Tech incubator seeks to hatch new ideas in Visalia

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On the way home to San Francisco from a family vacation in Southern California, Purvi Sahu looked at the devastating effect of the drought on what was once a lush corridor along Highway 99. As they passed miles of dusty fields and browning orchards she wondered what might become of the beautiful trees that provide local employment and global sustenance. The thought was overtaken by the sounds of her 6-year-old son Aadi in the back seat. It reminded her of how much he had grown from the baby whose diapers she used to change.

“Why couldn’t the same technology used to prevent liquid leaking from a diaper be used to retain water around the roots of a tree?”

It might seem like an odd thought, but inspiration rarely comes when you are looking for it. She and her husband Ankit decided to take up an offer by a friend to look at a commercial space in Visalia. They looked at a downtown property, the former home of Color Design Screenprinting, and inspiration came again.

“If someone had an idea like my wife’s, something innovative and different, where would they go to get help with the technical aspects of that?,” said Ankit, whose background is in finance. “How would they find the resources to turn that idea into a product, software or something else?”

The couple decided to take the building and transform it from just another commercial property to a property that launches commercial enterprises and ideas. Last week Purvi’s inspiration became reality with the grand opening of the California Tech Innovation Center in downtown Visalia. During a ribbon cutting ceremony with the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, the Sahus expressed their excitement and hope for the technology innovation, incubation and investment center.

“We want to be known as a Visalia company,” said Purvi, founder and president of CTIC. “We knew there was a need in this area and we know this will make an impact here.”

Dr. Deepak Srivastava, co-founder of CTIC and its Chief Technology Officer, said they will also be offering education courses on CTIC Announces Introductory Courses in Software Programming, Data Science and Big-Data, 3D-Design and Printing, Robotics and ABC of a Start-up Company. A physicist by trade, Dr. Srivastava led a team in Comp. Nanotechnology at NASA Ames until 2008. He has won many international awards in technology.

He said young people and young adults are learning the basics of programming, computer software at a younger age but there is no where to get that next step in their education between youthful interest and college major. All of the enthusiasm and creativity gets put on hold and is often lost in rural areas where students have less access to college and advanced training.

“The technology field has more jobs than qualified applicants,” Srivastava said. “We need more people innovating technology and not just using it.”

Purvi said the idea to start in Visalia came from the rapidly expanding need for new technology in agriculture. GPS-based apps, heat-sensored drones, advanced water conservation ideas have exploded in agriculture in the last 10 years. CTIC will cater to new ag tech innovation, be close to testing grounds in the fields and orchards of the Central Valley and have access to major ag dealers and manufacturers through events and conferences such as the World Ag Expo in Tulare.

“Our primary focus will be in ag technologies so it made sense to start here in Visalia,” Purvi said.

At its basic level, CTIC is a business incubator, where entrepreneurs can rent an office space under a roof with other creative thinkers, people who have worked in their industry and create an atmosphere rich with ideas. For $250 per month, CTIC offers a cubicle, WiFi, computer repair and tech support, lab space, 3D printing, training courses and industry education.

“Those companies are elite and you have to have an idea that is ready to go when you step through the door,” Ankit said. “But not all great ideas are ready to go. We want to cater to the everyday person who comes up with an idea and needs help to take it to the next step.”

For example, if someone contacts CTIC with an idea they can bring a rudimentary prototype through the doors of the facility and begin the process for propelling it through the process. CTIC can offer training and education on advanced technologies for testing and qualification, training on how to offer sales and marketing consulting at the critical business-development stage and investment for manufacturing and commercialization.

“The tech industry is the one to be in but just because you are tech savvy doesn’t mean you can navigate the tech industry,” Ankit said.

Start-up companies and entrepreneurs can find investors, office space and IT support almost anywhere. Unlike established technology incubators such as Matter, Y Combinator, Sandbox Suites, Hatchery and Runway, CTIC’s focus is to help them move cutting edge technologies, prototypes and technologies from idea to commercialization.

Through CTIC, innovators will have access to a network of mentors with serious credentials in the field of technology. These mentors include Mayank Bhatnagar, founder and CTO of Goodstori Inc., who has 18 years experience in Engineering, Sales, Products, Innovation and Wireless Consulting.

Then there is Dr. Fareed Sfard, a CEO of five start-ups, including his first company which is worth $40 million per year. He has also run 12 manufacturing plants, trained over 5,000 engineers, and was on the first team to deploy CPV in space for the U.S. military.

“Education and training will be my focus here,” Dr. Srivastave said. “I have had a technology career and now passing that knowledge on to someone else is my passion.”

Ankit said the long view of the project is to create a model facility and process that can then be replicated throughout the state, the country and the world. He said they are already working on a plan to open a second location in San Francisco with the green, white and orange logo and branding they are using here in Visalia.

“We aren’t setting out to become another mom and pop business,” Purvi said. “This is something bigger. If we don’t start educating people and keeping them abreast of new technology than there will be huge gaps between an elite group and everyone else.”

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