• 09-27-2007: BizSanDiego


    TThe Elasticity of Diversity

    September 27, 2007

    BizSanDiego-Cover Story

    Mimics. It’s the first thing that comes to mind in a sci-fi world without independent thought, without diversity. So, in order to stress the importance of diversity, bizSanDiego hopes to expand everyone’s views about a word that describes much more than ethnic and gender differences in and outside of the realm of business.

    “Diversity is all about relevance,” says Bennett Peji of Peji Design, a local design firm. “Businesses need to stay relevant in our increasingly global and multicultural economy.” He mentions that diversity must also be about authenticity. People who speak up about a certain cultural aspect should truly “represent.”

    Peji adds, “Diversity is also linked to innovation, being open to new ideas. Diverse thinking can only happen when diverse minds and experiences are in the room.”

    Zeynep Ilgaz, Vincent Mudd and Bennett Peji are in the room. Not only are they ethnic and gender diverse, but they exude diversity in other ways, as well. Their stories reveal the eclectic landscape of San Diego business in complex ways that are indeed relevant, authentic and innovative.

    Confirmed Success


    The history of Confirm Biosciences is really a love story. As newlyweds, Zeynep Ilgaz, CEO of Confirm Biosciences, and her husband, Serhat Pala, moved to California from Turkey 10 years ago. “We were best friends while growing up in Turkey,” Ilgaz recalls. “We always wanted to start our lives together in a place where we could raise children. Istanbul was a very hectic city. We were drawn to the beach lifestyle in San Diego.”

    After completing the graduate business program together at San Diego State University, they decided that only one spouse would take the entrepreneurial route at first. So while Pala established a company called Test Country, Ilgaz worked at the San Diego Regional Technology Alliance at CONNECT, assisting entrepreneurs in commercializing their technologies.

    “We started Test Country in 2002 as an online distributor for medical devices, mostly testing kits for pregnancy, fertility, infectious diseases and cholesterol. Our business was successful from the start, as workplace drug testing became more prevalent.”

    By September 2006, Ilgaz joined her husband as an entrepreneur, launching Confirm Biosciences. The company’s main product is Hair Confirm, a home drug testing kit. Ilgaz comments, “We were convinced, by our customer feedback at Test Country, about this product. Parents kept calling to ask if we had a home drug testing kit.”

    Hair Confirm provides the confidential testing of a 90-day drug-use history. After launching the product earlier this year, Hair Confirm already has more than 20 distributors. Ilgaz’s next move is getting Hair Confirm into major retail outlets. “I want to see HairConfirm as a tool for parents,” she says. “Parents can talk about the issues of drug use with their children. They can be proactive. No matter how much you educate your children, they are influenced by other factors outside the home.”

    Sad but true. So, she adds, “We want to prevent workplace drug abuse and consumer drug abuse with HairConfirm.”

    Confirm Biosciences is also developing pipeline products that test for other toxins in the body, such as wellness care for seniors and women. But her company is not the only thing keeping her busy these days. Ilgaz serves on the advisory boards of the Entrepreneur Network at San Diego State University and Venture Forth at University of California, San Diego. She was also appointed to be a technical adviser at the National Institute of Health. Plus, Ilgaz and her husband support community organizations that educate teenagers about the dangers of drug abuse.

    Diversity holds different meanings for different people. The term, for Ilgaz, is less about her culture or gender, and more about the various roles that she plays at the same time-mainly juggling work and family. A framed photograph of her husband, 3-year old son and black Labrador on the beach at Coronado sits prominently on her desk.

    Ilgaz recalls that the partnership with her husband was their greatest advantage in dealing with the difficulty of adjusting to a new country. She says, “Since we were together, we could support each other. Serhat and I left work and family back in Turkey and spent our first few weeks in San Diego at a Motel 8. Then we started graduate school. That time in our lives really showed us how to work together as a team. I can’t see doing business any other way.”

    Although she relies on her husband for support, she also acknowledges the need for strong business relationships. “A true mentor and friend has been Tyler Orion at the San Diego Regional Technology Alliance,” says Ilgaz. “Tyler has taught me so much, both personally and professionally. And I have more support from the San Diego business community than I thought I would ever get.”

    Diversity is also important to her vision of entrepreneurship. Running Confirm Biosciences, while raising her son and reaching out to the community, is the fulfillment of a childhood dream. “I am very blessed,” she adds.

    Zeynep Ilgaz
    CEO, Confirm Biosciences
    Age: 34
    Master’s in Business Administration from San Diego State University and Bosphorus University, Turkey
    Best Place for a Business Lunch: Harry’s Bar & Grill on La Jolla Village Drive
    Most Inspirational Business Book: Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch
    “No matter what type of business you own or are interested in, there is something in this book for everyone.”
    Favorite Music To Work By: “Norah Jones is my ultimate favorite artist. Her music inspires me.”


    Diversity in Design
    When you run into Bennett Peji at lunch, most likely in Little Italy, chances are that he introduces you to the founder of a new theater production company. Or he invites you to a fund-raising event for a children’s dance organization. Or he may ask your opinions about recruiting new members for the city’s boards and commissions.

    However, he’s not a politician. So what does Peji actually do for a living? In his own words, “district branding and architectural graphics.”

    At his downtown design firm, he shows maps, sketches, pictures and graphs from his gig as master plan consultant of the Filipino Village in National City, the recent project that launched his passion for redesigning neighborhoods. The Filipino Village truly reflects the look and feel of this culture. With a purpose, Peji hired facilitators to ask the community about their vision for the area. Hundreds of people, from National City residents to business owners to schoolchildren, were gathered for input. The project is now positioned as an international destination, especially within the Filipino community.

    Peji has since designed other district branding projects, such as the NTC Prom-enade, the civic, arts and cultural center at Liberty Station in Point Loma, and the Asian Pacific Historic District downtown, south of Horton Plaza. He speaks with the intensity and focus of an evangelist when relating the discovery of unique aspects of history in this city. “Filipino, Chinese and Japanese people lived and worked together in this section of downtown in the 1920s. They were involved in occupations like laundry and fishing and commerce. Even though they have no history of living together in other cities, can you imagine Filipino, Chinese and Japanese families in the same neighborhood back then? They just had nowhere else to go in San Diego.”

    Peji is committed to “making history” with his own work. He mentions that he wants his designs to be timeless, not trendy. For example, out of the 500 or so brand identities that he’s designed in the past 20 years, only one has changed. Although he started out as a graphic designer (his clients include The Scripps Research Institute, Hewlett Packard, the Kellogg School for Science & Technology and the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts), he feels that this new approach allows him to make greater contributions in the community.

    After all, what’s the shelf life of a marketing brochure? Peji is turned on by “the built environment,” a phrase he uses to define structures like buildings, parks, bridges and courtyards. He believes that these structures can be designed into neighborhoods to instill a sense of community, by involving the stakeholders in the process.

    Peji is now invited to speak in cities like So Paulo and Santa Fe about redesigning neighborhoods-he’s made 42 presentations in the past two years. He uses the catch phrase “form follows culture” to describe the approach of designing communities that connect heritage to people’s futures. He is passionate about involving different community voices in the neighborhood planning conversations.



    Community activity is especially near and dear to Peji. Born in Manila, Philippines, he was raised in San Diego, similar to many other immigrants-without a sense of belonging and identity in the local neighborhood. He doesn’t want others to feel the same disconnect. Peji even goes so far as to link international communities through his design work, and maintains that there’s strength in numbers when people from ethnic backgrounds can come together as one. “Over the years,” he says, “members of my staff have been originally from Vietnam, Germany, Italy, Indonesia, China, Zimbabwe and Texas. My wife, Lilia, is from Mexico.”

    Most importantly, his passion for history allows him to pass on the culture that he missed as a child. Says Peji, “Through my work, I’m preserving stories for our two daughters.”

    Bennett Peji
    Owner, Peji Design
    Education: The playgrounds of Barrio Logan, the canyons of Clairemont, University of California San Diego, San Diego State University, a summer at Harvard, and many amazing cultures around the world
    Best Place for a Business Lunch: Quarter Kitchen, when they serve lunch on the rooftop deck of the Ivy Hotel
    Most Inspirational Business Quote: “The function of art is to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see.” -Anais Nin
    Favorite Music To Work By: “Most of us go to our grave with our music still inside of us.” -Unknown author

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    Categories: HairConfirm In the News

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