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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, February 28, 2011, 4:40 am

Looking for the next Google, SSU, cluster set business plan contest

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    ROHNERT PARK – Polish up those bright ideas, budding entrepreneurs. The first business plan pageant is under way at the North Bay iHub and the winner could be the next Nick Sturiale.

    He’s the winner of the first business plan contest at UC Berkeley 10 years ago, a distinction that brought him to the attention of venture firm Sevin Rosen Fund. With capital behind it, Mr. Sturiale’s company Timbre Technologies sold for $138 million within 18 months.

    That kind of success story can happen here, says Sonoma State University economics Professor Robert Eyler and Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster Director Michael Newell. They’re emulating the seed round business contest held annually by the Lester Center for Innovation at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley.

    “We got the idea from the University of Texas,” said Jerry Engel, founder and director of the Lester Center. “Berkeley and MIT followed suit. It’s been an enormously effective way to showcase and develop business startups.”

    Unlike the UC contest, the iHub’s seed round business competition is open to both students and non-students from all the North Bay counties, including Mendocino, Lake and Solano, said Mr. Newell.

    Rules and submission instructions are available at the iHub website: www.northbayihub.org. The iHub is one of 12 regional economic development collaborations certified by the state to foster business development.

    “The idea of the contest is to nurture the next big companies – the Microsofts, the HPs – right from the start, before they’re much more than an innovative idea,” said Mr. Newell.

    Contestants will be at a much earlier stage than presenting companies at North Bay venture forums.

    “Those companies already have a plan, in many cases a product or service already on the market. They’re looking for angel funding,” he said.

    Executive summaries of one to three pages will be accepted until March 16. Then they’ll be evaluated and thinned before a two-month program of business plan development and polishing begins.

    Participants will all attend a half day business plan workshop and each team and individual will connect with a mentor.

    After finished plans are submitted in early May, six to 10 finalists will be selected to give a short presentation to a panel of investors and business leaders on June 1.

    Although the grand prize is still in formation, it’ll include at least $34,000 worth of office rent and professional business services, including legal, accounting, marketing and administrative services.

    There will be a substantial cash prize for the winner and lesser cash prizes for finalists.

    “We chose the dates to coincide with our spring academic calendar,” said Dr. Eyler, “but we’re reaching out to Dominican University in Marin, companies in the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster and anyone of any age who can meet our requirements.”

    The executive summaries should include the key components of the business, addressable markets and financial projections, he said.

    “The goal is to actually provide an innovative individual or team with an opportunity to build a real, multimillion dollar business, able to be funded by venture capital and to do well by its investors,” said Mr. Newell.

    Mr. Sturiale, Cal’s first winner, was invited to join Sevin Rosen as a partner. In 2009, he left to become a partner in Jafco Ventures, where he is now.

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