January 29, 2023
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Santa Maria rolls out its first-ever Startup Weekend



Springtime is startup time in the Tri-Counties.

This April, a new Startup Weekend event in Santa Maria and UC Santa Barbara’s annual New Venture Fair both sprouted a new corps of ideas. Here’s a closer look at each.

SM startups

Startup Weekend events, where teams of designers, business minds and coders come together to go from idea to demo in 54 hours, have taken hold in the region, with events in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo that have produced some really cool ideas. Last month, Santa Maria held a Startup Weekend of its own.

Yes, Santa Maria. The spot might be better know for its strawberries and wine and blue-collar jobs — but it’s also got a lot of hungry young people who want to start businesses.

Jose Huitron is one of them. He’s a Santa Maria native and owns an online cross-cultural online branding agency. He was one of the lead organizers of Start Weekend Santa Maria, and he said the event was a great success, drawing about 60 participants to the Allan Hancock College campus.

“This was a pioneering event for entrepreneurs and startup activity in the Santa Maria Valley,” Huitron said. “We had tremendous support from the folks in the Santa Barbara startup community and the folks at Softec in San Luis Obispo.”

The winning team from the event was WeGift, which aims to help people claim unused money on gift cards and then donate it to the cause of their choice.

Second place was BeniJuice, an all-organic juice company that impressed the judges with a great website and deep understanding of its market.

In third place was BuddyFund, which helps friends split up expenses when attending big music festivals like Coachella.

Huitron said the weekend was so successful that it won’t be the last. “We’ve already got the date written in for the next one,” he said.

New Venture Fair

Each year at UCSB, the Technology Management Program hosts the New Venture Competition, where dozens of student teams compete for a chance at cash prizes and professional services to help them get their business ideas off the ground. Inogen, Active Life Scientific and aPeel Technologies are all veteran winners.

After refining their ideas with the help of mentors and lectures, the students gather and pitch to several hundred judges drawn from the business and technology worlds who grade them and narrow down the pool of teams to six finalists. This year 21 teams turned out. I never vote – I don’t want to influence the outcome for a company the Business Times might end up covering in the future – but here are a few teams that caught my eye.

• MyConciergeMobile helps hotels sell additional services, from room service to massages, to guests. The way this currently gets done is with posters or display cards on hotel desks. “No one ever reads them,” said team member Robert Reid. With MyConciergeMobile service, guests can get anything from room service to a toothbrush to fresh towels by texting the front desk.

I’ve seen other, more complicated smart-phone apps that aim to do this, but the neat thing about this one is that it’s very simple – it uses texts and a website, minimizing compatibility issues. “We require zero integration. It’s all web-based. They can be up and running within an hour,” Reid said. Bacara Resort’s Spa is its first client.

• Asta Fluidic Technologies makes a micro-electromechanical device that helps diagnose a condition called fetomaternal hemorrhaging. That’s when fetal blood cells leak into a pregnant woman’s circulatory system, and it’s a serious problem. Asta’s lab-on-a-chip device would diagnose it 24 times faster and 40 percent more cheaply than the current method, which involves examination by human technicians.

• Komodo Toys makes fighting toy robots that you can control like a video game. Imagine battle bots meets Xbox – in other words, the coolest toy imaginable for young boys. What I liked about the business model was that it centered on a $50 base toy with all kinds of customizable mods and weapons for $11 a pop. Parents, beware.

• PolySpectra makes a self-crystallizing polymer that can be mixed in with a variety of finish sprays to make nearly any plastic UV-resistant. Say goodbye to car bumpers that are a different color than the panels after five years. “In a world of ever growing plastic use, damage from the sun is a huge problem,” said team member Aidan Fenwick.

The winning teams – Asta Fluidic Technologies, Gain Changer, Komodo Toys, MyConciergeMobile, Napses and PolySpectra – will advance to the finals on May 22.

• Contact technology columnist Stephen Nellis at snellis@pacbiztimes.com.