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EvoNexus Evolves: CommNexus Absorbs Incubator, Accepts San Diego’s Independa as Latest Resident Startup

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego’s CommNexus wireless industry group has reorganized EvoNexus, the free technology incubator it created last year, and has folded its operations into the non-profit group’s programs, according to CommNexus CEO Rory Moore.

Moore also confirmed that Cathy Pucher, who was hired as executive director when EvoNexus was founded, recently departed the incubator to head sales at Grid2Home, a year-old San Diego startup developing specialized software for smart grid wireless communications.

Moore says the CommNexus board elected a fellow board member, former DivX CEO Kevin Hell, to take over as the volunteer chairman at EvoNexus. Heidi Rockwood, a CommNexus staffer, has assumed day-to-day duties as EvoNexus Program Manager and is responsible for the incubator’s business operations and facilities.

When CommNexus announced in mid-2009 that it was forming a free technology incubator, Tyler Orion told me that EvoNexus had all the right ingredients: a rigorous selection process; good mentoring; and a strong director. Orion, who was a longtime executive director of the Pacific Incubation Network, praised Pucher last night for doing “a really good job” at EvoNexus. Orion also voiced some apprehension over the CommNexus decision to put a voluntary chairman in charge with a CommNexus staffer serving as a kind of incubator manager. While CommNexus traditionally relies on industry executives who volunteer to manage its programs, Orion says it’s “a very unusual model” for running an incubator.

Moore explained that operating EvoNexus as a separate entity proved to be cumbersome for CommNexus. There was a duplication of staff between the two organizations, fund-raising at EvoNexus proved difficult, and funding provided by CommNexus became somewhat problematic because the two organizations had different designations under the federal tax code. EvoNexus was created as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a designation that includes certain non-profit educational, charitable, and scientific organizations, while CommNexus operates as a 501(c)(6), a classification for industry groups, chambers of commerce, and other business leagues.

Hell was out of the country, and could not be reached for comment. But Moore said board members traditionally run CommNexus programs on a voluntary basis. He also was enthusiastic about Hell’s talent and capabilities, including his experience running a public company, his contacts in Silicon Valley, and his experience in mergers and acquisition, and in raising money. “He becomes the confidante for many of the startup CEOs, so it’s worked out great,” Moore said.

The changes at EvoNexus came to light just as San Diego-based Independa is announcing its acceptance to the EvoNexus program. Independa, which made its debut three months ago at the Demo Fall 2010 conference, has been developing an in-home wireless tablet and an integrated system of wireless sensors and other services to help family caregivers monitor their loved ones. The system provides real-time information, customized analytics, and alerts for missed medications, prolonged inactivity, and other critical events.

EvoNexus provides free and fully furnished office space, utilities, broadband Internet access, and education and business mentoring by local executives and other volunteers. The incubator currently houses nine seed-stage companies, according to the EvoNexus website. Startups are allowed to stay for as long as two years, and will have no financial or other obligations to EvoNexus after they depart.

“The fact that we passed the EvoNexus selection process says something in itself,” says Kian Saneii, Independa’s founding CEO. “I guess you could say we’re the transition company. We’re maybe the first of the new startups to join EvoNexus, and the last of the old.”