Technology

Citing funding woes, Sacramento tech alliance folds

SARTA, sponsor of this tech index lunch in 2011 featuring Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak being interviewed by Kelly Brothers, was still an effective voice for young high-tech companies in Sacramento, its chief executive says, but the organization was feeling a financial pinch.
SARTA, sponsor of this tech index lunch in 2011 featuring Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak being interviewed by Kelly Brothers, was still an effective voice for young high-tech companies in Sacramento, its chief executive says, but the organization was feeling a financial pinch. Sacramento Bee file

The Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance is folding, a casualty of the seismic shifts in the area’s economic-development landscape in the past year.

SARTA announced Tuesday that its board of directors has voted to go out of business after 14 years. Howard Bubb, the organization’s chief executive, said SARTA will wind down operations over the next few weeks.

Bubb and SARTA Chairman Peter Van Deventer said they felt the alliance was still effective as an advocate for Sacramento’s tech community and a mentor to its startups. But Bubb said the organization was feeling pinched as donors moved “to allocate their economic development dollars in new directions.”

Van Deventer added, “Economic development is evolving here in Sacramento. There are many new organizations that have popped up. As it’s evolving, funds get shuffled.”

They declined to elaborate, but it appears that SARTA was affected by the emergence of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, a powerhouse group founded by chief executives with the encouragement of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The Greater Sacramento group merged with, and essentially replaced, the 40-year-old Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization last fall.

Aggressively tapping big donors, the Greater Sacramento organization has already built a $2.8 million annual operating budget with a goal of reaching $4 million. That would be nearly twice as big as its predecessor’s budget. As for SARTA, Bubb said the tech organization has been operating on a core budget of about $450,000 a year. Bubb, a veteran of Intel Corp. and other tech companies, is one of seven employees.

Barry Broome, the CEO of Greater Sacramento, said his organization didn’t crowd out funding for SARTA. Rather, he said, the tech organization spread itself too thin by taking on too many initiatives, such as medical-tech and green-tech.

In any event, Broome said Greater Sacramento had already been taking on functions that will help the region’s tech companies. For instance, it’s been amassing data on the region’s tech companies and the research capabilities at area universities; that data will be heavily promoted to tech financiers in the Bay Area in the coming months.

“There is a body of work going on here that’s very important to the tech community,” Broome said. He added that Greater Sacramento is exploring ways of making sure tech startups don’t fall through the cracks and the mentoring role provided by SARTA doesn’t disappear. Greater Sacramento board member Kevin Nagle, a former pharmaceutical executive and lead investor of Sacramento Republic FC soccer, will lead that initiative.

SARTA’s mission included holding networking events and working to connect entrepreneurs with potential investors. Just in the past year, the group said it assisted 226 startups in some fashion.

“SARTA has served its purpose very well,” said Van Deventer, an entrepreneur and consultant. “Now it’s time for others to pick up that mantle.”

The tech organization had gone through some management upheaval in the past year. Bubb was hired just four months ago. His predecessor, Kirk Uhler, who is also chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, had been on the job just eight months before he resigned.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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