One of 4 in North Bay iHub's Seed Round Competition

By Ernie Barrera | June 2, 2011

Group of people attending presentation, seen from the backPetaluma resident Tom Corbett spent a career making sense of the business world. The one principle he learned during his years as an engineer and business consultant was the need to have enough seed-money during the first year of a new business.

"You have to be able to burn a lot of money before you get to a point where you're making it, said Corbett.

Wednesday, Corbett was named one of four finalists in the North Bay iHub's Seed Round Business Plan Competition, for his business idea, "Barrier Free Adventures," a mobile, social media technology-based travel information service for people with disabilities.

The inaugural competition was organized by Sonoma State University and The North Bay Innovation Hub (iHub) as a way to connect local entrepreneurs with venture capital.

Corbett operates a multimedia production company and it was while working on a video about problems disabled people face when they travel, that he and fellow Petaluma resident Thom Butler decided to start a new business.

"After I made that video, I was often approached by people in wheelchairs who said one of their biggest frustrations was access when they traveled. They might book a hotel room that said it was wheelchair friendly, only to find that they couldn't get in the place," Corbett said. “The idea of Barrier Free Adventures is to make use of the Internet, smart phones, and all social media technologies to offer reliable personal tools for these people."

Corbett noted studies conducted by organizations advocating for the rights of the disabled, including the California Disability Services & Legal Center, estimate that the disabled community contribute more than $220 billion to the national economy, with an estimated $14 billion in travel related expenditures.

"It's a huge potential market and getting information on travel access for the disabled is often difficult, if non-existent" Corbett said.

And although he did not win, Corbett credited the competition on helping him focus on the process of creating a business plan.

"It was very valuable as a means of organizing the steps we had to take to make this thing happen," he said.

The North Bay iHub is one of 12 regional economic development collaboratives organized with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The goal is to modernize California’s approach to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.

Ivo Austin, a Business Development Manager with the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster and spokesman for the iHub competition, noted that one of the primary goals of the competition was to promote innovative business models in the North Bay area.

"There has been a dearth of exposure to some of the wonderful ideas being produced in the North Bay," Austin said. "We hope that a competition like this exposes potential entrepreneurs to investors seeking opportunities to support new ideas and technologies. This is what leads to more businesses and job growth in the region."

The contest involved three qualifying rounds over a three month period. The winner was K-diagnostics, based in San Rafael, which is developing a touchless diagnostic/monitoring technology for sleep apnea disorders. The technology called "Sleep ID" uses low power radar to measure respiratory and heart rates continuously from a stand-off distance of up to 8 feet.

The winning company was awarded $5,000 in cash and $35,000 in services to help them get off the ground. K-diagnostics will also get to compete in iHub's "Investor Summit" this Fall, in which some 200 potential investors will listen to presentations by 10 local entrepreneurs, according to iHub spokesperson Vicki DeArmon.

Reprinted from: PetalumaPatch

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