iHub, Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster set for next phase

ROHNERT PARK -- The North Bay iHub and the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster are each on the verge of a significant evolutionary step, transitioning from a focus on high-tech startups to the promotion of innovative companies and nonprofits across a broad variety of industries in the North Bay, according to leaders coordinating those efforts.

The changes include a new name and branding for the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster incubator program, which has already begun to open some of its 30,000-square-foot facility as permanent office space for not only startups, but existing companies and nonprofits, said Lindsay Austin, iHub chairman.

For the iHub, a clearinghouse for North Bay business development programs and one of six designated statewide, a revamped website is expected to provide more robust information about programs for entrepreneurs in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and surrounding counties, Mr. Austin said

The changes, including the new name of the incubator program, will be teased along with the revamped Web offerings during the regular “Entrepreneur’s Happy Hour” at the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster on April 2. The changes will be formally announced during the program's sixth anniversary celebration in September.

The evolution of the two programs, operated in conjunction with one another after the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster was named as the regional iHub in 2010, is the latest news for business development initiatives in a region that has seen a rapid expansion in resources available to entrepreneurs.

"What we've found is that the North Bay is not as dense as places like Silicon Valley," Mr. Austin said. "We've realized that what makes sense in this physical location is to rebrand it as an 'innovation community.'"

The Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster was launched in 2007, funded by contributions from individuals, North Bay companies and the city of Rohnert Park. Housed at the former Rohnert Park campus for Agilent Technologies, the program was the first of its kind in the North Bay and followed the lead of other incubators in catering to companies in the tech sector.

That focus on tech was not merely a product of Silicon Valley’s influence – while the Bay Area has an undisputed reputation for technology innovation, patent protection for new technology provides an additional layer of security for investors looking for a return from funding high-growth startups, Mr. Austin said.

Yet despite a number of companies taking part in the program, portions of the facility remained unfilled. Inviting new industry sectors to set up shop will not only put the fully-equipped office spaces to use, but promote the kind of incidental interactions that Mr. Austin said often spark new ventures.

"Innovation happens through interaction," he said.

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