Ever have an idea for a new product, but no idea of how to turn it into a moneymaking business?

Budding entrepreneurs honed their skills and upped their chances for financing and cash awards at a Shark Tank-like event sponsored by John F. Kennedy University's Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership.

"This type of competition is the perfect way to identify prospective entrepreneurs who need help to get to the next level, whether it is through funding, marketing or other types of assistance," said Dr. Raul Deju, director and founder of IEL

Judges AP Gujral of Wells Fargo Bank, Jill Osur of impact 2 Solutions, Bill Weirsma of Meisma & Associates, Audrey Goins Brichi of Chevron and Jeff Strum listened to, questioned contestants and sometimes offered comments: "How are you going to reduce your cost of production?" "Who is your buyer?" "Keep an eye on who you do business with."

Truk Bagz founder Sean Brennan of Concord designed a fully encoded temporary, reusable cover for the back of pickups after his family made a ski trip to the mountains in the snow.

While he covered the gear in the back of the truck, he realized the need for a cover that could temporarily take the place of a camper shell. Brennan said he planned to build up the business and after five years, either continue or he might be open to selling it, when they asked him, "What's your end game?"


Advertisement

David Litty, CEO and founder of Enclave Enterprises in Concord, has years of experience as commercial construction and design project manager for a large corporation. His own new business provides those services plus cost recovery through energy efficiencies. "We are well positioned to become the sole-source provider for our clients."

With the innovation or creativity of the business, its viability and its competition in mind, judges and an audience of executives and business owners at the presentation contest at the IEL Todos Santos Plaza offices in Concord, voted for the top three of 11 semifinalists who will win a $3,000, $2,000 or $1,000 cash award.

Winners also get the chance to make their presentations May 17, at the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards luncheon at Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville. The audience will vote on the best business pitch to award the first, second, and third prizes.

The finalists are:

  • Sphynx Security LLC, founded by D.N. "Lynx" Crowe in Concord. He designed a reasonably priced, plug-in based software add-on used to make computer databases more secure.

    Presently, encryption must be temporarily turned off -- exposing the database to potential hackers -- in order to add, delete, change, sort or search data. Sphynx allows users to perform these basic database operations while the data remains encrypted.

    "Using Sphynx will make any sensitive database more secure, and may eventually be required by insurers as a 'prudent practice.'"

  • Origins and Roots was founded by jewelry designer Alia Morrow of Pt. Richmond, who left her executive position several years ago to follow her passion and attend art college.

    Having lived abroad with expatriates as friends, she recognized the appeal of a connection to one's origins. Morrow's high-end custom-designed pieces are made of found objects belonging to the purchaser, combined with her collection of objects and stones that may represent places and events in the purchaser's life or family.

  • Dan Morton moved from Pennsylvania to Concord to attend the IEL program and founded ExpertiGo. It is a networking website to connect with experts of every field. Morton said, "It is a new type of network."

    The IEL program is an accelerated startup business mentor-oriented training program focused on linking new business owners with answers to their individual needs.

    "Since its inception in January 2011, student entrepreneurs have developed new companies that have received or are in the process of raising nearly $20 million in equity investments," according Deju.

    IEL's Entrepreneur of the Year Awards will recognize the following business leaders at the Danville event:

  • Chuck H. Smith Entrepreneurial Leadership Award winners Steve Jurvetson, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a venture capital firm in the Bay Area.

  • Randy Haykin, chairman of Haykin Capital, managing director of Outlook Ventures, and a leader in the Gratitude Network

  • Sigma Nu Tau Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner Marty Reed, a principal with the Roda Group and a graduate of JFK University's MBA program

  • Sigma Nu Tau Leadership Award winner Mary Huss, publisher of the San Francisco Business Times

    New business research by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Ewing Marion Kauffmann Foundation show that new businesses less than a year old account for all net new job creation, contributing an average of three million new jobs each year.

    According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms. Since 1995, small businesses have generated 64 percent of new jobs, and paid 44 percent of the total U.S. private payroll.