The economy may look bleak, but there's no shortage of bright ideas for new businesses.
That was the message at Wednesday's North Bay Growth and Innovation Forum, a Santa Rosa event that attracted startup companies in search of investors.
"You can't keep a good idea down," said Michael Chobotov, CEO of TriVascular2, a medical technology startup in Santa Rosa that has raised nearly $100 million in venture capital.
"If there's an unmet need, there's a way to build a business around it."
Investors heard presentations from four startups and visited with seven others at the conference sponsored by Santa Rosa's Chamber of Commerce, the City of Santa Rosa and North Bay Angels, a Sonoma County investment group that backs early-stage companies.
The event at Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa attracted several hundred investors.
They heard from Barspace.tv, a Rohnert Park startup that puts live webcams inside drinking spots so bar-hoppers can check out the scene in advance. Bar owners subscribe to the service, and the site sells ads to liquor companies, said co-founder Peter Viviani.
Barspace.tv is looking for $250,000 to grow the company. "There's no business that does what we do," he said.
ICare Village is a Santa Rosa-based Internet startup that targets seniors and their family caregivers, providing videos, DVDs and other services for the elderly. It also sells advertising and sponsorships.
ICare Village is seeking $400,000 to expand, said CEO Jamie Spooner.
Sebastopol's Solmetric Corp., founded by former Agilent Technologies engineers, markets a hand-held device that helps installers and engineers measure the solar energy potential of any location.
The five-year-old company had $2.7 million in sales last year, said CEO Willard MacDonald. It's looking for $450,000 to grow.
Buchele and Associates, a Los Gatos startup, has developed technology that reduces alcohol in wine by removing sugar from grape juice before fermentation. The technology cuts winery costs because high-alcohol wines are taxed at a higher rate, said company executive Darby Buchele.
The company is seeking $2 million from investors.
A panel of venture capital and startup veterans asked tough questions of the entrepreneurs. They wanted to know about competition, market size, business plans and technology patents.
Solmetric won "best in show" for its presentation.
Secured for Banking, a Rohnert Park startup that makes a computer operating system to safeguard online banking, won for best business exhibit.
It's too early to say whether any of the startups will get funded as a result of Wednesday's event. But investors are still looking for promising new businesses, Chobotov said.
"It's more difficult to get investors' attention right now," he said. "But I still think there are opportunities out there."