Cathie Anderson

$50,000 in free rent lures bold Sacramento-area entrepreneurs

Real estate developer Ethan Conrad dangled a chance to win up to $50,000 in rent credits to a growing Sacramento-area business in a contest that culminated with pitches being made “Shark Tank”-style, and showing how these contestants’ willingness to take a bold risk had led their business to astounding growth.
Real estate developer Ethan Conrad dangled a chance to win up to $50,000 in rent credits to a growing Sacramento-area business in a contest that culminated with pitches being made “Shark Tank”-style, and showing how these contestants’ willingness to take a bold risk had led their business to astounding growth. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Real estate developer Ethan Conrad dangled a chance to win up to $50,000 in rent credits to a growing Sacramento-area business in a contest that culminated with pitches being made on the same evening that rock idol Paul McCartney played his first show at Golden 1 Center.

While the concert drew thousands, Conrad welcomed a crowd of only about 100. Yet this columnist, Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen, venture capitalists Roger Akers, Vaibhav Nadgauda and Curt Rocca, and others were in no way envious of the throng a few blocks from the Blue Prynt restaurant and bar on 11th Street. Indeed, the five finalists chosen from 20 initial contestants in Conrad’s first-ever small business contest riveted their audience with “Shark Tank”-style presentations showing how their willingness to take a bold risk had led to astounding growth.

Granite Bay’s Dan and Joy Frey founded the winning contestant, The Glass Guru of Roseville, which has 95 franchisees in 28 states and four Canadian provinces. They have seen systemwide revenue grow to $23 million in 2015 from $4 million in 2011. The company has been a fixture on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list every year since 2011. They have received awards for franchisee satisfaction every year since 2012 from the Franchise Business Review.

“Our company started 12 years ago with a young married couple, a car and a dream,” Dan Frey said at the start of his pitch. “The car got sold very quickly when we decided to start a company, but we never lost the dream, and that’s what has kept us going for the last 12 years. ... We were the first company in the United States to offer a new, low-cost repair solution to repair failing, foggy dual-pane windows.”

In contest promotions, Conrad had promised rent credits of $50,000, $30,000 and $20,000 to the top three finishers, but at the event, he surprised the also-rans by offering them credits of $10,000 each. The Freys took home the $50,000. Here’s how the rest was divvied up: $30,000 to Rocklin’s Precision Medical Products, $20,000 to SunSystem Technology of Rancho Cordova, $10,000 to Sacramento’s Blossom Ridge Home Health and Hospice, and $10,000 to Trifecta Nutrition, which recently moved to West Sacramento.

Of the winning company, The Glass Guru, Nadgauda said: “It’s a $23 million ecosystem that they’ve set up. They’re creating more entrepreneurs than employers. … Their revenue and profit are good, and they have a sustainable model that can scale up.”

Nadgauda, Akers, Conrad, DCA Partners’ Rocca, serial entrepreneur and investor Corley Phillips, and real estate investor and Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy founder Jim Corbett awarded the prizes.

The fast-growing Precision Medical is another garage-entrepreneur success story. Launched in 2010 by Jeremy Perkins, the company grew quickly to $15 million in revenue last year by selling durable medical goods such as braces, boots and walkers but is now branching into the more lucrative disposable medical products industry. Fortunately, Perkins said, the company already has established a network of 45 sales representatives and contacts with nearly 200 surgery centers.

In the end, judges decided Frey did a terrific job of telling his company’s story, Conrad said, and he also had a past performance to back up his estimates for future growth. While all the companies presented impressive stats, Conrad and other judges told me that they’d recommend some founders spend time with a marketing expert to hone their pitches or let their marketing teams make a more polished pitch.

Conrad came up with the idea for the contest while talking to a friend: “I thought, ‘If I was a company starting out, I could use something like rent.’ I looked at it and thought, ‘Well, I could give space.’ Does it cost me money? Yes, I could lease it out and get rent, but on the other hand, if it’s sitting there and I could give it to someone, it doesn’t cost me as much as if I’m giving someone money. And every company that is growing needs space, right?”

Phillips recalled a moment from his entrepreneurial past when he could have used a contest like this one: “I used to run a little company called Manzanita Software, and we were trying to get into bigger offices, and we went to a well-known landlord here in town…and he turned us down because we were an entrepreneurial business and he didn’t think we were a good credit risk. He wanted better tenants. I’ve been on a number of panels with him since, and I’ve reminded him, ‘If you want to build the business community here, you’ve got to have entrepreneurial tenants.’”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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