Quarterfinalists chosen for 2014 San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge

jfarrow@modbee.comFebruary 20, 2014 

  • AT A GLANCE

    What: San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge

    Who: People with business ideas in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Mariposa, Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador and Alpine counties

    Prizes: Winner will receive $7,000 in cash and $10,000 in business services such as accounting, legal advice and marketing. Runner-up will get $3,000 in cash and $4,000 in services.

    Round 1: Up to 20 selected entrants will do two-minute presentations from 5 to 8:30 p.m. March 5 at the Stockton Golf & Country Club, 3800 Country Club Blvd. A panel of judges and the audience will choose eight to move on.

    Round 2 and finals: The remaining entrants will do five-minute presentations starting at 5 p.m. March 26 at the club. The judges and audience will choose four finalists to answer questions and take part in a simulation involving a challenging business situation. The winner and runner-up will be named at the end.

    Spectators: Tickets for each night are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Admission includes light appetizers; a no-host bar will be open. Dress is business casual; the club forbids denim.

    More information, including free workshops for prospective entrants in Modesto, Merced and other cities, is at www.sjchallenge.com.

Five entries from Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced counties are among the 16 that have been selected to participate in the 2014 San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge. The rest of the 16 quarterfinalists are from San Joaquin, Mariposa and Amador counties.

They propose a broad range of business ideas from food products to high-tech surveillance, including electronic devices, social networking, media products and services, health care products, educational services, food products and safety products, according to an announcement Thursday from the San Joaquin Angels investment group, which sponsors the contest.

Mark Plovnick, San Joaquin Angels investment group president and director of economic development at the University of the Pacific, said he’s “pretty impressed” with Stanislaus County.

“It doesn’t have as many applicants as Stockton and San Joaquin County, but better, apparently,” noting the county residents’ success in the contest, which is in its fifth year.

Last year’s winner was Rich Ison’s Riverbank company, Nx Stage Security, which makes a line of security doors and windows. The 2012 winner was Modestan John Paoluccio Jr., whose Manhole Odor Eliminator beat 60 other entries.

Plovnick shared a bit about the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced startups in the running this year:

• Instant Access IPS, a Modesto business owned by Mark Coons, makes “an interesting product,” Plovnick said: a device to safely lock and conceal a shotgun or rifle or smaller gun behind artwork in the home. In the event of an intruder, he said, the quick-access gun vault can be opened by thumbprint scan or a keypad. “It’s kind of like a medicine cabinet recessed into the wall,” Plovnick said.

• Master Locking Pliers are the brainchild of Turlock resident Juan Sanchez. Plovnick calls the entry “a multipurpose tool that combines the functionality of locking pliers with a screwdriver.” The 18-in-one tool comes with interchangeable screwdriver heads – Phillips and flat-head – in a range of sizes.

• Another entry out of Turlock, Plovnick says, are energy-efficient, decorative door and window treatments by George Vijil, whose business is Vijilante Inc. The treatments add insulation and security to doors and windows, Plovnick said.

• Out of Sonora come RockOn propane tank covers, which look like outcroppings of rock. Don Smith’s polymer products are solid-shell covers for propane tanks 500 gallons and smaller. They provide tank insulation against summer heat and winter snow damage and “hide unsightly, rusty or faded propane tanks,” the company’s website says, and “are so detailed that you ... will think they are a real rock.”

• And from Merced County, “a couple of guys out of UC Merced have created a device that fit on drones and would be used to monitor forest fires,” Plovnick said. “They’d see how big the fire is, where it’s going. It would be a lot less expensive, faster and safer than sending out an airplane.”

The Entrepreneur Challenge quarterfinalists will be competing for $10,000 in cash and $14,000 in business services. The first round is March 5 in Stockton. Contestants will have two minutes each to present their business ideas, in what is known as an “elevator pitch,” to a panel of judges and a voting audience. Eight winners will be selected from the 16 quarterfinalists to proceed to the second and possibly third rounds of competition March 26.

Plovnick said, “These aspiring entrepreneurs have now taken the first steps to starting their own business in our region, and we hope the competition will encourage them to continue to pursue their vision. Many of the 250 past participants in the challenge have started and/or grown their businesses. One particularly successful 2010 participant sold his software business to computer-maker Dell.”

The 2012 winner, Paoluccio, said in a news release, “The funding and professional assistance that we received from the challenge has helped us to put our product in the marketplace spotlight. We now have sales in Florida, Las Vegas, Canada and even Dubai.”

Bee City Editor Deke Farrow can be reached at jfarrow@modbee.com or (209) 578-2327.

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