SAN RAFAEL — Venture Greenhouse, the business incubator formerly sponsored by Dominican University, is back in a new format, it was announced last week.
Now community-backed, the organization has both scaled back its physical footprint and broadened its base of client companies, according to co-founder Paul Bozzo.
When Dominican decided to cut funding for the program last year, he approached Stuart Corvin, the individual who was behind the original idea. Mr. Corvin agreed that it was too valuable a service to close down, said Mr. Bozzo.
“Silicon Valley is moving north, first to San Francisco and now increasingly to Marin County and then Sonoma. Its influence has sparked an explosion of innovation in the region which cries out for an accelerator,” he said. “We don’t want to lose startups that begin here, and we want to attract young companies that are contemplating a move north.”
Originally focused on green technology, the Venture Greenhouse now welcomes all industries “with a common element of sustainability,” according to Mr. Bozzo.
The County of Marin is interested. Supervisor Susan Adams made a request during county budget hearings for a “glide path of possible grants to get Venture Greenhouse back on track. They have a good group and a good business plan. If things go as expected the county will give them $25,000 this year and another $25,000 next year.”
The grants will hopefully attract other investment, she said.
Without Dominican funding the 5,000-square-foot converted warehouse the original Venture Greenhouse occupied with its client tenants for three years, the group is looking for public and private sponsors.
“We’re a lean startup currently, but our program is actually stronger now that we no longer provide office space. We’ll meet once a week at the San Rafael Renaissance Center for a year of intense sessions and mentoring,” said Mr. Bozzo.
Client companies, numbering only ten during the initial year, will pay $250 a month toward the program, along with a 1 percent equity stake.
“We’re non-profit, so any money we might make from the equity will be put back into the program,” he said.
Robert Eyler, professor of economics and director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University, is on the board of Venture Greenhouse. He doesn’t believe funding will be a problem.
“The largest challenge is to attract entrepreneurs to use these resources over time, so the marketing effort needs to be continuous and use those who are clients as part of the storytelling,” said Dr. Eyler.
The long-term financial viability will depend on having good clients working with the Greenhouse and enough entrepreneurs in the pipeline to pay for and use these resources, he said.
“Another challenge is to find space for them to continue as viable businesses once they leave the Greenhouse, and we will try and set up that pipeline as best as possible this time.”
SoCo Nexus, the business incubator at the Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park, could be a solution, he added.
“I see the two programs working as strategic partners, possibly geographically dividing up the market for start-ups, and then using each other for partner events and resources,” said Dr. Eyler.
Clifford Detz, also on the Venture Greenhouse board, agrees with Mr. Bozzo that the program is stronger than ever.
“The unique and rigorous ‘curriculum’ has been tested in the first version of the Venture Greenhouse and we’ve strengthened its implementation based on what we learned over the past three years,” he said.
“By the end of their year in the program, those who complete it successfully will have a robust business model, understand their markets, and will either have achieved initial seed funding or be on a solid path to achieve such funding to launch their businesses in the market place.”
For further information visit www.venturegreenhouse.biz.
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