There’s a big problem in Davis, according to local entrepreneur Anthony Costello.
“There’s a lot of trouble with companies leaving Davis,” he added. “They’ll start at the university, and leave,” often to the Bay Area and its attractive array of investors and vibrant start-up culture.
But all is not lost.
Along with Andrew Hargadon, Costello is the co-founder of Davis Roots. Costello is Davis-born and -raised; Hargadon is a professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. The goal of Davis Roots, according to Costello, “is to get companies started and rooted in Davis.”
Davis Roots fields applications from would-be Davis area entrepreneurs, then subjects applicants to a rigorous series of meetings, until it finally whittles the pool to a group of business proposals. The nascent business owners set up shop at the Davis Roots office at the Hunt Boyer Mansion, 604 Second St. downtown, for the next eight to 10 months, receiving mentorship and resources to help them grow their businesses.
Hargadon realized a need for a Davis area business incubator when he saw some UCD business students and faculty struggling to create startup businesses in town.
“At that point, they didn’t have a next step outside of the university. So the goal of Davis Roots was to be a halfway house, a landing pad,” Hargadon said.
The business incubator recently celebrated its first anniversary with its second class of four startup businesses. Most are concrete business proposals, but Davis Roots has granted two 2012 UCD graduates, Jason Wang and Keyan Kousha, status as “entrepreneurs-in-residence.”
The business partners met in the UCD computer science honors program, majoring in a field known for both legendary and flash-in-the-pan companies.
“For people who are in computer science, creating a startup is glamorized, and we both want to be that magnetic person who creates value for other people,” Kousha said. “I prefer working at smaller companies, because I can feel more directly my impact on what part of society I’m writing software for.”
Davis Roots’ pull has now extended beyond academic entrepreneurs to permanent Davis residents.
Aimee Hasson founded The Gift of Education in 2010 after her longtime friend and former UCD basketball teammate, Ashley Stephens Gesler, died of cancer. In her memory, Ashley’s husband set up a college fund for their children, but many who wanted to donate didn’t know how to make out checks or where to send them. Hasson created a simple, one-page website explanation for those with questions.
“Initially, it was for my friend Ashley, but it grew from a one-page website to a website where anyone could come and register,” Hasson said.
Hasson was running the business out of her home, but growing pains caused her to reach out for advice and potential investors. Most wanted her to move to the Bay Area, “but I’m a parent so that wasn’t happening.”
So Hasson contacted Davis Roots.
“They have so much knowledge; they can give me an answer or point me in the right direction, and they save me so much time,” she said of Costello and Hargadon. “That’s invaluable to me. I’ve done more in a couple of months than I’ve done in a couple of years.
“I went to (UC) Davis, I live in Davis, my kids go to school in Davis. The Gift of Education was inspired by a friend that I met in Davis. It just made sense to me,” Hasson added.
For more information on Hasson’s company, visit https://www.thegiftofeducation.com.
Another example is James Nguyen, who graduated from Davis High School in 2002, moved on to Stanford and then to the UCD Graduate School of Management. An experienced businessman, he worked for Deloitte as an accountant before branching off this year and starting JamHive, a cloud-based musical collaboration site aimed at allowing musicians in different locations to innovate seamlessly.
For Nguyen, basing his new business in Davis has practical purposes: He can network and benefit from his connections at UCD, as well as commute easily to Stanford and the Silicon Valley.
“Through Davis Roots, I have an office space I can work out of, (and) my mentorship is based here. It’s sort of a central grounding point I can launch from,” Nguyen said. “It’s just a really good community.”
Davis Roots accepts applications on a rolling basis. More information can be found at davisroots.org.