Nonprofit Easy, a Rohnert Park-based developer of a cloud-based software suite tailored for nonprofit companies, took home top honors at the 2012 Business Plan Competition at Sonoma State University June 1, part of the 2012 Innovation Showcase held in collaboration with the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster, Sonoma County BEST and the broader North Bay iHub.
With the top audience vote, Lomesh Shah, co-founder of the company and its parent, IQR Consulting, took home $2,500. Each of the four finalists were also allowed to select one of four in-kind prizes valued at $5,000, which included legal services, accounting and a six-month office rental .
After working for two years to build the comprehensive platform that integrates staff management, volunteer data and other systems common to nonprofits, Mr. Shah said he hoped that the award would help attract investors and help finance a major expansion.
[caption id="attachment_55738" align="alignright" width="350" caption="Lomesh Shah, co-founder of Nonprofit Easy, poses with Dan Lind of the SMBC board after winning the 2012 Business Plan Competition (photo credit: SSU)"][/caption]
“Our whole goal was to make an easy-to-use operations platform for nonprofits,” Mr. Shah said. “I call it the equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife.”
Ten business proposals were selected from 33 applicants to take part in the competition in late March, with most attending seven hours of business planning workshops provided by the Santa Rosa-based startup consultancy, the 10X Group. Each team received written feedback on draft business plans, as well as one-on-one guidance from a mentor.
“The Innovation Showcase is one way in which we are building the innovation network and creating value-based relationships,” including matching entrepreneurs and mentors, growth companies with investors and students with employers, said Dr. William Silver, dean of Sonoma State’s School of Business and Economics.
A panel of judges evaluated the revised plans, as well as a brief video, and selected the top four average scores to present at the Innovation Showcase.
While a similar business plan competition was held in 2011, this was the inaugural deployment of a new format. The event showcased a number of growing startup and early-stage companies from the region, including green lubricant manufacturer Skip2Renew and Vinperfect, maker of breathable wine bottle closures.
Presenters included past business plan winners, as well as Dr. James Kovach, former chief operating officer of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and current chief operating officer with mobile analytics startup CrowdOptic.
Other finalists in the business plan competition, at various stages of operation, included Sonoma Hot Cones, a company serving savory food in specialty waffle cones, wine packager Purevin and nonprofit-and-startup-focused web hosting company, Shoestring.
In-kind prizes for the finalists included corporate legal services from Simon Inman at Carle Mackie Power & Ross, IP legal services from Craig Stainbrook at Stainbrook & Stainbrook and Warren Dranit at Spaulding McCullough & Tansil, accounting services from Dave Dillwood at Dillwood Burkel & Sully and office space at the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster.
Steve Weiss, chairman Emeritus and co-founder of the North Bay Angels investor group, received the Beta Gamma Medallion for Entrepreneurship at the event, an international award that recognizes business and humanitarian achievement.
Nonprofit Easy currently employs 27, with a local staff of three and 24 employees in India. With approximately 30 clients in the North Bay and nationally, Mr. Shah said that he hoped further investment would allow expansion to 3,500 clients by 2015.