Building new things is fun and rewarding. That's what entrepreneurs do. That's what the BRIIA team is doing.

Initially, BRIIA was an idea. A mere notion that the community we lived in was ready for entrepreneurship. Sure there were many entrepreneurial activities and support systems 20-35 miles away, but the founders were focused on building a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in their backyard - as we say - without having to traverse a tunnel or cross a bridge.

As we engaged with the community, we discovered a wealth of talent and experts and investors - all key ingredients for a thriving ecosystem. We met with educators and civic leaders too and ultimately a plan began to emerge. A place to build BRIIA was the easy part. The good people at Sunset Development Company, owners of Bishop Ranch, had already designated a spot that entrepreneurs could call home. We just needed to develop a business that converted that empty space into a hub of entrepreneurial activity. And so we went to work.

Like any new business we went about accomplishing all of our "firsts". We developed our first application form for the Accelerator Program. We developed our first process for evaluating the applications. And we made our first decisions about which companies to accept into the Accelerator Program. We built our first website. With no "marketing plan" per se, we simply tried a bunch of wild things like serving coffee and donuts to tech workers who were boarding buses headed for other parts of the Bay Area so that we could tell them about our intentions. We set up our first social media presences and had community meetings to keep our new community connections up to date with our progress. We bought our first dishes, IT/network equipment, business cards and a printer.

In September 2017 all of these efforts paid off. We opened our doors and stirred up a frenzy of activity. In the first 40 days we hosted 29 events designed to get entrepreneurs and the community connected to BRIIA and to each other. Less than two weeks after opening, we started our first Accelerator Program. It was exhilarating!

And then it happened... In our case, "it" was the realization that there was something missing. And it was big! We had not articulated "why" we were building BRIIA and we knew that this was really important. Having a clear "why" was going to help us sharply focuses our limited resources on the most important things!

The good news was that we had established a history of organizing ourselves to accomplish things. So once the miss was noted, we tasked ourselves with fixing "it". And within a few days we distilled our "why". It looks pretty simple, but looks can be deceiving! It is simply this:

We believe in entrepreneurs. We know that by connecting their passions with an ecosystem of expertise, they will build great companies that positively transform our world.

For the known past, people who built businesses around new ideas have improved our lives, made our work more efficient and stretched the bounds of our imagination. Without them we might not have a concept of the far reaches of our universe or be close to conquering cancer. We treasure entrepreneurs and will do everything in our power to help them succeed. But we can't do it alone. So our real focus is on making connections with people who care, like we do, about entrepreneurial success.


BRIIA is founded upon these core principles:

Entrepreneurs first

There is a well-established tradition in the entrepreneurial community of giving back and paying it forward. When the rich entrepreneurial journeys of successful AND unsuccessful entrepreneurs, investors and corporate partners/customers are harnessed to build a robust support system for subsequent start-up founders, the entrepreneurial ecosystem thrives.
BRIIA facilitates this cycle of continuous learning and support for new entrepreneurs. We create events where entrepreneurs can meet peers or potential team members. We provide a top-notch accelerator program to help founders realize the full value of their creations. We provide a host of in-kind services that support the early stages of product and company development. We maintain active contact with the investor community so we can facilitate introductions that will have the highest probability of being fruitful conversations. And last, but by no means least, we enable connections between start-up teams and world-class advisors. We are adamant that these advisors and mentors live by the "entrepreneur first" principal. This means that they have agreed to volunteer their time, with no expectation of future remuneration.

Diversity is strength

Throughout history, many - dare we say "most" - innovations were sparked by teams of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences engaged in the pursuit of solving a seemingly untamable problem or challenge. At BRIIA, we embrace that diversity and do everything we can to foster an environment where differences in ideas and approach are freely discussed and thoughtfully evaluated. We encourage dialogue, but more importantly we encourage listening. We believe that entrepreneurship has no race or gender. The more we support diversity in our entrepreneurial community, the stronger we become.

The Paradox of Conviction & Humility

To found a company and be successful, entrepreneurs must maintain extraordinary commitment to their ideas, their team and their investors. In the face of many "Nos" before there is a single "Yes", founders must rely on the strength of their convictions to carry them through. The future is created by entrepreneurs who believed - and convinced others to believe - when the headwinds of reality were pushing back their hardest.
In a seemingly complete contradiction, entrepreneurs must also possess an extraordinary humility. We must have the humility to admit when we are wrong or do not know the answer. We are humbled when a successful mentor volunteers their time and expertise to nurture a young company. We are humbled when a founder takes no credit and redirects all praise to the team.
While there are certainly examples of CEOs and leaders who were unwavering in their conviction but not humble, at BRIIA, we believe that the best companies will be founded and led by leaders who embrace the paradox. Delicately weaving the strength of one's convictions and humility into the same cloth can be challenging. In choosing the harder challenge of embracing both, entrepreneurs, BRIIA and the entire ecosystem unleash the potential to discover truths and continuously learn from each other.

Meet the Team

Les Schmidt Les Schmidt Founder & Executive Director

Les is a serial entrepreneur and leader. As a C-level executive, he has led startups, middle stage and public companies. His forte is leading businesses through the search for strategic direction, product iterations, and financing. His resume includes taking two companies public, lots of mergers & acquisitions, and raising capital and other financing. Les even took on transforming the San Francisco 49ers as that organization's COO!

Prior to founding BRIIA, Les was the Executive Director of the Institute of Entrepreneurial Leadership (IEL) - a business accelerator in Concord. IEL graduated over 200 participants from its programs and those companies collectively generated $1.7Billion in revenue in 2015 and employed over 4000 people.

Les is propelled by a passion for seeing entrepreneurs prosper in the "far" East Bay! Nothing could be more gratifying than to see this entrepreneurial ecosystem thrive.

Jon Brooks Jon Brooks Advisor

From the earliest days of BRIIA, Jon was 100% behind the idea of starting BRIIA. His own start-up experience enabled him to instantly see the need for BRIIA and the value it could add to the emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Jon has a diverse background in digital media marketing, ecommerce, product management, and corporate development. He has been an instrumental leader at four start-ups and throughout his career been through one IPO, two hostile takeovers and many successful acquisitions. He has held leadership roles at The Learning Company, Saba, PeopleSoft, SellPoints, and Webcollage. He has designed and launched cloud-based products that included natural language search technologies across diverse media. Jon has a keen focus on SaaS customer retention and turning all customers into marketing success stories .

Today, Jon's work in ecommerce is directly attributed to increasing hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly online sales for a portfolio of clients such as P&G, Bayer, Nestle, Clorox, Kimberly Clark, Levi, Ralph Lauren, Macy's, Costco, Walmart, Target, and more.

Jon has lived in the Tri-Valley for over 27 years, understands the stress of long commutes and is ecstatic to support the growth and development of opportunities in the Tri-Valley area.

Melissa Ross Melissa Ross Co-founder

Melissa was one of BRIIA's founding team members, providing operational leadership through our first six months.

Prior to her efforts to get BRIIA started, she spent the last two decades leading growth in healthcare analytics companies. Most recently, she spent the last ten years at MedeAnalytics, the largest pure-play healthcare analytics and big data firm, while they grew from start-up to 10X in revenue. During her tenure there, Melissa was involved in leading almost every aspect scale, including VP-level positions in operations, engineering, sales strategy, and business development.

Melissa has her bachelors in Math with a CS minor from Loyola University Maryland, where she currently serves as an Advisor to the Masters of Data Science program. Melissa has her MBA from Saint Mary's College of California, and serves as an Advisor for their Masters of Business Analytics program. Melissa is an accredited Angel investor and member of the Keiretsu Forum.

Melissa was ecstatic to help launch BRIIA, which sits in the intersection of three areas she loves - data science, entrepreneurship, and the Tri-Valley community.