Harry Cheng, chief technical officer and co-founder of Barobo Inc., assembles modular robots to be used as educational devices at the company's new office in downtown Davis. Barobo was nurtured by Davis Roots, a start-up business accelerator that aims to keep technology developed at UC Davis in this community. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

Local News

Incubator allows local business to take root

By From page A1 | March 21, 2013

An entrepreneur may have all the qualities required to run a successful business, but it could all be for naught if he or she lacks a fleshed-out business model, convincing sales pitch or a network of experts to call upon.

But with Davis Roots in town, such things should daunt those with incentive no longer.

Davis Roots is a local start-up business accelerator created by Anthony Costello and Andy Hargadon, who launched the program last May. So far, two businesses and local leaders have nothing but good things to say about their presence.

“The community response — from locals, the city and the university — has been great. People really get it,” Costello said. “If we take small companies coming out of the university and keep them here — there’s all sorts of tangent, trickle-down benefits for Davis.”

The focus for Davis Roots now is utilizing that support to segue into more fundraising, Costello said. He added that raising money would provide the resources necessary to effectively run the nonprofit.

Costello and Hargadon, who run the program on a volunteer basis with no personal financial gain, have plans that exceed what they are capable of achieving without a full-time support staff.

One of those goals is ensuring that the Davis Roots’ hub, the Hunt-Boyer Mansion at Second and E streets downtown, becomes the center of the local entrepreneurial community.

“We’re running several events here, and we’ve had several speakers come in,” Costello said. “We’re moving some of the talks that happen regularly on campus to the mansion here, so we can bring more activity to the downtown.”

Davis Roots also has five entrepreneurial ventures in the pipeline, all looking to find their place in a diverse range of markets. One wants to provide an aerial photography service to farmers, another will sell products to members of sororities and fraternities.

Each will be screened and evaluated based on factors both Hargadon and Costello consider important. The pair said it’s likely only two will make the cut. The nonprofit’s goal is to work with eight or more businesses by the year’s end.

“Any start-up is an experiment, it’s a process,” Hargadon said. “The two companies we’ve had so far have done well. … The next step, now that we’ve been given the go-ahead, is to try and scale that, and turn that small experiment into a larger one.”

One of the first companies the group got involved with was Nuritas, a developer of bio-medical computer software. Hargadon said the company was thriving, despite the fact that its sole operator — UCD post-doctoral student Nora Khaldi — was struggling with visa issues.

The other company under Davis Roots’ guidance was Barobo Inc., which creates robots to be used as educational devices. Founder Graham Ryland said the company’s goal is to provide kids with more practical applications to learn math and science.

Two rooms on the top floor of Hunt-Boyer Mansion served as a temporary home for Barobo over the course of several months. It was during that time that the small engineering team developed its first product — the Mobot-L, a low-cost modular robot.

Besides space, Barobo relied on the networking of Davis Roots to connect with the people needed to create a business infrastructure.

“For example, we met our patent attorney through them, as well as other key people,” Ryland said. “When it comes to looking for people who match the style of your company, it’s not as easy as just googling these vital, high-quality individuals.”

On March 1, Barobo opened its own offices in downtown Davis, a little more than a block away from the Davis Roots headquarters. He chose Davis for his office because of the number of local resources to which he’s connected.

“It’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for Davis Roots, we’d likely be located in either the Bay Area or in Sacramento,” he said. “The majority of the people who are at Barobo either live here or are alumni from UC Davis, and this is where we want to be.

“UC Davis produces very high-quality engineers, marketing and business folks, but they get snatched up by companies in places like the Bay Area. … Davis Roots is a great focal point to harness that potential and keep it local.”

With Barobo being a testament to the viability of Davis Roots’ mission, Mayor Joe Krovoza conveyed his satisfaction with the effort to strengthen and broaden the job base within the city:

“Davis Roots is precisely the type of collaboration that should be pursued by a world-leading university creating knowledge of great public need — like energy, ag and medicine — and a host city that cares about high-value jobs and social change,” Krovoza said.

“And we have moved from the idea and the initial effort to success in a short time. We have a model and the talent to make this thrive.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

Brett Johnson

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