April 16, 2024
You are here:  Home  >  Columns  >  Current Article

Startup ecosystem alive and well in Tri-Counties


Phillip Joens

Phillip Joens

I was struck recently by how rich and diverse our startup community is here in the Tri-Counties.

I do my best to get out and about to as many startup events as possible in the region, some days driving from my home in Ventura to remote corners of San Luis Obispo County.

A few weeks ago, I spent 53 sleepless and caffeine-fueled hours participating in Startup Weekend Ventura County. I was recently appointed to the board of the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast and I’m a regular at 805 Startups events at the California Lutheran University Center for Entrepreneurship in Westlake Village.

At these events, “ecosystem” is one of the words I hear most often to describe how startups start, get help from community members, receive investments from angels and venture capital firms, create new technologies and sell products to consumers.

That ecosystem was on full display March 24 at the Central Coast Innovation Awards and Startup Village hosted by the Pacific Coast Business Times at the Bacara Resort & Spa.

In all, 31 companies participated in the Startup Village and about 300 people attended. The diversity of just this handful of regional startups was incredible. Attendees included doctors, lawyers, students, investors and business leaders — showing how diverse the startup ecosystem is.

In one corner of a courtyard, Grant Kellogg stood in a plain white T-shirt telling anyone he could about Seat Surf.

“It’s a rideshare app focused on long distance travel,” Kellogg said in his pitch to passersby. “If you drive somewhere, you offer your open seats, pick up passengers, split travel costs and travel together to music festivals or events.”

A Cal Lutheran dropout, Kellogg came up with the idea at a local startup weekend and then attended a seven-week boot camp to gain skills to launch the company, which is now based out of the Cal Lutheran Center for Entrepreneurship. Created six months ago, the app is still a few weeks from launch.

Five feet from Kellogg, Josh Hirahara hawked Boost Acquisition, which just graduated from the SLO HotHouse on March 22. Boost Acquisition is a data analytics company for the car industry.

Three feet from Hirahara, Christian Lang handed out pamphlets and fliers that explained what Acelot, a UC Santa Barbara startup based in Santa Barbara, does. Acelot makes software that designs drugs used to treat central nervous system diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles patent attorney Michael Anderson was showing entrepreneurs how they can use Patentfiler.com to file patents quicker, cheaper and easier.

Startup Weekend Ventura County winners Rep Watch were there showing off a giant $10,000 check they received for winning the event just two weeks ago. Rep Watch created a device that measures the health of injured body parts. Cal Lutheran student Rob Kyler founded the company and said things are slowly progressing.

Several government officials popped in to check out the Startup Village. California Assemblyman Das Williams and  San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, among others, roamed around.

Hill was searching for San Luis Obispo County-based companies and said he wants to keep top tech talent in San Luis Obispo now that the city has a growing reputation as a tech hub.

But Bjorn Heinz may have been one of the most prized people at the event. Heinz, an investment manager at BASF Venture Capital, traveled from Fremont to “scout” companies. BASF typically invests in chemical or materials companies.

“In Silicon Valley, a lot is centered around the valley,” Heinz said. “There are other very interesting pockets of innovation.”

The Tri-Counties region is certainly one of them.

• Contact Philip Joens at pjoens@pacbiztimes.com.