was a driving force behind making the Kings’ new arena, the Golden 1 Center, one of the world’s most technologically advanced.

According to the Business Journal, the technology committee had an introductory meeting last week and next meets in February. Recommendations for the unpaid positions were made by the mayor’s innovation office and approved by Mayor Darrell Steinberg. The council was created in 2016 under then-mayor Kevin Johnson.

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The (Silk) Road to success

Payam Fardanesh on "Made at Sac State — The Video Magazine" Season One
Payam Fardanesh (center) chats with “Made at Sac State – The Video Magazine” host Gloria Moraga and Professor Seung Bach, interim associate dean for undergraduate programs, about Silk Road Soda.

When Payam Fardanesh founded Silk Road Soda, his line of Mediterranean-inspired drinks, in 2012, he was selling one bottle at a time out of the trunk of his car. Four years later, he’s bringing the tastes of his childhood to the entire country.

In the past year alone, Fardanesh has inked deals with some of the biggest names in retail, catapulting his brand into the national spotlight. Still, the Sac State alumnus remains grounded in his family roots and the memories of his grandmother, brewing and sipping the same suds he sells today.

“I was re-creating my childhood when I made the product,” Fardanesh says. “It’s a pretty simple drink, but everyone in Iran has it.”

The entrepreneur spent his formative childhood years in Iran. The Silk Road Soda line is his version of his grandmother’s own recipe for the sweet-and-sour Mediterranean drink sekanjabin. It is traditional and simple, made primarily with mint, sugar and vinegar, and it is a staple in countries like Iran, Greece, and India.

Fardanesh was the first to bring it stateside on a commercial scale. Sacramento, he says, was the perfect place to test the market, thanks to the city’s diversity.

“There are so many different cultures that are really tied to Sacramento,” he says. “We really have a melting pot here. … It really was a launching pad for us.”

Silk Road Soda may have its roots in the Middle East, but the company got its start at Sac State: Fardanesh met his original business partner in the Master of Business Administration for Executives (EMBA) program. He earned his degree in 2011, launched the brand in 2012, and hasn’t looked back since.

In 2016, Fardanesh signed his first national contract with Cost Plus, and Silk Road Soda today is shipped by 10 different distributors to nearly every state in the country. The company’s growing success snowballed into a blockbuster pact with CostCo, where they will begin rolling out his product by the case starting in the Pacific Northwest later this year. That deal alone, he says, could end up accounting for over one-fifth of the company’s business.

This year, Fardanesh expects to sell more than 30,000 cases — an amount that no longer fits in the trunk of his car. That’s a problem he’s happy to have.

“For the younger entrepreneurs that think they can’t get it done here in town, I would say they’re wrong,” he says. “If you have a great idea and a good pitch and good promise, there are the faculties in our community to grow a small business.”

Click here to see Payam’s interview with Gloria Moraga in the College of Business Administration episode of the first season of Made at Sac State — The Video Magazine.