By Tim Hunt
Finishing the snapshots of Tri-Valley gamechangersUploaded: Mar 31, 2022
I’m wrapping up the coverage of the Gamechangers celebrated by the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group earlier this month with its first in-person event in two years at Goal Line Productions in Pleasanton.
What’s striking is the diversity of the companies recognized that range from electric tractors (Monarch) to high-tech medical devices, autonomous guidance systems, human resource systems, business management platforms and video games. You can read about Monarch tractors by searching The Weekly’s site for a long feature that ran earlier this year. In my chat with one of the Monarch principals, the commitment to headquarters in Livermore was clear, but it was also notable that manufacturing may take place elsewhere in a lower cost environment.
The second Livermore company honored, Acton, is providing micromobility solutions as a service designed to serve cities. CEO and co-founder Janelle Wang defined micromobility as anything smaller than a car such as e-bikes or scooters. The cloud-based system includes charging stations and the ability to manage the assets.
They’ve got systems operating in 100 cities and countries and Wang said the small devices already outnumber cars. She lives in Pleasanton and their office is across the street from Costco in Livermore. Out back are the vineyards with the dirt roads being an ideal testing space for operating vehicles in rustic environments. Acton already has secured three rounds of funding with a fourth pending.
Dublin-based Vagro grew out of founder Fred Helou’s challenge of trying to get a haircut while traveling in Korea. It’s now a $1 billion company and the leading provider of software to operate beauty, fitness and wellness business. The company started in downtown Pleasanton, moved to Livermore and now is located in a Dublin business park because Helou wanted nothing to do with a commute on Interstate 680—sharing that sentiment with many other company leaders and their employees.
The Vagro software allows a user to enter a time and a location and a service they need and then see what providers are available.
BoxMedia from Danville, another software firm, provides interactive online training through the internet. It’s personalized and designed to engage users as opposed to the required training that often amounts to watching a video and clicking boxes.
Founder and CEO Michelle Czarnik said, “The problem was that we were not addressing the fact that learning had not changed but everything else in the world had. We wanted to be part of the disruptive solution to help solve that. Everyone learns differently, which is why we design courses to amplify the most employable skills while strengthening undeveloped minds and hopefully unleashing our most unique potentials. We are addressing the edge of the entertainment streaming generation, we create learning that feels like entertainment by building products from the ground up and pulling out essential knowledge points.”
They already have placed it with major firms such as Accenture and Kaiser Permanente.
IrisVision of Pleasanton has been discussed in The Weekly previously for its cutting edge technology that is using neuroscience to give sight back to people suffering from macular degermation. Founder Ammad Khan was looking to do something with impact and met his co-founder, a UC Berkeley professor, in Pleasanton.
He said, “ … having seen the impact on so many lives, it's so rewarding. It's a very powerful thing to see a family who has a family member that lost vision at some point, sort of coming back to life. They put on our glasses, and they're able to recognize their own family members, the grandchildren and the smiles on the faces.”
The company married technology with neuroscience in their first product, the goggles, that has given sight back to people. Iris has continued to evolve into a healthcare platform and now is encouraging using the glasses as part of a routine eye exam because they can detect issues early. They’ve entered into a partnership with the Veteran’s Administration and have secured funding for the next growth phase.
These snap shots provide some insight into the diversity and strength of the small and large companies driving the Tri-Valley’s vibrant economy. Compared to other parts of the Bay Area, the Tri-Valley enjoys some competitive advantages such as relatively less expensive housing (not compared to anywhere else in the country), good schools, and great communities with many amenities.
Like the rest of the Bay Area if we do not address housing companies may retain headquarters here while their talented workforce scatters elsewhere to work remotely in more cost-effective locations.