By David Benda, Record Searchlight, August 2011

Zack Perkins is a graduate of Mike Frank’s Entrepreneur Boot Camp in Redding.

Perkins, a former science teacher, has developed a smartphone application that can tell by a thump whether a watermelon is ready to eat.

Perkins, of Let There Be Light Innovations (, was one of several entrepreneurs pitching their companies to investors at the Shasta Builders Exchange on Wednesday.

The pitch room was part of the Economic Development Corporation of Shasta County’s “Game Changers: Developing Innovation Mindset in Shasta County.”

Roughly 100 businesses and community leaders packed the exchange to hear how innovation is key to growing the area’s economy.

Perkins has found a way to solve the age-old quandary of picking the perfect melon.

“How many people here have gotten a bad melon?” Perkins asked the room.

The melon meter app analyzes the hollowness of the fruit. The user places the phone on the melon, thumps it a few times and, voilà, the needle on the screen registers its ripeness.

The tool comes after two years of research monitoring the decay rate, or the time it takes for a sound to end, of the signal produced by thumping a melon, Perkins said.

“This thing is 100 percent accurate when done right,” Perkins’ business partner Michael Hickerson said during the demonstration.

The melon meter, which sells for $1.99 at the iTunes app store, only registers ripeness. It won’t tell the consumer how sweet the fruit is.

Perkins was asking for $50,000 to take his Redding-based firm to the next level. Today, the company has six employees who work out of their homes.

“We are definitely pitching to create some more investment funds to take it further for the commercial version and stuff like that,” Perkins said.

Let There Be Light Innovations also markets a road conditions app, a marriage counseling app, and a strobe app that allows users to pulsate an LED light to the beat of their favorite tune.

Frank, who has served in executive positions for such companies as Mutual of Omaha, General Mills, Walt Disney Co. and IHOP, moved to Redding nearly two years ago from the Santa Barbara area.

The Franks discovered Redding because Mike’s wife, Robbie, wanted to attend Bethel Church’s School of Supernatural Ministry.

What Mike saw in the economy was discouraging, and he wondered what was happening.

So he started his boot camp to revive the north state’s economy by fostering the entrepreneurial spirit.

“Everywhere I looked I saw a lot of unemployment,” Frank told the audience during his lunch presentation Wednesday at the builders exchange. “What struck me was we need to encourage startups.”

Frank (, held its first boot camp in April.

Five businesses, including Perkins’, were launched from that first class. He expects another 30 companies to attend his next boot camp at Simpson University in October. But startup companies need money.

So Frank announced Wednesday that he has launched an angel investment fund called Sons of Issachar, a biblical reference to “men who understood the times and they knew what to do,” he said.

To join the fund, members have to be accredited investors. The initial buy-in will probably be $15,000.

“As an investor you have to make one investment a year,” Frank said, adding that members can’t just come to the meetings and sit around.

Wednesday’s event also showcased 12 firms that are based in Shasta County and make products in Shasta County: VisionCare Devices Inc., Ted Pella Inc., Wire by Design, Sof-Tek, Canteca Foods Inc., AB Medical Technologies Inc., Shasta Crystals,
NComputing, Eko Research/TechniSoil, CoolDry, D&G Glassblowing, and Varoom Mufflers.

Louis Stewart, deputy director for innovation and emerging technology at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in Sacramento, helped emcee the event.

“Promoting innovation is a community building tool,” Stewart said.