Written by Debra Atlas
Companies are finding they need to expand their innovation efforts to meet consumer demand for greener products and services. And angel investors are eagerly seeking to invest in these kinds of companies.
These two forces collided on April 2nd at the 3rd annual Sierra Nevada Innovation Challenge. Thirty five start-ups and growing companies vied for the event’s prestigious GLOBIE award as the Most Innovative New Product in California. This competition, presented by Innovate Northstate at Chico State University in Chico, California, provides a showcase for young innovative businesses located outside of Silicon Valley. The event allowed them to present in front of a mix of investors, media, academics and government officials, all in one place.
Not all the companies presenting were involved in “green” but they definitely were all innovative.
In his opening remarks, Jon Gregory, the event’s organizer and CEO of Innovate Northstate, said that the intent behind this event “is to have the 530 area (code) be the most competitive non-metro area within the next five years.”
The event had five segments. The first, Ag and Food, included this author as one of its 12 judges, her second year as a judge for this exciting event.
Michelle Thatcher, CEO of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce, stated that “We were very excited to have Ms. Atlas selected to be a judge for this competition, bringing her years of experience as an environmental journalist to it”.
Innovations come in all forms and flavors. One presenter in this category was Silk Road, a delicious, fruit-flavored carbonated soda and an award winner at the recent Fancy Food conference. It’s the only organic soda of its kind, said the founder and CEO of Silk Road Inc. Payam Fardanesh. who’s grandmother gave him the original recipe. With over 300 retail customers in the San Francisco Bay Area, they’ve had remarkable marketing from such esteemed venues as Yahoo and Oprah Winfrey. It’s no wonder they were an award winner at this year’s Innovation Challenge!
The steadily growing water crisis raises concern for food production. Two companies had new products that addressed this.
600,000 tons of organics get thrown away each year. California Safe Soil recycles food waste into liquid fertilizer in just three hours through the use of heat and enzymes. Their product H2H increases farm production yield creates more organic matter and cuts the food safety risk. The product produces “no effluent and no emissions,” said the company’s CEO. This is a terrific achievement for this company which anticipates growth to $90 million in revenues within five years.
Global Habitat Resources presented another production boosting product. In the largely untapped market of agriculture, the benefits of its newest product made of volcanic pearlite include:
- it saves water,
- reduces the use of fertilizer,
- increases roots
- and increases land production.
It also promotes better water retention at roots.
One of the more appetizing products presented was from New Gem Foods. Their all-natural fruit and veggie GemWraps are healthy alternatives to bread. Gluten-free and a good source of antioxidants, they’re made without artificial ingredients or preservatives. The display at their booth looked delectable
Other award winners that day included:
- AudioTag software that brings tracking and interactivity to the broadcast media, helping to create increased revenues
- Incrediwear who’s antimicrobial socks help reduce pain and swelling and help keep cold feet warm by increasing blood flow. They’ve been successfully tested by star athletes like Lindsey Vonn.
- Work Truck Solutions, an innovative tracking system that fills a much-needed void in the trucking industry. This software allows dealers to rapidly locate and increase their truck inventory. This product
- Zboard, the over-all 2014 Siertra Nevada Innovation Challenge Global winner. Theirs is the world’s first, weight-sensing electric skateboard.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the lunch speaker and his new venture. Mr. Tony Perkins, who created Red Herring Magazine in the 1960’s, is currently establishing a new type of social media platform. His Always on network connects directly entrepreneurs and investors to shorten the time each needs to link up. His website already features branding experts such as Mark Cuban blogging for it.
The Sierra Nevada Innovation Challenge was an exciting event. Everywhere you turned, you saw examples of inspiring creativity and drive from young start-ups. The inspiring take-away was that entrepreneurship is alive and well, and real innovation is constantly sprouting up to fill important business needs.