Published August 30, 2016
Volume 24, Number 8




In the two-and-a-half years since Tri-Valley Capital opened Innovate Pleasanton, a 30,000 square foot shared facility for its affiliated tech startups, founder Greg Hitchan has seen his conceptual model validated repeatedly. His original idea was to create a space where fledgling companies could enjoy an environment that provides support through funding and mentoring, in the hopes that they could grow into viable commercial businesses. That formula is working.
“The evolution of the ecosystem between what we helped build here, the amount of capital startup companies have been able to raise, the progression of those startup companies to the next level of funding and development — that's been very good,” he says. “Four of the companies have raised a couple million dollars each in seed capital, and one of them is raising in excess of $10 million in Series A financing. And there are several other resident portfolio companies that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in seed capital.”
It is a particularly impressive record, given some of the changes that Hitchan — a former executive at noted private equity firm Blum Capital Partners — has observed. “True seed stage capital — the early stage, ‘first dollars in’ phase — is a space that traditional venture capital plays less and less in. What Tri Valley Capital aims to do is pool capital sources and identify these early stage opportunities — which this area is just rife with — and based on the profile, demographics, executive talent, and experience of our network, grow those businesses.”
Innovate Pleasanton supports start-ups with a variety of specialties. One, KalpTree Energy, is commercializing a solid state battery architecture technology for commercial and military applications. Another, US LADAR/AEye, is building a laser optic computer vision solution that has applications in autonomous vehicles among other markets including aerospace and heavy industrial equipment. SwarmSales is creating an online marketplace for on-demand sales talent. InTech Energy is an energy monitoring and control solution for buildings which minimizes energy use from HVAC systems and lighting.
“It's an opportunistic collection of wholly different technologies at different stages, from having a couple of founders to having 18 employees now for one of the companies,” Hitchan says. “That's what we do here: identify great local opportunities, invest in them, and provide experience-based mentorship and advice to facilitate the companies’ growth.”
While the growth of Innovate Pleasanton companies may be a primary goal, Hitchan also believes Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley can become a globally recognized center for startups, in much the way as Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
“I look at Innovate Pleasanton as secondary to the bigger opportunity to have a dedicated pool of capital and expertise in this area to develop these early stage companies,” he says. “You can see and feel the momentum of the startup activity and local sourced companies that want to be here and not have to go to Silicon Valley or the city. As we continue to develop that ecosystem, you just see more and more opportunities, and that's a function of both the access to capital and the network of talent and experience in this area: founders, company executives, technical talent, the national labs, and then certainly with the big public companies here and all resources they provide. Together, they represent a compelling set of innovative assets.”
Hitchan believes that Pleasanton’s unique opportunities for a healthy life/work balance and the area’s family- and business-friendly environment can ultimately add up in a way that will make it an even more appealing place to be located.
“It's not going to be a Silicon Valley, it's not going to be San Francisco, but the Tri-Valley version of that is something really special,” he says. “As early stage companies here realize some success, you can see more and more interest in the area from funding sources outside of the Tri-Valley. We have a great mixture of opportunity and assets in this area. We're just helping to facilitate the end result: building great technology companies.”
For additional information on Innovate Pleasanton, access www.innovatepleasanton.com.

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