[caption id="attachment_41835" align="alignright" width="280"] John Stayton, co-founder of Dominican University's Green MBA, now directs the Venture Greenhouse.[/caption]
SAN RAFAEL -- With the official ribbon cutting of Dominican University’s Venture Greenhouse last Wednesday, Stuart Corvin continued his push against a trend that he said has plagued Marin for years: that so many of the county’s most talented professionals leave every day for jobs elsewhere.
In a close partnership with Dominican’s MBA in Sustainable Enterprise program, Mr. Corvin said the building he donated in San Rafael is helping to cultivate companies that could take root and thrive in Marin and adding to a “business culture” that lags behind the rest of the Bay Area.
“It doesn’t make our community better to have everyone taking their intellectual capital elsewhere,” said Mr. Corvin, a Mill Valley resident since 1975 and former owner of Cal Steam Supply.
After opening to four “beta clients” in February, the greenhouse has grown from the windowed showroom of a former motorcycle dealership to a high-ceilinged, 5,200-square-foot space with room for 10-12 companies that show an environmental or social focus.
That original showroom space, now a multiuse activity room known as the solarium, played host to a crowd on Wednesday that included San Rafael Mayor Albert J. Boro and Dominican President Mary Marcy.
Many of the eight companies that call the facility home had their beginnings in Dominican’s Green MBA. Though not a prerequisite for admittance, the greenhouse has a natural appeal to graduates who have already developed a comprehensive business plan, said Dan Moshavi, dean of the School of Business and Leadership.
In exchange for $50 a month to help cover utilities, client companies receive space for up to three employees, internet access, conference rooms and other amenities usually out of reach for an unfunded startup. Membership is allowed for one year—longer than many accelerator programs, but shorter than many incubators.
It’s a duration that John Stayton, co-founder of the Green MBA and director of the Venture Greenhouse, said was optimal for producing a high number of businesses that were likely to begin their post-greenhouse lives in Marin County.
“I realized that, especially after 2008 when the economy crashed, it would be a really great idea to have our graduates creating jobs instead of looking for jobs,” he said.
One greenhouse company, bio-based lubricant maker Skip to Renew, was born from a business proposal that founder Stig Westling created as a capstone project for the Green MBA.
The company has already produced and sold a natural bicycle chain lubricant, Re:cyclist, since joining in June. Hydraulic lubricants and other products may be on the horizon, said Janine Elliot, Skip to Renew’s director of business development.
“I think one of the biggest things is the camaraderie and the support of the mentors in the program,” said Ms. Elliot, a Green MBA alumna. “So many of us are dealing with the same issues—being able to have that conversation will hopefully keep us from falling into that same situation.”
One company that began outside of Dominican is stainless steel lunchware manufacturer Ecolunchboxes, which had already built a loyal following over the course of three years before joining the greenhouse in February.
“I’m farther down the road for sure, but we’re all pitching for outside capital,” said Sandra Ann Harris, founder and president. “I know we’re farther down the road now than we would have been if we were going it alone. There’s an energy creating by being around other green businesses.”