Several experts on investing and business gathered during the 13th annual Central Valley Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum last week to help people start and grow businesses here in the Valley. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Several experts on investing and business gathered during the 13th annual Central Valley Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum last week to help people start and grow businesses here in the Valley.
Among those experts was Eric Sha, whose primary job is partner for American Tax Credit Groups in Fresno, but on the side owns four Deli Delicious sandwich shops, three Rita’s Italian Ice shops and three computer and phone repair shops.
He told the crowd that starting his first business began with research on businesses in Fresno County, which revealed to him a need for shops that could repair cell phones, smart pads and other digital equipment.
From there, “The first question I asked myself is ‘can I do this better?’” Sha said, adding that having a competitive edge over comparable businesses is an important factor in deciding whether to start a business.
“I did my research, I studied my competition and decided I could do this business better than those around me.”
And if you’re looking to start a business, you may want to start with figuring out what’s wrong, suggested Eric Nasalroad, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” and director of the entrepreneurship program at Reedley College.
As an example, he noted in his other job as chief operating officer at Fresno-based Aplos Software, the privately held company started by creating accounting software for nonprofits and churches because the software that existed at the time didn’t suit their needs. This pointed to a market of two million churches and nonprofits that could use a new product developed for their needs.
“For you would-be entrepreneurs, I just encourage you to see every problem in the world as an opportunity for business,” he said.
The event was put on by Fresno State’s Water, Energy and Technology Center and the university’s Lyles Center for Innovation.
Bob Harper, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fresno State, said the idea is to expose attendees, at least briefly, to the “whole gamut of entrepreneurship, from thinking about a business, to getting it started, to ultimately getting financing for it, and — maybe at the end — exiting it and selling it to someone.”
Discussions included seasoned entrepreneurs and investors talking about their experiences and giving advice on how to find and attract investors, as well as working with “incubators,” groups that help people start their businesses and give them guidance along the way.
In addition, 30 startup businesses were represented at the event, each with a table to show their wares and services in hopes of getting advice from attendees and maybe snagging an investor.
Those start-ups also competed for three $1,000 prizes, one for the best business voted on by the attendees, one for the most innovative company determined by a group of judges and the last determined by the judges after hearing pitches from some of the business’ representatives in a manner similar to the “Shark Tank” television show.
Those businesses included Groguru, a La Jolla-based maker of soil sensors that provides data on how much water is in the ground, the salinity and temperatures and sending that data to farmers to tell them when to water their crops and whether they’re under or over fertilizing.
“Our company is stable and growing as it is, but as always, having additional investors can help us scale [up] quicker,” said Vince Ferrante, vice president of sales for the three-year old business.
Those investors — often called “angels” if they help support businesses at their early stages — can also offer mentoring and guidance, particularly those that have invested in businesses before or are comprised of groups of experienced people looking to find businesses to help them grow their money, Harper said.
“And that’s just as helpful as the dollars invested.”
Daniel Malcolm of Clovis is the founder of Sparkle Ties, which produces ties with rhinestones or Swarovski crystals, selling them for $40 to $500 at the Orloff Jewelers store at Fig Garden Village and at the Fresno Lexis car dealership.
“It was really nice to meet entrepreneurs from various backgrounds. Some were starting out, just like me and others were further along, and I was able to learn from them,” he said.
Malcolm said that included somebody hawking a new type of ski boot that could be fitted for either skis or snowboards who offered to teach him about digital marketing.
And more than one participant told the audience that failure is an option, whether it’s mistakes in getting a business going or a venture failing outright. The important thing is to learn lessons from those failures and use that knowledge to try again later.
“Through failure, you will succeed in the future,” Sha said.
Here are the winning starting businesses as determined by a team of judges and by attendees of last week’s Central Valley Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum.
Each received a $1,000 prize.
Judges Award – Mazen Animal Health, St. Joseph, Missouri
A biotechnology company developing and commercializing novel biological vaccines and therapeutics that disrupt the status quo, according to its website.
Innovation Award – Mad Jack Snowsports, San Luis Obispo
A snow sports manufacturing company introducing ski boots that also can be morphed through a patented system into a snowboard boot, generally at prices lower than the cost of traditional alpine boots.
Audience Award – Five Microns, Fresno
Designs and manufactures tremor-reducing devices that enable people with Parkinson’s disease and non-Parkinson’s-related tremors to perform daily activities with steady hands.