Some of Kern County's most promising young entrepreneurs came together Saturday for the finale of a two-month contest in which teams of computer coders came up with, or worked to perfect, business enterprises that might one day turn into Silicon Valley-style startups.
Fresno-based 59DaysOfCode gave out $36,000 worth of prizes to six teams, almost all of them local, at a well-attended event spotlighting the hard work of tech- and business-minded competitors.
In the new-concept competition, a Kernville-based team called Fire Vision won first place for its aerial drone-based proposal that would provide real-time thermal imaging and other information about ongoing wildfires. The team's idea was based largely on input from veteran firefighters living in the Kern River Valley.
"I'm just really excited to see this level of innovation come out of the Kern River Valley," team member Justin Powers said after accepting the $10,000 cash prize. "We're excited to start changing the way we fight wildfires."
Second in that category, and $5,000, went to Team Stria, whose Fitbit-enabled smartphone app tracks objective and subjective health data from heart patients.
The team's Still Ticking concept was especially meaningful for one of its members, St. Nicholas Burrus, a computer coder suffering from a congenital heart condition. Members of the team said Burrus was and remains their daily inspiration.
"It's really cool that they decided to build something around me," he said. "It's really humbling and it leaves me kind of speechless."
A team from Bakersfield's Regional Occupational Center took third, and $2,500, for its smartphone app, Athleta, designed to connect high school student athletes with college recruiters. Athleta also won the $1,000 prize for having the most popular booth at a business expo that took place prior to the business pitch competition.
First place in the existing-concept category went to a Fresno tractor mechanic whose software, MainTrak, helps farming companies keep on top of required machinery maintenance work.
Seth Bagdanov, the app's creator, said he has been coding for only about five years. He has introduced the software at his work and hopes to sign up other companies as well.
"It has been a blast," Bagdanov said of his experience at 59DOC, now in its ninth year. This was the competition's first time in Bakersfield.
A concept called Saif Erp won second place in that category. Brothers Ammar and Mohammed Rashik invented the software to help dealers in airplane parts track and market their inventory. Their family business already uses the program.
Third place went to Bakersfield coder Mason Pawsey's concept, called Sylvstrr, which analyzes data from the social media platform Twitter. It allows companies to gauge consumer sentiment and compare feedback across different geographies.
The event took place at World Records on F Street. Among the local sponsors were Kern Venture Group, Kern Initiative for Talent and Entrepreneurship, Tel-Tec Security Systems Inc., Kern Schools Federal Credit Union and Bitwise Industries.
Tel-Tec owner Morgan Clayton, who is also an investor with KVG, gave credit to Bitwise, which helped spawn Fresno-based 59DOC. Clayton said he looks forward to seeing some of the contestants scale up their businesses to create opportunities for local employment.
"They all deserve an opportunity to take it to the next level to see if (their concepts) can work, to see if it can scale," he said.
Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh was on hand Saturday to watch the award ceremony and cheer on local contestants.
"Kern County has amazing talent," she said. "It's such a joy to see the innovation and creativity from our people."