Sacramento gives away $1 million to startups: Which local techies scored big?

I/O Lab working to be Sacramento tech hub

I/O Labs founder Brandon Webber talks about the vision for the tech incubator and work hub. Webber hopes the old bank building will have a positive impact on downtown Sacramento and the local tech scene.
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I/O Labs founder Brandon Webber talks about the vision for the tech incubator and work hub. Webber hopes the old bank building will have a positive impact on downtown Sacramento and the local tech scene.

Nearly $1 million in city-funded grants aimed at jump-starting the local technology industry will fund a video series about Sacramento start-ups, a web platform to help local entrepreneurs and a group that marries tech with civic causes, among other projects.

Fifteen applicants will receive a total of $970,000 in funding, after the Sacramento City Council approved the grants last week.

“Investing in innovation is key to our city’s future success,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said. “We talk about diversifying our economy and the ... grants are a big step in actually getting us there. Year after year, these investments will build on each other to make Sacramento a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology.”

The largest grant of $250,000 will go to the I/O Foundation to launch an “innovation center” on the 700 block of J Street.

Brandon Weber, founder and CEO of I/O Labs, which started the foundation, said that the project will bring in 20 start-up companies a year and give them space and access to venture capital. Weber said his company has guarantees for $1.7 million in venture capital from two funds and will use the grant award for its own start-up costs.

“It’s a really ambitious project,” Weber said. “The grant was actually huge for us.”

The money comes out of a $10 million fund that was established earlier this year after a push by Mayor Kevin Johnson. The fund began as a traditional economic development program in 2013 using redevelopment money from local property taxes after the statewide dissolution of redevelopment agencies.

In 2014, the City Council dedicated other revenue to it, including proceeds from the sale of city-owned lands. During last year’s budget, Mayor Kevin Johnson asked the fund be renamed and re-purposed to foster the growth of the local tech industry.

“It’s the city’s spark to try to invest in our start-ups and try to move the ecosystem along,” said Councilman Steven Hansen. “It’s worth a shot.”

After being announced in August, a four-week application period brought in 143 bids for the grants, with total requests for nearly $18 million in funding, according to a city staff report.

The applicants were evaluated by the city’s economic development department, its information technology department and the Mayor’s Office for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. An outside advisory panel of local technology and business people also weighed in.

Applicants were scored, and top-ranking contenders were interviewed. Final decisions were based on the track record of the applicant, the clarity of the proposal, market needs, the ability to track results and whether the reviewers thought the proposal could be an economic or cultural catalyst.

Hansen said the potential grantees are a “diversified group” that is “part of where we are trying to take Sacramento.”

The city plans to offer about $1 million in grants annually to local programs that help young tech companies through leadership training, work-share spaces and other support.

Those given grants include: Yellow Circle, Myles Maskovich, $10,000; The Elevate Project, Nancy Perlman, $25,000; Dynasty Video Productions, Lisa Randall, $38,800; Square Root Academy, Nicholas Hastings, $48,665; Apptology, Jeff Bennett, $50,000; Code for Sacramento, Joel Riphagen, $50,000; Founder Academy, Duane Wilson, $50,000; Green Tech Education and Employment, Simeon Gant, $50,000; Operation Innovate Inc., Alona Jennings, $50,000; Rocket Dept. Inc., Emma Fletcher, $50,000; Square One Clubs LLC, Nathan Allshouse, $50,000; E49/With Purpose Inc., Tammy Vallejo, $57,000; Hacker Lab, Eric Ullrich, $99,605; Velocity Venture Capital, Jack Crawford, $100,000; I/O Foundation, Jan Roos, $250,000.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa