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iHub survives early challenges

  • Michael Newell, executive director of the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster, is shown in this 2008 file photo standing in the Collabratory, a central meeting place in the incubator for members to generate ideas. (JOHN BURGESS/Press Democrat)

Last year, the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster gained new prominence when California named it one of the state’s six new Innovation Hubs.

Its mission: To create jobs by coordinating regional business, education and government activities.

That goal has been elusive so far. But incubator officials — who now usually refer to the Rohnert Park business cluster as the iHub — say it has survived its early trials and is now positioned to be the job creator it set out to be, and more.

“The incubator is the platform,” said Michael Newell, the iHub’s executive director. “We’re looking to take it bigger than that. We want to create connectivity, an innovation ecosystem.”

That, he said, means a network — with the iHub at its center — of venture capital, entrepreneurs and innovative ideas that will foster companies and jobs.

Lindsay Austin, chairman of the iHub board of directors, put it another way. “Our job is to create more Steve Jobs,” he said. “They are the catalysts that will create new jobs.”

Newell and Austin have made promising strides to expand the iHub’s reach, strengthening its ties to businesses investors and also to Sonoma State University. They also point to cluster tenants potentially verging on major success as a sign the nonprofit is starting to find its stride.

A principal of a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm has joined the iHub board, and the firm pays for a course to help companies develop business plans to pitch to potential investors.

“The advantage for us is we get to see better deals,” said Dan Lankford, a managing director at Wavepoint Ventures, which has offices in Menlo Park and the Sacramento area.

“I think people have gotten discouraged over the years,” Lankford said, referring to the difficulties that North Bay startups have experienced trying to get investment capital. “We’ve kind of completed this funding chain.”

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