2016 Honorees

The following individuals and companies were recognized at the 2016 South Coast Business and Technology Awards:

Excellence in Service — Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara

Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara, Inc. is dedicated to celebrating, honoring, and preserving Santa Barbara’s history, spirit, culture, heritage, and traditions.

Old Spanish Days Fiesta began in 1924 to fulfill the desire of residents to preserve history and culture, as well as to accomplish economic goals of the community though increasing tourism in Santa Barbara. More than 92 years later, there are 19 official Old Spanish Days events and activities in 14 venues community-wide: including the largest equestrian parade, El Desfile Historico; the open air markets of Mercado De La Guerra and Mercado del Norte, where people can talk, dance and eat; free entertainment at La Fiesta Pequena, Noches de Ronda and Tardes de Ronda; the celebrations of La Primavera, Fiesta Ranchera, El Recepcion del Presidente and Celebración de los Dignatarios; as well as the of the Fiesta Stock Horse Show and Rodeo, which showcases nationally known Rodeo stars as well as local talent. In addition, Old Spanish Days Fiesta has several children’s programs, such as the Spirit of Fiesta and Junior Spirit competition, and the Fiesta Flower Girls.

Fiesta is unique among festivals in that it is run by a volunteer Board of Directors. The Board of Directors annually selects a Presidente who not only presides over the Board, but also serves as an ambassador of goodwill to residents and visitors alike. The 35 Directors, 20 Associates, and Past Presidentes represent a broad cross-section of the community.

The annual event provides an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the history, customs, and traditions that comprise the rich cultural heritage of Santa Barbara. By attracting visitors from both nearby and around the world, Fiesta has a positive economic influence on local businesses, organizations, and the community as a whole. Fiesta also provides a vehicle for non-profit and community service groups to raise significant funds at the two outdoor Mercados, as well as the collaborative events with fellow non-profit organizations.

Fiesta is a beloved tradition that fosters a unique spirit among locals as an important coming together which encourages community cooperation, celebration, and growth. The festival has grown due to the overwhelming interest of many different organizations to develop and maintain it as an extension and expression of their place in the community. Accordingly, Old Spanish Days Fiesta has grown in stature and reputation to become one of the top regional festivals in the United States.

Entrepreneur of the Year — Sandi Hirsch

Sandra Hirsch is President and CEO of Isolite Systems, the fulfillment of a lifetime dream to be an entrepreneur. She grew up the daughter of two immigrants, who regularly emphasized the power of education to fulfill her potential.  This pursuit led her to the field of medicine, entering USC as a biology major. While there, she was exposed to the vast opportunity in the world of business through her roommate. This fired her imagination, and inspired pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree in business administration, with an emphasis in entrepreneurship.

After graduation, rosy dreams collided with tough business realities as young Sandi attempted to launch a variety of products. She discovered a natural fit in the financial management of business, where resource allocation and cash flow were critical to success in every enterprise, from construction to livestock ranching and insurance. Entrepreneurial failures provided learning opportunities, and CPA certification a validation of her financial acumen.

In 2001, everything changed with a little idea inspired by Sandi’s dentist brother-in-law Tom Hirsch, and nurtured to reality by her husband Jim Hirsch, an industrial designer. The trio focused to bring their revolutionary patented product to market, ending Sandi’s semi-retirement to raise three children. Over five years of a startup rollercoaster ride followed, but perseverance and hard work finally bloomed into success as dentists across the country became raving fans of an incredible “game changing technology” — Isolite.

Today, Isolite Systems has grown from that initial idea to a global company, with over fifty employees worldwide. Thousands of dentists around the world are loyal customers, benefiting millions of patients every year. The safety, comfort and control that Isolite dental isolation systems provide are dramatically improving dentistry for both hard working clinicians and their patients.  The products have been introduced in over twenty countries, and adopted by over twenty percent of dental schools in the United States — ensuring that this innovative product will soon become the standard of care for everyday procedures.

Sandi is incredibly proud of the “Isolite family”, a team of dedicated, focused, and hardworking employees who are passionate about their products and relentless in pursuit of a better dental experience for every patient.  They prove every day that great employees make great companies…and change the world for better.

Company of the Year — Lynda.com, a LinkedIn Company

Lynda.com, Inc. was founded in 1995 by Lynda Weinman and is headquartered in Carpinteria, with offices in San Francisco, London, Sydney, and Graz. It is a leading online learning company that helps subscribers learn business, software, technology and creative skills to achieve personal and professional goals.

Through individual, corporate, academic, and government subscriptions, members have access to the Lynda.com video library of engaging, top-quality courses on many of the world’s most popular applications, taught by recognized industry experts. The company also provides German, French and Spanish language content.

In 2002, Lynda.com started offering courses online, and by 2004, they were offering over 100 courses. In 2008, the company began producing and publishing documentaries on creative leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs. In 2010, Lynda.com delivered over 1,000 hours of content to its members, and today its courses reach over four million people.

In 2015, Lynda.com was acquired by LinkedIn for $1.5 billion, allowing job seekers on LinkedIn to connect with the skills and courses they need to be more viable candidates.

Executive of the Year — Gordon Morrell

Gordon Morrell left the not-so-hipster confines of Brooklyn, NY for the wilds of Long Island at a very early age. His formative years were spent in community of Goshen, a farming community (then) of about 2,500 people in upstate New York.

Gordon did his undergraduate studies at Syracuse, Masters in education at the University of Hartford, and Doctorate in Education with a major in Counseling Psychology at UCSB, all the while supporting himself by playing in rock bands and folk duos. Shortly after arriving in Santa Barbara in 1973 he had the great fortune of meeting and later marrying Sheila, with whom he will celebrate his 40th anniversary in 17 days.

The newlyweds left Santa Barbara in 1976 in their 1963 VW soft-top window van, with their three rabbits, a dog, a cat, and a ficus benjamina plant that expired just east of Colorado. The rest of the family (which you can see today depicted on their wedding rings) eventually wound up in Maine, where Gordon taught Human Growth and Development classes to undergraduates, and Counseling classes to graduate students at the University of Maine campus near Portland.

While seemingly idyllic at first, two winters were enough to convince Sheila, a sixth-generation Californian, that cold was not a good thing. So in 1979, less than a year after their first daughter, Amy, was born, the Morrells headed back to Santa Barbara.

Gordon’s first position here was with the County Superintendent of Schools office playing the role of Captain Hydro, teaching school children how to conserve water during the drought of 1979. Sure enough, it poured that winter. Fortunately, state funding soon allowed him to become the Director of Child Development Services.

Their daughter Kate was born in 1981, and two years later Gordon, an early believer in the personal computer industry, founded Santa Barbara Softworks, which developed educational software. After three national top-ten best sellers, the company disbanded in 1990 and soon after, Gordon started working at Yardi Systems – when there were around 30 people. Today Yardi has nearly 5,000 employees and Gordon has been there for 26 years (probably because no one else would hire him).

Besides working at Yardi, Gordon enjoys his time with Sheila, friends, and family, but especially with their three grandkids: Brenia, Nico, and Novi. He chairs the Advisory Board of public radio station KCLU and devotes time to other nonprofit ventures.

Pioneer Award — George Powell

George Powell is the “Powell” in the legendary skateboard company Powell Peralta. From the humble beginnings of the company in his garage, Powell Peralta now has over 120 employees making thousands of skateboard wheels per day.

Powell didn’t intend to reinvent the skateboard wheel, although he’d been an avid skateboarder growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s. He studied engineering at Stanford before going to work for Hewlett-Packard as a Product Designer. But when his son, Abe, asked for a skateboard in 1974, Abe soon rejected it for the lack of a smooth ride. This piqued Powell’s interest about how the wheels on a skateboard could improve the experience, and soon he was making his own skateboards. Inspired by early polyurethane skate wheels, he purchased urethane to bake wheels in his home oven, and suddenly he was more excited about skateboarding than he’d been in years.  Eventually he used newer materials like aluminum and fiberglass to fabricate his own composite boards, thanks to requests by famous skaters for more flexible boards.

Powell moved from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to start his skateboard manufacturing business, intending to be the best in the business. In 1978 George joined forces with top skateboarder, Stacy Peralta, to form Powell Peralta.  Their first task was to gather young, unknown skaters into a new skateboard team they called The Bones Brigade, named for their industry leading Bones Wheels.  In the early 1980s, Powell Peralta created the first skateboard videos, which electrified and re-energized American skaters, with the exploits of The Bones Brigade, and exported California Skateboarding around the world.  Top members of The Bones Brigade: Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero, and Rodney Mullen, enjoyed amazing careers and went on to became legends among the top skateboarders in the world.

Soon, Powell Peralta became as well known for their signature artwork, created by Santa Barbara artist Court Johnson, as the quality of the boards themselves, as they quickly realized that every skateboard was a blank canvas. These designs helped Powell Peralta become the most popular skateboarding company in the world, and are credited with some of the most iconic imagery in the industry’s history.

Today, Powell Peralta employees continue to conceive, design, market, manufacture, and sell their skateboards all under one roof in Goleta. Powell still looks forward to producing these legendary skateboards every day, and he’s happy to be doing it in a bigger, better garage with his friends.

He is a true pioneer in his industry and in our community. Please join me in offering George Powell the recognition he well deserves for his contributions to the South Coast business and technology community.

Fast Facts

Did you know....

  • In 2016, we provided 3,016 scholarships totaling $8.74 million.


  • In 2016, we provided financial aid advising services to more than 45,000 students and families in our County.


  • The Scholarship Foundation does not charge an administrative fee to scholarship fund donors. 100% of contributions to support scholarships goes directly to deserving students.