Accelerator Programs Turn Riverside into Growing Startup Mecca

Published: 09/23/2021

Drs. Shailendra Sing and Eamonn Keogh, co-founders of FarmSense and the foundation technology. Courtesy FarmSense.

FarmSense, founded in 2016 by UC Riverside (UCR) engineering faculty members, built an award-winning system to replace sticky traps with artificial intelligence and analytics to improve insect monitoring and crop management. The startup is getting ready to launch its first product, which is light speed ahead in “ag tech years,” said its CEO and co-founder Leslie Hickle.

FarmSense is a proud graduate of the ExCITE startup accelerator program led by UCR, in partnership with city, county, and local business leaders. FarmSense worked with ExCITE for four years, as well as UCR’s EPIC Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and raised $2 million non-dilutive capital following $7.5 million from previous academic research funding.

“The biggest reason FarmSense has gotten where it is today is with the help of ExCITE and EPIC SBDC,” Hickle said. “Most startups fail because they don’t have this kind of support.”

Riverside continues to be a great place for startups thanks to programs like ExCITE and EPIC SBDC. ExCITE provides startups with a co-working space, networking opportunities, workshops, mentorship, and assistance finding grants. EPIC SBDC offers free consulting with entrepreneurs in residence, training programs, and access to capital.

ExCITE graduate Blue Social’s CEO, Jose Montero, speaking at a Santa Monica startup accelerator. Courtesy @BlueSocialApp Twitter.

“These programs have really put Riverside on the map as a place for startups to get the support they need to grow from an idea to a venture-funded company,” said Jennifer Yturralde, ExCITE’s startup incubator manager.

The programs strive to cultivate the Inland Empire’s tech ecosystem, create high-paying jobs, keep talent in the region, and unlock more angel capital. Since their launch five years ago, startups supported by ExCITE and EPIC SBDC have raised over $30 million. 

Riverside itself is unique in its infrastructure to support ag tech, cleantech and life sciences with numerous testing sites, greenhouses and agricultural land in the middle of the city. Many startups in the incubator reflect those verticals by building technology that will aid the planet and humanity.

“We’re identifying life-changing technology that can be created in Riverside and exported around the world as the startups grow,” said Scott Brovsky, a serial tech entrepreneur and EPIC SBDC’s director.

A weekend workshop hosted by ExCITE graduate Kids That Code. Courtesy @kidsthatcode Twitter.

ExCITE currently houses 21 startups in various stages of development including DeepBits, SmartBot360, StarNav, and Apsidal. Additional graduates are Globe BioMedical, an ocular engineering company changing how eye diseases are managed, Blue Social, the first Bluetooth-based social network, and Kids That Code, educational programs for kids in STEAM.

Yturralde and Brovsky say they are heartened by how many graduates choose to stay in Riverside. They attribute the decision to the city’s confluence of high-quality talent, world-class research, engaged community, and vibrant downtown.

What’s next for ExCITE and EPIC SBDC is helping establish a tech corridor from downtown Riverside to the university, as well as launching the first Riverside Angel Summit, bringing entrepreneurs and investors together for two months of events culminating in a chance to win $100,000 in seed funding.

For information about the ExCITE program, go to www.exciteriverside.org.

For information about EPIC SBDC, go to www.epicsbdc.com.