Camarillo’s Pharos Center Helps Ideas Take Root So Businesses Can Grow
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A cryptocurrency miner, medical technology executive and manufacturing wiz walk into a bar.
Well, that’s a half-truth. The Pharos Center isn’t a bar, but the Camarillo maker space and startup incubator has been bringing creative minds from all sorts of local businesses together since launching at the Ventura County Community Foundation in November 2017.
There’s a common misconception that Ventura County lacks entrepreneurial talent, said Sean Bhardwaj, who helped create the Pharos Center. Bhardwaj, a longtime Ventura County resident who also runs Aspire 3, a startup focused on entrepreneur training and education, was eager to create a maker space that could bring local business owners and entrepreneurs together to share resources and ideas.
“There are a lot of pockets of entrepreneurship in Ventura County but the area was missing structure and we needed something to bring it all together,” Bhardwaj said. “With Pharos, we wanted to figure out who is doing good work in our community, bring them around and highlight their work. As we understand the community better we want to bring resources together to support our local entrepreneurs.”
Of course, corporate buzzwords like “entrepreneurship” and “collaboration” are a dime a dozen in California’s startup and entrepreneurial-minded business community. Bhardwaj was well aware of that and strived to model the Pharos Center as a maker space that can genuinely help area inventors and business owners thrive.
The maker space aims to provide resources for beginner and veteran entrepreneurs and business owners alike. For example, the “Pharos Acceleration” workshop helps new entrepreneurs learn the ins and outs of business management, while a monthly pitch competition has entrepreneurs practice marketing their business to their peers. The Pharos Center also hosts irregular events such as hackathons and coding boot camps.
While maker spaces are designed as community spaces where people with common interests can meet and share ideas, many maker spaces are cynical environments where business owners do little but attempt to siphon money from one another, said Simi Valley resident and Pharos Center regular Paul Shrater. Shrater, who co-founded Minimus, a store that produces travel-sized products. Shrater began visiting the Pharos Center around a year ago and noted that the maker space stands out due to its collaborative and teamwork-focused environment.
“In Los Angeles (maker spaces) you generally have service people pitching ways to spend money on themselves,” Shrater said. “At the Pharos Center, I’m hiring people and doing joint ventures. People proactively try to make connections and it’s not so self-serving.”
Bhardwaj noted that there is no restriction on the kinds of businesses and entrepreneurs that can participate in the Pharos Center’s various programs. That said, Bhardwaj recommended entrepreneurs and business owners interested in participating in the center’s programs should reach out prior to visiting the maker space. The maker space is defined by its collaborative environment and it is important to preserve that, Bhardwaj said.
Beyond established business owners and entrepreneurs, Bhardwaj added the Pharos Center is working closely with local schools to get students involved in entrepreneurship. The center invited students from several local high schools to pitch their business ideas to business owners and entrepreneurs last year and will continue working with students in the future, he said.
The Pharos Center is helping Ventura County become a more business-friendly region, according to Simi Valley resident and Sundae Electronics CEO Shari Eskenas. Eskenas, whose company is creating a device that works with headphones and alerts users to outside sounds such as a telephone ringtone or a knock at the door. She said the Pharos Center is a valuable resource for small business owners due to the supportive individuals who frequent it.
“When I was in Redondo Beach I couldn’t find any startup community but people here are connected and are creating a good ecosystem,” Eskenas said. “Whether it’s marketing or getting investors, you can talk to people here about your business and get connected with the right people. I’ve been here almost every Friday and it’s useful because I meet new people and get to demonstrate my product.”
More information about the Pharos Center is available at https://www.pharoscenter.com/.