Russell Nichols

Back Writer

Russell Nichols is a freelance writer who focuses on technology, culture and mental health. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Governing Magazine and Government Technology

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Surreal Estate

Virtual Reality Tours Give Real Estate Builders And Buyers Room to Play

If you’re going to live in a 3D environment, you need to see a 3D environment.”

These are the words of Stephen Phillips, co-founder and chief technology officer at Theia Interactive, a design firm based in Chico. His company creates VR tours for people looking to build or buy homes, cars and yachts. It was one of the four startups to come out of the Green Screen Institute’s first accelerator program.

Mar 21, 2017 Russell Nichols

Startup of the Month: Brass Clover Cold Brew Coffee Company

For Oak Park startup, coffee is a drink best brewed cold

Is 14 too young to get into coffee? It wasn’t for Randall Echevarria. He grew up in Crescent City on the California/Oregon border, and the small town’s first coffee shop gave him his very first job. He started as a barista and moved up in the ranks over four years, his favorite part being the beverage development. Turns out, this high school gig was just warm-up.

Aug 5, 2016 Russell Nichols
This rendering shows what the Green Screen Institute in Nevada City will look like. (Photo courtesy NCERC)

Virtual Investment, Real Growth

Nevada County incubator builds on region’s video technology legacy

On New Mohawk Road in Nevada City, the 27,000-square-foot facility has three components: a training academy, business accelerator and coworking lab for established companies. The academy will include classes that can last from a weekend to up to six months. The Green Screen Institute will hire industry experts on a contract basis to teach the classes. The idea is to develop the workforce needed for the influx of virtual reality and augmented reality companies.

Jul 20, 2016 Russell Nichols

The Ice Man

Building up from the ashes

After plans for a massive upgrade to the historic Crystal Ice and Cold Storage building went up in smoke, Mike Heller and his team were forced back to the drawing board — here’s how they forged ahead.

Jul 5, 2016 Russell Nichols
From left: Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, Derek Bluford and Velocity Capital General Partner Jack Crawford. Bluford’s business, Quicklegal, won the Sacramento Kings Capitalize competition in April. (Photography courtesy of John Jacobs)

Updated: Quicklegal

Need legal advice? Comprehensive app gives support with attorneys-on-demand

Update (2/2018): Quicklegal was named our Startup of the Month in June of 2016. Shortly after, we became aware of legal proceedings against Quicklegal. You can read more about the settlement judgement and the original complaint. In a statement to Comstock’s, CEO Derek Bluford said, “I had an employee who impersonated me. He defrauded me, our company and one of our clients.” In January of 2018, Derek Bluford was convicted of fraud.

Derek Bluford was in eighth grade when his single mom got into legal trouble. She had gotten injured at her prison job and couldn’t work full-time. Disability assistance wasn’t enough to cover utilities, food and rent, and they were about to get evicted from their duplex rental in Elk Grove.

Jun 6, 2016 Russell Nichols
Slow-growth advocates, like members of SaveOurCounty, urge residents to support Measure E and Measure G on the June ballot. / Kevin Nagle, co-partner for the El Dorado Hills Town Center (pictured), says he’ll push for affordable housing to generate a tax base to attract the employers and small businesses that will fund services in the growing county.

Two Sides to Every County

Business creation and job growth are usually positive things for a growing county, but some El Dorado County residents are vehemently opposed to building over the rural land they love

For the past 48 years, Mike Doran has watched El Dorado County evolve— slowly. He recalls the days when the county was a peaceful, low-density community — long before the Home Depot came to Placerville, before the Dollar General  got the greenlight for Georgetown, back when Highway 50 was nothing but a two-lane road.

Jun 2, 2016 Russell Nichols
(Shutterstock)

Sonic Boon

There is another potential path for treating ischemic stroke

In mammals, the developmental pathway known as sonic hedgehog (named after the popular video game character) regulates the generation and survival of neurons and other brain cells. But a team of UC Davis scientists found that this pathway plays a critical role in neuroprotection, regeneration and functional recovery after a clot blocks blood flow in the brain.

Apr 14, 2016 Russell Nichols
When Bright Underbelly is completed, Sofia Lacin will have spent about 315 hours painting the expansive mural.

Placemaking: Person, Place or Thing?

Will the latest urban renewal buzzword to charge into the Capital Region draw people in or push them away?

Placemaking. You might have heard the word — maybe at a redevelopment conference or tossed around at a marketing mixer. You might have seen it in a neighborhood newsletter about new housing downtown, or read about it in an article shared by that cool architect friend who was just inspired with a vision for how to make Sacramento “the place to be.” But no matter what you’ve heard or how you feel about placemaking, the concept likely won’t be disappearing in the near future.

Mar 8, 2016 Russell Nichols
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Flipping Gift Cards

Through cloud-based software, GiftCardBin turns consumers’ trash to treasure

When it comes to gift-giving, you can’t go wrong with a gift card, right? Well, not exactly. Research shows that more than $1 billion in gift cards go unredeemed. Based in West Sacramento, GiftCardBin has been banking on that stat since 2008, buying and selling gift cards that might otherwise go to waste. (Like the $25 Starbucks card you probably have in your wallet right now.)

Feb 24, 2016 Russell Nichols
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Deal or no Deal

After critical court decision, future California lease-leaseback contracts stand on shaky ground.

For the past four years, Star Academy in Natomas didn’t look like a regular school. Due to overcrowding,  elementary kids went to class in a commercial building that faced a major street and had warehouse space in the back. Last year, when the moratorium was lifted, the district considered building the new charter school through a lease-leaseback deal. But the method, once a popular way for struggling districts to acquire new facilities, has come under legal fire in recent years.

Jan 26, 2016 Russell Nichols
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Startup of the Month: wimZr

With this app, it's not just who you know but when you meet them

New app wimZr’s main focus is people. The interface is straightforward. You view the profiles of people going to the same place. If you like them, click “Connect Me.” If you want to pass, click “Next Time.” If the person you like likes you back, you can start talking. For upcoming events, you can scan guest lists and either connect one-on-one or openly in a public forum.

Jan 4, 2016 Russell Nichols
Alexandria Goff opened her own practice right out of law school. She specializes in estate planning, probate and equine law.

The Contemporary Counselor

Law schools are responding to the gap in entrepreneurial education that up-and-coming lawyers need

Traditionally, the path from law student to full-fledged lawyer has been fairly straight-forward: A student starts out with a summer internship at a law firm, graduates and passes the bar exam, then gets hired at a law firm. In a secure and supportive work environment, law graduates can make good money, meet professional mentors and learn the skills required to be a real lawyer. This is the standard route, the one most students embark on every year. But more graduates like Alexandria Goff are choosing to buck tradition in the name of independence.

Nov 10, 2015 Russell Nichols

Startup of the Month: New Wallet

Folsom startup creates 3-in-1 gadget for those on the go

Karen Crawford hasn’t carried a purse in three years. Instead, she uses a prototype wallet, which holds her driver’s license, credit cards, cash and a gym membership card, but also serves as an iPhone case and has a Bluetooth-enabled key tracker. As CEO of New Wallet a Folsom-based startup, Crawford led the development of this design after she couldn’t find a product on the market to meet her needs.

Nov 9, 2015 Russell Nichols
(Shutterstock)

Working with Autism

Meristem, a new school in Fair Oaks, bridges the education gap to job-readiness

Business owners looking for new hires might want to keep on eye on Meristem. Twenty minutes east of Sacramento, the new school opened in September with a mission to help young adults with ASD or other developmental differences find jobs. Developed in the U.K., this postsecondary transition program uses practical courses to teach transferable work skills such as problem-solving, teamwork and communication.

Oct 29, 2015 Russell Nichols

Skate with Friends

Cool nonprofit ramps up support for Sacramento kids with special needs

SkateMD connects youth with special needs with volunteers to learn how to skateboard. The Sacramento-based nonprofit was created by Melanie Tillotson (the “M”) and Andrea “Drea” Bibelheimer (the “D”), who saw a need in the community for a cool program in a safe space that would spread kindness to children facing developmental, physical, emotional and family challenges.

Russell Nichols
(Shutterstock)

Pushed to the Limit

California’s inflated correctional system puts pressure on civic construction projects

Last year’s state corrections budget included $500 million to fund the expansion of county jails (in addition to the jail expansion funds of $1.2 billion from years prior). But how that money should be allocated is debatable (Will adding more jails ease overcrowding? Should funds go toward community-based programs created to help people stay out of jail?), and counties are developing proposals to claim a piece of that multi-million-dollar pie.

Sep 29, 2015 Russell Nichols
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Full-Court Press

A roundup of the key, in-progress courthouse construction projects

In a few years, a brand new criminal courthouse is expected to open on the edge of the Sacramento railyards. Located on the corner of H and 6th streets, this second Sacramento County court building will be 405,500 square feet with 44 courtrooms. And it’s not the only new courthouse on the horizon. Right now, there are about 100 courthouses identified for development in California.

Sep 24, 2015 Russell Nichols
(Shutterstock)

Building Without Bidding

Can an uncommon delivery method fast-track construction in California?

Eighteen months. That’s how long it took to design and build the 1.2 million-square-foot California Health Care Facility near Stockton. Sound impossible? It was an aggressive effort involving numerous parties. The facility, completed in 2013 to house chronically ill inmates, was lauded for its sustainable design. But the speed of the process was the big deal.

Sep 14, 2015 Russell Nichols
Photos courtesy of William Glen

The Gift Shop That Keeps On Giving

After years in limbo, William Glen returns with the old spirit for a new generation

For most people, William Glen was an enduring symbol of simpler times, a homegrown survivor of bad economies and big department chains. For Mark Snyder, the store was a family treasure. His father, Bill Snyder, co-founded the original store more than 50 years ago. But in 2010, the William Glen story became a tragedy, closing down after Bill passed away from lung cancer. 

Sep 11, 2015 Russell Nichols