The state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency has named it one of six Innovation Hubs in California as part of a new program to stimulate job creation.
“We spent many hours putting this together,” said Business Cluster Executive Director Michael Newell. The cluster currently houses 17 companies.
Collaboration was key to winning the designation, which will eventually lead to state and federal funds.
The business cluster was able to point to a healthy list of public and private collaborators, including Sonoma State University, the cities and chambers of commerce of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, the North Bay Angels investment group, the Marin Economic Forum, the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and the Small Business Development Center at the Santa Rosa Junior College.
“They’ve all committed to being part of a regional hub, with the business cluster coordinating it,” said Mr. Newell.
The purpose of the iHub program is to promote regional collaboration and commercialization of technology to stimulate job growth. The cluster will act as a regional center to collect information and support innovative tech companies, Mr. Newell said.
Two other Northern California groups received the iHub designation: the biotech center at Mission Bay in San Francisco and Livermore’s Innovation for Green Transportation Excellence, which includes Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory among its collaborators.
“What the state realized is that there are no channels for creating jobs. There are research programs and training programs, but no coordinated regional/state collaboration to accelerate investment and economic development,” said Mr. Newell.
“This takes the issue outside political boundaries and broadens its reach.”
According to BTH Deputy Secretary Eloise Klementich, identifying sustainable partnerships grouped around research institutions is a preparedness measure.
“We looked at the direction of federal agencies and saw frequent use of the word ‘innovation’, a term that’s almost synonymous with California. The Department of Energy has identified three innovation hubs, for example.”
Putting a network of regional collaborative groups in place will make the likelihood of receiving federal funds much more likely, she said.
As the iHub program matures and additional funding becomes available, local companies and research institutions may also benefit from enhanced national and global exposure, marketing and partnership opportunities.
There are many advantages to acting as a region, said Mr. Newell, pointing out that San Francisco poured $1 billion into outfitting four million square feet of potential biotech use in Mission Bay.
“Regional hubs are attractive targets for both investment and businesses looking to relocate. The BTH will be forwarding inquiries to us from out-of-state companies, and what better place to launch a California branch than the North Bay? It has everything,” said Mr. Newell.
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