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The Venture Greenhouse, Dominican University’s business incubator and accelerator program, has implemented a number of new initiatives since its official unveiling in October, including a pilot “Affiliate Program” that stands to broaden the incubator’s support for environmental and socially focused startups in Marin.

Nine early-stage companies were selected to take part in the three-and-a-half-month pilot, which provides intensive advising and support on subjects including business financing and law, said Greenhouse Director John Stayton.

While those companies may not meet the scalability and other specific requirements to become one of eight startups with office space in the facility, Mr. Stayton said that the Affiliate Program could serve as an effective way to support other kinds of promising young and soon-to-launch companies in Marin. 

“We wanted to leverage the resources of the Venture Greenhouse to have a bigger impact for the community,” he said. “By starting this affiliate program, we doubled the number of companies we are working with.”

Clients in the Affiliate Program meet twice a month at the San-Rafael facility, with peer support and advising between sessions. Advisers include attorney Eric Milliken, a specialist in green startups, Kirit Patel of the private equity company Tamalpais Ventures and Richard Friesen, founder of San Francisco-based Mind Muscles organizational development firm.

The Affiliate Program is already having an impact, and Mr. Stayton said that the Venture Greenhouse is currently looking for funding to continue the pilot.

In addition to the Affiliate Program, the Greenhouse has added a full-time operations manager, freeing up time for the development of new programs, Mr. Stayton said. Those programs include a so-called “Learning Lab,” which has involved eight classes and 45 students from Dominican University collaborating on projects with current Greenhouse clients.

A new lecture series also began in May, and the facility will host “Marinovations” in partnership with the Marin Economic Forum on May 17.

“It’s kind of like Marin’s coming out party as a great place to start and grow a business,” Mr. Stayton said.

Two client companies “graduated” in February, having achieved their goals for funding and scale. Next Phase Solar grew from one to seven employees during its year in the incubator, and LED lighting consultancy Illumalighting was acquired by Novato-based Evolvelectric. Four more companies are expected to exit the program successfully in June.

The incubator takes applications twice a year for the year-long program, which currently has room for eight clients. Mr. Stayton said that the core program will likely expand in the future, along with further outreach efforts like the Affiliate Program.

“We’re coming out of the shadow of Silicon Valley to show that we have the creative talent and all of the parts needed for people to grow their businesses here in Marin,” he said.***

A new survey by the staffing firm Robert Half International has found that fewer companies are reimbursing employees for education units required to maintain professional certifications.

The survey of 1,400 chief financial officers in a broad range of industries found that 26 percent of responding companies provide reimbursement. That number was down from 46 percent in 2006.

Erica Huggins, branch manager for Robert Half in Santa Rosa, said that economic pressures were likely to blame for the reduction, which could have implications for retention of employees.

“What we do know—when employees continue their education, certifications will have financial rewards, which helps with retention,” she said.

In lieu of reimbursement, Ms. Huggins recommended that employers explore alternatives like on-site training and mentorship programs, along with an adequate compensation for professional classifications to ensure that employees don’t take those skills to another employer.

“For employers, they’d want to make retention a requirement throughout the year,” she said.***

Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute held its first-ever Global Wine Conference in April, drawing academic leaders in the field from 12 different countries.

Held over two days, the event focused on international trends in the wine industry, including a drop in per-capita consumption among traditional markets like France and a rise in countries like the United States, Canada and China.

[caption id="attachment_53936" align="alignleft" width="315" caption="Peter Mondavi"][/caption]

Industry speakers at the conference included Peter Mondavi of Charles Krug Winery, Jeff O'Neill of Ram's Gate and Tom Klein of Rodney Strong.

Educators from around the world consulted with faculty of the Wine Business Institute to discuss best practices for educating students in the field.

Dr. William Silver, dean of the university’s School of Business and Economics, said that the international draw of the event was an example of the stature of the Wine Business Institute, a first-of-its-kind program in the United States.***

Creative Edge, the Sebastopol-based provider of online learning software and content, added more than 2,000 titles to its collection in April, bringing the collection of online learning titles to more than 8,000.

The new additions focus primarily on personal and professional development, with topics that include small business management, communications, time management and personal investing.

“These additional titles provide subscribers with one website that supports both their career training and personal development/life management goals. And, the best part is that these additions are available to subscribers at no additional cost,” said Carrie Johnson, Creative Edge marketing manager, in a written release.

A division of Safari Books Online, LLC, Creative Edge offers subscriptions to the online content service for $20 a month or $220 a year....To submit items for this column contact Business Journal staff writer Eric Gneckow at 521-4259 or eric.gneckow@busjrnl.com.