A place for innovation startups to grow

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Special to the Business Journal

DAVID DARMSTANDLER
Datapath Co-Founder

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have a great idea to create a new product or alter an existing technology. It’s pretty likely that when you come up with this idea you envision a company being launched with your grand idea, you’re changing the world, or maybe you just see buckets of money being poured over your head like an ALS Ice Challenge.

Regardless of your idea or your startup, if you live in the Central Valley what do you do next? Who do you ask for help? Where can your startup be stationed in its early stages as you’re working out the kinks and trying to raise funding?

If you lived in San Francisco you could probably figure out the answers to the questions above pretty quickly.  You could park your startup at one of the many co-work spaces throughout the city, and rub shoulders with all kinds of other eager entrepreneurs in a similar position as yourself.

Unfortunately, here in the Central Valley we don’t have many of the resources, tools, and organizations that exist in other highly innovative regions.

In the past few months, I’ve been part of a council that is working toward creating these same types of environments here in the Modesto/Merced area. As part of this group, we’ve visited accelerators throughout Northern California that are dedicated to helping startups get off the ground.

All of these facilities, though they may be funded differently or have slightly different models, are attempting to produce the same results.  They want to create activity in the business community, helping startups get off the ground, along with establishing partnerships between existing companies and local universities.

There have been a number of articles and buzz on innovation centers and co-work spaces throughout the valley that are attempting to foster an environment that help startups thrive. Stockton kicked off in the past few months with Cafe Coop and Huddle, followed by Sonora. Soon there will be a partnership between UC Merced, Small Business Development Centers and the city of Merced will launch an innovation center in downtown Merced.

As the owner of a tech business in Modesto, I have been actively involved with the innovation center. This facility will be located in downtown Merced on the same block as the city hall, and will offer 6,000 square feet of open workspace and closed offices.

To give some insight as to how the Merced innovation center will work, the center will offer space to UC Merced students and individuals in the area who want to get a startup off the ground. There will also be space dedicated to corporate sponsorships that will work with UC Merced students on specific projects.

There is an application process for individuals who want to be part of the program, which requires startups to create new technology or improve upon an existing technology.  Entrepreneurs must also create a management team, along with a company advisory board. Once accepted, the startups will be given a limited amount of time to stay in the innovation center and use its resources.

The Merced center will have staff dedicated to mentoring the individuals who are working on projects or on launching a startup.  Consultants and university staff will help people at the innovation center refine their business plans, develop their offerings, prepare for a market launch, and get ready for raising funds.

The innovation center in Merced will definitely have an experienced group of consultants and mentors to work closely with individuals, but they’re also depending upon the involvement of the local business community. Business leaders and entrepreneurs from Modesto and other parts of Stanislaus County are needed to help inspire new startups, give critical insight to help them be successful, and give startups confidence that they have the support of the local community as they continue to grow as a company.

I hope that if the Merced center works, we can take that model and replicate it in Modesto.

So, let’s hope that the Merced innovation center is a success and can help startups launch and grow right here in the Central Valley, so when you do come up with that great idea, you’ll know exactly where to go to get it off the ground.

 

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