Thursday, April 12, 2012
The other day, a few young area entrepreneurs caught a fever – which was a good thing. A very good thing.
Last month Ryan Hambley, Ben Holber and Darius Sadeghi appeared at the “fever pitch” session of the Monterey Bay Regional Business Plan Competition, the first time competitors from Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties were required to complete such a brief public-speaking round. Even though a decision on the winners among the 51 (and cash prizes totaling $56,000), won’t arrive until May 4 – see sidebar, this page, for a list of local finalists – for partners Hambley and Holber, the value of the experience revealed itself quickly.
“We did everything possible to get this pitch going,” Hambley says. “It made us study and talk to professionals.” Facing a panel of 13 judges – with representatives from local colleges, developers and local businessmen including Chuck Boggs of Paladin Venture Development – can have that effect. So can the short but distinguished list of past winners, including Dr. Lawrence Wallace’s Larell One Step Denture and Linda Lannon’s PeopleTowels paper-towel alternative.
Stevenson High School alumni Hambley and Holber graduated from University of Victoria and Lehigh University, respectively. Their Yoderm idea targets college students, but works for anyone with acne and without a lot of financial means or time: The concept website allows clients to submit photos and descriptions of their condition, which is evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist. Prescriptions can be filled online, office overhead is cut and a doctor can see a patient as often as every five minutes.
Holber feels shifting social norms make this possible – “Our demographic trusts the Internet,” he says – but so do shifting laws. The Telehealth Advancement Act approved the use of photos for telehealth in January (before, it was illegal to provide services via email or phone). Yoderm might be the first to take advantage.
“Usually someone from outside the field does something crazy enough to move away from the norm,” Holber says, “and takes a very old problem and finds a very new solution.”
Their entry fits in the venture-play category, meaning they hope to make a tenfold profit for their investors.
The competition has already netted dividends for Carmel’s Darius Sadeghi too. He had a patent for his AgMeter pesticide-monitoring handset, so the fever pitch in the ag-tech category generated vital networking.
“There was a judge from Driscoll’s,” he says. “If I could pick one person in the world to show the AgMeter, it would have been a strawberry grower.”
Sadeghi opened a bag of store-bought spinach for the judges and got a pesticide reading in 12 seconds.
“It was an average sample, but dramatic,” he says. “The expressions on their faces changed.”
While demonstrating the AgMeter for an engineer at Grasing’s in Carmel, Darius caught the eye of chef/owner Kurt Grasing. From there news spread to Bert Cutino at the Sardine Factory.
“It instilled in us to take the initiative for consumer safety,” co-owner Cutino says, who wants to test foreign produce which isn’t regulated by U.S. standards.
The meter uses dry chemistry, which measures pesticide residue with a fluorescent sensor rather than with slides or solutions in a lab.
Another takeaway for each entrant: the experience of a public forum.
“It feels risky,” CSUMB entrepreneurship professor Brad Barbeau says. “But it gets creative juices flowing.”
The Monterey Bay Regional Business Plan Competition finals are 1-6pm Friday, May 4, at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, 460 Pierce St., Monterey. For more information visit www.MBRCompetition.com
Schemes and Dreams
A peek at some of the other local finalists.
An online retailer that delivers all-inclusive packages of furnishings and housewares to outfit dorm rooms.
A mouthguard applied during epileptic seizures that prevents damage to the mouth and allows for proper breathing and medication to be administered.
Substitutes polymer for liquid water in typical house plant aquaculture.
First Hand International
A social enterprise that markets local tourism to travelers in developing countries. The program reinvests 85 percent of its earnings in the communities.
An online virtual memorial service with photos, animation and obituaries.
Green Apple Classrooms of California
A manufacturer of portable classrooms designed to produce more energy than they consume.