Innovation Runs Wild at Santa Cruz, Calif., Tech MeetUp

Entrepreneurs gather in the California coastal city to show off new technologies and promote their companies to potential investors.

by Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif. / November 6, 2015

(TNS) -- When Chris Bley was introduced to drone technology, he saw an opportunity for a new way to inspect wind turbines.

“Why does someone have to rappel down a wind turbine to get good data?” he asked himself.

Bley, 52, founded Rope Partner in 2001, sending out trained technicians to wind energy farms to do that.

InspecTools, his 3-year-old startup, has FAA clearance to conduct commercial aerial inspections with drones.

“These drones fly within a couple meters of the wind turbine blade,” he told 250 people at the Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp Wednesday night at Cruzio. ”The condition of the blade is critical or it’s not making the power you need to make money.”

The technology has speeded up inspections from two turbines a day to 10 per day.

“We’re thinking we could get 15 to 20,” Bley said.

A UC Santa Cruz alum, he has eight employees and contracts with UCSC’s geographic informations systems laboratory for services, organizing images for clients that can have 40 to 50 wind farms each with 150 turbines.

His team can identify trees threatening power lines and track lightning strikes.

When drones cannot do the job under the FAA restrictions, InspecTools uses piloted aircraft.

InspecTools has an office at the Wrigley building on the Westside and a location at Monterey Bay Academy in La Selva Beach where the drones are flown.

Bley expects business to grow with the state requiring half its power come from renewable sources by 2030. If the partnership he’s working on comes to fruition, he’ll be looking to hire.

At the meetup, serial entrepreneur Kristoffer Lawson from Finland pitched his Kickstarter campaign to manufacture a new pocket computer, Solu, which can work as a mobile device or as a desktop computer.

“The device becomes a touchpad ... You zoom in then you zoom out. You can share. It sparkles when things get updated,” he said.

Game designer Kevin Cameron, 26, was intrigued.

“It’s a different way of organizing information, really intuitive,” he said.

The cost is $399 on Kickstarter with a $19 monthly subscription. As of Thursday afternoon, 551 backers pledged $222,000 toward the goal: $227,812 by Nov. 14.

David Schultz was impressed by the presenter for Branch Metrics, a Palo Alto startup with $18 million in funding and half a billion mobile users using new technology that takes them directly to the link they want, whether it’s a menu item, a specific article, or hotels in Seattle. Users can sign up for free.

“They’re a good acquisition target,” Schultz said.

Glenn Dunki-Jacobs, 66, who attended UC Santa Cruz in 1968 and most recently created online degree programs in Los Angeles County before moving to Aptos, was at the meetup for the first time.

“The turnout is unbelievable,” he said. “Somewhere in this room is going to be the next Google.”

Tech opportunities

Attendees at the Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp heard about these tech opportunities.

UC Santa Cruz alums Morgan McDermott and Jeremy Crowe pitched Hearth, a free app designed for roommates to parcel out chores and settle expenses. About 350 people are using it, including couples and families.

Branch Metrics offers a free service for better links on your mobile device.

Justis Earle of Santa Cruz has launched a campaign to raise $10,000 by Dec. 3 for HanSnap, which keeps your cellphone steady for photos and videos. Pledges start at $20; already $4,000 has been pledged.

Suzanne Wouk and Chris Risley of Santa Cruz pitched SnapPost, a moble app to simplify selling on eBay. It is free this year, Risley said.

Patrick Kedziora pitched Kedzoh, a mobile training solution that costs $1 per user per month. The company targets on-the-go workers with the first paying client in Chile; the typical length of a lesson is 3-5 minutes.

Robert Stayton, who worked at Santa Cruz Operation and has lived off the grid in a solar home for 18 years, has written a new book,

©2015 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.