Bryan Osborn didn't win the competition.
But for the 37-year-old Lodi business owner - and perhaps the region as well - just showing up at the first-ever San Joaquin Venture Funding and Entrepreneurship Conference was a victory in itself.
Osborn was one of four regional entrepreneurs to showcase their start-up businesses at the conference, held at the University of Pacific in Stockton.
A panel of venture capitalists selected Pleasanton-based Origami Foods over Osborn's Cropwire Inc. as the most promising company.
But they also praised Cropwire, which helps farmers better forecast their plants' water, fertilizer and pesticide needs, as an innovative company worthy of investment.
"That's the goal," said the Ukiah native, shortly after presenting. "It's how we're going to grow."
Speakers at the conference ranged from California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi to numerous valley and Bay Area business leaders.
Many said the valley is primed for economic growth, as long as the education, business and government communities can work together.
"Yes, I'm from government and I'm here to help you," Garamendi told the audience at Pacific Theater, packed with men and women in tailored suits and sharp haircuts.
"The private entrepreneurial sector needs to be supported," he added. "Tax policy, public policy provides that potential for capital to flow in that direction."
He noted that the state is working to improve everything from the highways to the schools businesses depend on for success.
Several Lodi leaders, including City Manager Blair King, Mayor Bob Johnson and Lodi Chamber of Commerce President Pat Patrick attended the conference.
Patrick said he was impressed with both the positive feedback from investors, many who were from the Bay Area, and with Lodi's Osborn.
"I think he was very impressive," he said. "I think he should have won."
Rahul Banta, one of the panelists, said he was also intrigued with Osborn's company, which has been up and running since 2005.
The San Francisco venture capitalist cautioned, however, that Osborn might not realize how much work it takes to move from a small start-up to a full-fledged company.
• AxtaWeb, a Tracy software company, hopes to ease the development of Web sites for commercial businesses, giving them the tools found at social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
• Origami Foods, a Pleasanton company looks to create new, healthy convenience foods. Its new technology, such as an edible food wrap that kills E. coli bacteria, will help food companies improve existing products and create new "on the go" offerings.
• Foundation Pharma, of Brentwood, develops agents to treat cancer and blood diseases. The company also helps produce generic pharmaceutical ingredients and drug products.
- News-Sentinel staff.
"He's going to have to have a dozen or more sales people," Banta noted, during the conference's lunch hour.
The fresh-faced Osborn established Cropwire two years ago but started building the electronic sensors that monitor crops in 2001.
He's no stranger to agriculture either, working 11 years for the Napa-based Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines. He served as a director of grower relations for the company a few years after earning his bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis.
Osborn is also a licensed pest control advisor.
Patrick said Osborn could be an example of where venture capital firms place their money in the future.
Until recently, the valley hasn't seen much of that cash.
"The concentration of wealth and power has always been in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, with a smattering in Sacramento," he said, noting the valley has been seen as only good for farming.
"Now there's more than ag in the valley," he added. "It's going to be the fastest-growing geographic segment of the state. Where growth is, that's where the money is going to come."
Despite getting praise from (and pocketing business cards from) a half dozen or so venture capitalists, Osborn remained modest after the conference.
"Obviously it's very encouraging to have people say 'call me,'" he said. It's tough to tell, though, how interested some of them are, he added.
"This is a process, and it's a long process."