The Stanislaus Innovation Challenge comes down to four finalists Wednesday night – people with bright ideas that someday might be business successes.
Elias Ruiz has entered a lightweight raft. Luke Rocha offers a holster that snugly fits a play or real gun. Fred Axton has an idea for an easy-access shower. Joel Gutierrez Campos submitted a mobile app for use in redevelopment projects.
They are vying for $2,500 in cash and the same amount in business services, such as accounting, marketing and legal work. The winner will be chosen by a panel of judges and audience voting, a la “American Idol.”
The Stanislaus Business Alliance is putting on the first-time contest, co-sponsored by Wells Fargo, The Modesto Bee and the Stanislaus/Merced Angels investment group. The entrants must live in Stanislaus County or own companies or attend college here.
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The finals will start with entrants making pitches of up to 5 minutes, which can include video and live products. The judges then will have a chance to ask questions of each.
The judges and audience will choose two entrants to move on to the next round, which will feature rapid-fire questions and answers, followed by “open dialogue” about the business ideas. The winner then will be chosen.
More on the finalists, chosen in regional events this fall:
▪ Ruiz, 37, of Hughson created the Feather Raft, a plastic-foam craft that can be easily lifted off the top of a vehicle and placed in a lake or stream. The typical model, selling for $925, is 4 feet by 8 feet and weighs 55 pounds.
“It’s light enough for one person to carry,” Ruiz said Monday while demonstrating the raft on the Tuolumne River just upstream from Geer Road. “This is ready to launch.”
Ruiz teaches math and science at Dutcher Middle School in Turlock. He said the raft provides a platform for two of his hobbies – bow fishing and waterfowl hunting.
▪ Axton, 62, of Modesto has a product that could help elderly or disabled people step into a shower with less risk of slipping. Part of the tub wall is cut away, and a new sliding door is installed. Baths no longer will be possible, he said, but showers will be safer.
“To just be able to shower without stepping over the bathtub is our goal,” said Axton, who is retired from construction. He said the product could sell for perhaps $500.
▪ Campos, 25, of Modesto is working on a master’s degree in urban planning from San Jose State University. His entry is a mobile phone application that allows people to suggest uses for vacant properties.
“The problem with urban planning is that it’s hard to get people’s input,” Campos said. “This would allow users to provide input on what would improve their neighborhood or a central business district.”
Realtors and developers would pay to have properties listed on the app, which is named Request It.
▪ Rocha, 27, of Modesto is co-owner of Next Level Tactical on Kansas Avenue, which sells equipment for Airsoft competitions. His entry is a plastic holster molded to the shape of a gun, which he said would hold it in place better than the nylon cloth holsters in wide use. The products sell for $75 to $95.
Rocha has been making the holster in his shop, using a convection oven to soften a plastic sheet and then pressing it onto the shape for holding a gun. He would put the prize money toward more efficient equipment.
“The ultimate plan is to streamline the product and process,” he said.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.