Business & Real Estate

Demo Day presents investment opportunity for California startups

Bing Gu, CEO of California Sunlight, shows one of his lightweight solar balloon cookers in Folsom on Friday. It can be used to cook food while camping or in case of an emergency.
Bing Gu, CEO of California Sunlight, shows one of his lightweight solar balloon cookers in Folsom on Friday. It can be used to cook food while camping or in case of an emergency. lsterling@sacbee.com

A dozen Northern California companies got a chance to pitch to investment “sharks” Friday afternoon, concluding a 10-week business incubator program.

Friday’s Demo Day was the culmination of Velocity Venture Capital’s entrepreneur accelerator program. The program, in its fifth year, takes place at the firm’s Folsom Entrepreneurs Campus, a converted school. The program is designed to help the young companies develop marketing, brand, sales and financing strategies. Pre-screened applicants are selected in part by online voting.

Whereas investors on television’s “Shark Tank” are forced to make on-the-spot decisions about whether to invest in the companies presenting to them, the investors brought in by the Velocity program have time to kick the tires, said Monique Brown, executive director of Velocity’s nonprofit entrepreneurs campus.

So while the firms endured a high-stakes, five-minute pitch, companies can still try to seal a deal with investors. Most of the participants said they emerged with a better company after undergoing the program, which exposed them to loads of professional expertise.

“It significantly improved our business plan,” said Bing Gu, whose company, California Sunlight, makes a lightweight balloon solar cooker.

The companies entered the program at various stages of development. Some needed major refinement, while others had products already on the market.

Sacramento-based Gatekeeper Innovation makes a combination locking cap for prescription pill bottles. After one of her sons began his narcotics addiction by swiping pills from her medicine cabinet at age 15, Deborah Simpson helped create the company’s first product, Safer Lock. The company refined its pitch for investors through the program.

“Most parents are always in denial,” Simpson said. “We are really going to save lives with this.”

The locking cap won’t stop a determined thief from getting in, but it will stop one from beginning a habit by stealing two or three pills at a time, said Nathan Langley, the company’s vice president of business development.

The event started with a keynote address from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who said that cities in the past were defined by their number of ports, transport hubs or factories, but that today’s city will be defined by its connectivity and ability to process information more effortlessly.

One example Johnson gave was the development of infrastructure that allows parking apps to give drivers the location of available parking spaces. He said cities need to hear from the business and tech community.

“You have to tell us ... what you need from cities to be effective,” Johnson said.

The event also included a panel discussion about what’s needed to strengthen the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. One panelist came from Mexico City.

“What we are doing here is creating a space for collaboration,” said Jack Crawford, the managing partner of Velocity Venture Capital.

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.

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