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Startup incubator in Rohnert Park fosters growth

  • Pix2o CTO Lynton Auld and Jerry Gladstone, Vice Chairman in front of an engineering prototype of their portable LED sign at their Rohnert Park office. (Jeff Kan Lee / The Press Democrat)

High-tech pioneers Bill Hewlett and David Packard started their iconic company inside a cramped Palo Alto garage.

Today's tech entrepreneurs are just as likely to begin in a business incubator, a place designed to nurture their bright ideas.

For Eric Burns, an IT engineer building a next-generation security system for online banking, the incubator at Rohnert Park's Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster has made a difference.

“It's a real helpful piece of this project,” he said.

At the business cluster, he rubs elbows with other entrepreneurs and gets advice from a team of technology veterans. “I can't tell you how important it is to get their feedback,” he said.

The three-year-old startup center at Agilent Technologies' former Rohnert Park campus is now getting statewide recognition. With room for about 30 companies, it has been named a California “Innovation Hub” by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The designation brings $200,000 in state funding and a higher profile for the nonprofit program, said business cluster director Michael Newell.

“It augments what we're doing in a large way,” he said. “It's a very big deal for us.”

There are about 1,500 business incubators in North America, up from just 12 in 1980, according to the National Business Incubator Association. Such programs have created about half a million jobs over the past 30 years.

Under the state's program, Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster and five other California “iHubs” — in San Francisco, Sacramento, Livermore, Orange County and Coachella Valley — will collaborate with universities, venture funds and federal laboratories on research and development projects.

It could boost plans for a $11.5 million laser innovation center at the Rohnert Park cluster, in partnership with NASA, Sonoma State University and Raydiance Corp., a Petaluma company developing short-pulse laser technology.

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