North Bay Business Journal

Monday, January 6, 2014, 6:25 am

Area tech incubators taking new directions

Business cluster rebrands as SoCo Nexus; Dominican ‘greenhouse’ in flux

By Loralee Stevens, Special to the Business Journal

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    Area tech incubators are shifting personnel and focus, falling into new patterns to remain vital to the North Bay community.

    SoCo Nexus aims to be a meeting place and hub for entrepreneurs, startups.

    Venture Greenhouse, an arm of San Rafael-based Dominican University’s Green MBA program, closed its doors on Dec. 20 and will reopen with a new model more closely aligned with school curriculum, according to Dominican School of Business and Leadership Dean Sam Beldona.

    “Incubators are like startups,” said Lindsay Austin, longtime Sonoma County entrepreneur and sponsor of SoCo Nexus. “They have to be agile and move with the times in order to survive.”

    The Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster, part of the Codding Enterprise’s development in Rohnert Park, re-branded itself several months ago as SoCo Nexus and became less focused on technology.

    According to SoCo Nexus Executive Director Amee Sas, Silicon Valley provided the original model for tech incubators.

    “The emphasis was on high-valuation technology startups,” she said. Incubated companies were expected to reach a valuation of $25 million in five years.

    SoCo Nexus Executive Director Amee Sas, left, addresses a gathering at the center.

    “But the North Bay doesn’t provide as fertile a field for tech startups as Silicon Valley,” said Ms. Sas. “Besides, agriculture and manufacturing are the more prominent industries.” The original model had to be scrapped in favor of a more inclusive approach with lower expectations.

    “Now we hope an incubated company will reach a valuation of $5 million in five years,” said Mr. Austin.

    The new incubator, in addition to housing startups in fields ranging from manufacturing, biomed and sustainable agriculture as well as high tech, is now home to another business incubator.

    The University of Northern California, a private college in Petaluma founded by Dr. King Liu, has located its Science & Technology Innovation Center at the Rohnert Park facility, adding medical device startups to the mix.

    John Stayton, co-founder and director of the Venture Greenhouse and now executive director of graduate and executive education at Sonoma State Universtiy’s School of Business and Economics, serves as a director of SoCo Nexus.

    Also relocating from the Venture Greenhouse is sustainable agriculture startup GrowUp.

    According to Dr. Beldona, it could take anywhere from 18 months to two years to raise the necessary funds and relocate the Venture Greenhouse.

    “The goal is to locate the new operation within the physical space of the School of Business and Leadership in order to allow for close collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and clients,” he said.  

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