In the shadow of the startup capital of the United States, Sonoma and Marin counties are generally overlooked as a place to seek out the next entrepreneurs who could cause disruptions in the nation’s economy.

But Zachary Kushel wants to put an end to the idea that you have to be in San Francisco or Silicon Valley to have a good idea that can be brought to market. Kushel is founder and managing partner of Marin Sonoma Impact Ventures, a Corte Madera-based investment fund that has so far backed three North Bay companies. The fund also sponsors networking events, mentorship opportunities and other efforts to spur local job creation and create a better home for entrepreneurs, although it does not take an equity stake in the business.

Kushel felt the urge to get started so badly that he quit his job as business development manager at Glassdoor in Mill Valley to spearhead the fund’s creation in 2019. It’s backed by local investors, including Blair Kellison, the former CEO of Sebastopol. based on traditional medicinal plants.

“I don’t think we fully appreciate the amount of economic activity that’s taking place just in these two counties on the (Highway 101) corridor,” Kushel said. “Compared to the rest of Silicon Valley, not much is happening. But compared to any other region of the country and the world? Saint Molly. There’s a ton going on here.

Kushel’s effort is remarkable in two respects. First, it envisions the development of businesses across a large jurisdiction without regard to the specific industry ― to get them out of their own silos. This has generally not been done before. The jurisdiction of most business groups has focused on specific locations, such as the Sonoma County Economic Development Board or the Marin Economic Forum; or on specific areas, such as Naturally North Bay, a group that represents natural and organic products companies in the region; or trade groups that represent specific industries, such as wine or agriculture.

“I think he (Kushel) really takes a nice whole-systems approach to creating the right conditions for the kind of start-ups that we want to see thrive in this space? And he thinks about that in a much bigger way than just providing funding. And to me, that’s so refreshing,” Ryan Johnston, General Manager of Biotic Ferments told Petaluma.

The company produces kvass, a traditional Eastern European fermented drink that has been updated for modern consumers with flavors of turmeric, ginger and pineapple. Biotic hasn’t received funding from Marin Sonoma Impact Ventures, but Johnston said he and his family business appreciate how the fund’s blenders and meetings have allowed them to connect with other entrepreneurs as they go. as they grew their business and learned from the experiences of others. The company has a new passion fruit flavor coming out soon and will also be ramping up its keg distribution for bars and restaurants over the coming year.

“It really inspires a new kind of thinking. Like me, I talk about marketing to someone who is in technology. It’s beneficial. We are in no way in competition with each other,” Johnston said. “These kind of connections are super interesting.”

The other aspect of Kushel’s thinking is to re-examine the traditional influence of economic development based on landing businesses to house or expand in North Bay. This approach was notably used by the State of Texas to siphon off the California headquarters.

Locally there was speculation in recent years, technology companies, such as Google, have been considering satellite campuses in the area, such as the former Fireman’s Fund Insurance site in northern Novato. Instead, the focus should be on the culture of the more than 750,000 residents who live along the affluent Highway 101 corridor, many of whom are highly educated in various fields and open to doing their own thing, Kushel said.

“We have all this untapped potential,” said Kushel, who worked in politics before joining the corporate world with a resume that included a stint at Cisco Systems. He argues that greater diversification within the economy will help Marin and Sonoma counties better insulate themselves from the challenges of climate change, wildfires or the next pandemic.

“We need to make diversified investments in diversified sectors that could actually be better protected from the ravages (of climate change and other threats),” he said.

Finalis, a Corte Madera-based investment bank, is an example. The company is the one Kushel’s fund has invested in with New Retirement, a financial planning technology solution in Mill Valley; and Novi, a Larkspur-based technology platform for the consumer packaged goods industry. The fund has not disclosed financial details of its investments and its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission have not yet disclosed such data.

Federico Baradello, founder and CEO of Finalis, grew up in Marin County and worked in other areas of the Bay Area before launching his company in May 2020.

Finalis offers a simpler option for processing documents related to financial transactions via a cloud-based solution that allows brokers to process their transactions and communicate with a compliance officer. The company employs 80 people working remotely, but there are plans to have a physical office in the future, Baradello said.

Baradello said he hopes his company can join in changing the notion that Marin County is more of a dormitory community for workers commuting to San Francisco, especially since the pandemic has opened up the possibility more distant work opportunities and hybrid options.

“The whole concept of a dorm community changes when people work in their rooms,” he said. “Maybe you can live, work and grow a successful software business out of a dormitory community…I think this really presents a unique opportunity for Marin and Sonoma counties.”

Kellison, who recently left Traditional Medicinals, said he loves what Kushel has created, as well as the opportunity that exists for the future of local businesses as they grow.

“We are investing in our ecosystem,” he said. “My passion is helping businesses and people reach their full potential.”

You can contact editor Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected] On Twitter @BillSwindell.