ROHNERT PARK — A Sausalito-based maker of software that coaches small operations in flexing their business-networking muscles won out over 11 other North Bay startup companies in a competition at the recent North Bay Innovation Summit.
Brief Inc. was selected as “Top Innovator” and honored with a cash grant at the second annual gathering. Held Sept. 18 at the SoMo Village Event Center during North Bay Innovation Week, the competition highlights young, promising companies throughout the North Bay with the goal of accelerating and sustaining the region’s innovative ecosystem. Contestants were vying for $10,000 in prizes, including three category prizes.
Styled after the ABC reality television series “Shark Tank,” the selection process for the North Bay version began with each firm’s leaders delivering a short overview presentation. These pitches were followed by a critique and grilling from a panel of five judges asking how they would spend the money, sales and revenue to date — if any — and other in-depth questions designed to test the entrepreneurial acumen of the presenters, and gauge their out-of-box thinking, marketing and management skills. In all, 20 judges were involved in assessing the candidates in groups of five per market category.
“Seven years ago the first Investor Summit was launched with eight emerging companies pitching a group of accredited investors,” said Lindsay Austin, board chairman of the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster. “In 2014, this group invested $9.7 million in a similar group of promising startups. But we also saw a need for new innovation showcase.”
He said two years ago the idea of rebranding SoCo Nexus to include a broader representation of new companies, talking about what they do in a public forum, became a reality. These firms were not allowed to solicit, but could gain recognition and be candidates for a grant. Last year, the first year of the Innovation Summit and the first Innovation Week, eight startups participated, with a single winner taking the $5,000 grand prize.
“This year we doubled that amount and spread the funds among the top four,” Austin said. “Our hope is to be able to increase total funding available, issue micro grants to innovators in other categories, such as the arts, and plan more conferences in the future.”
The field of hopefuls this year was divided into four industry clusters of three firms each, all vying for an initial $1,000 prize. The 12 candidates included Byte Foods, Giggle Therapeutics and Town Kitchen, in the Ag and Food category; Meisch Temple Massager, NewGen Surgical and Sonoma Science Labs, in Health Care and Medical Technology; Cuberg, Switch Vehicles and Wind-to-Green, in Clean Technology and Sustainable Products; and Now Archive, Eazl and Brief, in SaaS (software as a service), Social Media, Web, Information Technology and Cloud.
“The purpose of the Innovation Summit is to point to our local culture of innovation happening today in the North Bay,” said Amee Sas, executive director of SoCo Nexus. “I had no idea at the beginning of the depth, breadth and quality of new firms coming from our region. We grow our own. We also allow companies from the greater Bay Area to apply to keep event quality high and to attract firms that may want to come here for networking, collaboration and support, as well as for the quality of life we have to offer.”