LONG BEACH >> Long Beach City College officials on Tuesday revealed the first three companies to receive financial awards through Innovation Funds SoCal, a newly created program intended to foster Southern California startups.
The companies are Pick My Solar, a Los Angeles-based firm that has created an online platform for solar panel contractors to submit bids to interested homeowners; Revoterial, a Los Angeles-based company pitching alternative, nontoxic materials to the apparel industry, and Engine Fitness, a West Hollywood-based startup developing exercise equipment for the consumer market.
Pick My Solar obtained a $100,000, zero-interest no-collateral loan to help its founders develop their business as they attempt to go national. The other firms won $25,000 grants that are intended to help bring their products to market.
In the case of Pick My Solar, the loan will help the company develop new algorithms to connect solar contractors’ bids to individual homeowners, which in turn can give customers a better understanding of whether quoted prices for solar installations are reasonable, company co-founder Chris Blevins said.
“It’s going to allow us to automate our process so we can scale very quickly. Our goal is to be nationwide by the end of the year,” he said following the awards presentation at Long Beach City College.
Blevins accepted the award with company co-founder Mazyar Aram.
Long Beach City College president Eloy Ortiz Oakley announced the establishment of the Innovation Fund in January. The fund, created with the nonprofit Innovation Fund America, is intended to aid startups originating in Long Beach and surrounding cities in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas.
Long Beach City College is one of three community colleges — the others are in Ohio and North Carolina — in the United States to participate in the Innovation Fund program. Innovation Fund America is a project of the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which describes its mission as supporting education and entrepreneurship across the United States.
The Innovation Fund model is specifically designed to link community college educators with startup companies. Introducing award winners at Tuesday’s event, GrowCap, LLC Dat Do described the Innovation Fund model as a more meritocratic method of linking startups to capital than exists in the usual course of doing business.“The misconception is, if you have a great idea, you will be successful,” Do said. “That’s not true at all. Having an idea isn’t going to get you a million bucks. It’s really knowing the right people and getting the right funding.
”The Innovation Fund concept, Do said, changes this dynamic.
“You’re now evaluated based on the value of the product itself. That brings the fairness back to the game.”
Tuesday’s award winners participated in a competitive process in which nine firms were invited to make in-person presentations, Innovation Fund SoCal Executive Director Sheneui Weber said in a telephone interview.The fund does not take an ownership stake in the companies, and awards are intended to serve as “pre-seed” funding that may allow a startup to become strong enough to attract more substantial amounts of capital from angel investors or venture capital firms.
Innovation Fund SoCal was formed with a mission to concentrate its investments in the firms within the fields of clean technology, biomedical products and advanced manufacturing.
“We are looking for innovation from startups that are high growth, for creation of jobs,” Weber said.
In Revoterial’s case, the company’s signature product is Silxt, which was described at Tuesday’s event as a nontoxic material composed of natural silk proteins. Company founder Yotam Solomon said Silxt is an alternative to materials used in shoes and other apparel products that he said were toxic and that he saw being used at a Chinese factory.
“When you can’t even breathe, you know something’s wrong,” he said.
Solomon plans to use the $25,000 grant to develop a prototype shoe composed entirely of Silxt. Revoterial has reportedly received interest from Nike and other manufacturers.
Engine Fitness co-founders Brian Abercrombie and Kristin Anderson both have backgrounds in the fitness industry. The idea for the company came when Anderson sought Abercrombie’s assistance to train for the relaunch of the TV show “American Gladiators.”
Anderson’s training made use of a product Abercrombie developed, and although they said it is too early to show a prototype or reveal much detail about the Pilates Wheel, they did feel comfortable sharing that the product is being designed to be marketed to household consumers as a relatively small device that can allow customers to perform the kind of exercises they would do with much larger products, specifically the Pilates Cadillac and Pilates Reformer.
“We believe you can live your life better, in less pain and happier by feeling like an athlete,” Anderson said on campus Monday.
Innovation Fund SoCal may announce its next round of award winners as early as this fall. The program has a $200,000 loan from the college’s discretionary budget but will rely on donations to operate over the long term, Oakley said.
“Our next round will be in October, so we are continuing to fundraise,” he said. “We want to build the fund up to the point where it’s evergreen.”