Magazine Fall 2023 An Entrepreneur from an Early Age

Brent Boekestein

BRENT BOEKESTEIN ’04 hoped to play basketball in college but had to make other plans when he suffered an injury in high school. With most family members owning businesses, he decided to pursue entrepreneurship.

Working for his father’s construction company for half the minimum wage had given Brent an inside view of business. When he graduated from high school, he sent his father a fake lawsuit for indentured servitude; his father responded with a bill for raising him.

“I developed an ethic of hard work,” Brent says. “We dug trenches and carried wood; we provided the young muscle. I appreciated that lesson growing up. It helped me keep showing up during difficult times as an entrepreneur.”

Westmont offered classes in entrepreneurship for the communication studies and economics and business double major as well as beaches for the lifetime surfer. He soon met students he still connects with, who’ve become lifelong friends and even professional colleagues.

To put himself through college, Brent worked at the library desk his first year. When 50 resumes sent to businesses in his hometown failed to produce a summer job — something paying at least minimum wage — his cousin connected him with Val Montegrande, whose marketing agency helped med-tech businesses sell their innovations.

Montegrande asked Brent what he knew about medical technology and eye disease. “I know very little, but I’m ready and able to learn,” Brent said. Montegrande sent him reading material and quizzed him about it before hiring him for a summer internship.

On his first day at V. Montegrande & Co., Brent met the small team. “After an hour there, they sent me home to get ready for a 3 p.m. flight to Nashville to oversee building a tradeshow booth,” he says. “That was the start of my four-year relationship with Val, who believed in me more than I believed in myself.”

Brent worked with Biomems, a start-up developing a device to relieve elevated eye pressure and prevent blindness. He put in as many hours as he could and manage his two majors, sometimes traveling to Europe to make fundraising presentations and meet corporate venture capitalists in medical technology.

At 19, he pitched the eye device to doctors and medical institutions. “Val gave me an opportunity to do something I didn’t think I could do,” Brent says. He wrote funding requests and helped secure more than $1.2 million.

Professor Roy Millender advised Brent to call at least one new person a week and ask them about their work. “I made a point of doing that and got referrals to others,” Brent says. By the time he graduated from Westmont, he had a Rolodex full of contacts.

Trustee Mitch Vance asked Brent to assist with due diligence for a deal at TGV Partners, Vance’s private equity firm. Meanwhile, Brent continued working for Montegrande. “It was great to read textbooks and then apply what I was learning,” he says.

Brent also co-created Reel Life Media Group (RLMG), a videography business, with fellow students Sam Melvin ’04, Ryan Lonac ’05, Andrew Spaulding ’04 and Peter Roller ’03. He spent three years of college simultaneously working for three different companies. “I learned so much about launching a business,” he says.

As seniors, these students took first prize in the Sixth Annual Midwest Enterprise Creation Competition at Ball State University in Indiana. Their entry, Solum Monitoring Systems Inc., was one of nine national semifinalists. They conceived the idea of a wireless, remote water-testing instrument for commercial water and wastewater treatment facilities in a Westmont class.

Brent intended to pursue Solum, but he won an ambassadorial scholarship through Rotary that provided a full ride to earn a master’s degree (MSc) in global economics at the University of Manchester’s Institute for Development Policy and Management in England. The only American in the program, he lacked the extensive experience of most of his fellow students.

“I studied with a brilliant cohort, spoke at 14 Rotary clubs, and toured China when factories were being established,” Brent says. He published a paper he co-wrote with Jeff Henderson, “Thirsty Dragon, Hungry Eagles: Oil Security in Sino-U.S. Relations,” about the coming resource wars between China and United States.

In 2005, Brent got on a plane with a surfboard and a backpack to advise a Catholic program, CIDECO, encouraging female entrepreneurship in El Salvador. Erica Trapps ’06, his girlfriend (now his wife) gave him vaccinations for Christmas so he could travel and apply what he’d learned at Manchester. Joining with the Japanese and Norwegian governments, who built a marketplace in a central location, Brent and a friend incubated a program to help 12 women launch their own businesses. That trip inspired other Westmont students and churches in California to serve the same El Salvadoran community.

“There’s a huge need for Christians to be involved in AI and approach the technology from an ethical standpoint.”

In 2006, Brent and Erica married and moved to Sacramento to assist Westmont alums in establishing World Wide Open, a web-based tool that helped Christians connect with ministries worldwide. Sam Melvin ’04 served as executive director, and Eric Knopf ’04 directed technology. Brent also helped Professor Rick Ifland ’83 launch Titus Equity Partners just before the recession.

Two years later, Dave Leonard, Melvin’s father-in-law, recruited Brent to work for Redwood Systems, a start-up building technology to power computer-controlled smart lighting in commercial buildings. “Dave was a wonderful mentor who taught me about management, particularly to believe in others and empower them to do things they thought impossible,” Brent says. He and Erica relocated to London to establish Redwood in western Europe. “We set up the business in 23 different countries in 24 months.”

When Leonard left the company, Brent assumed responsibility for the business units. “Almost immediately, the tech had a major bug,” he says. “It was such an amazing leadership trial by fire, finding the solution and fixing hundreds of light servers, replacing them throughout the world, and keeping the team together. When the company got out of ICU, I took a breather.”

An expert in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and professor at the University of Barcelona soon invited Brent to visit the university’s Computer Vision Center. Ariel Amato, Ph.D., teaches computers to see and understand the world and sought to enhance security cameras with AI. In 2016, he and Brent cofounded Vintra Inc., which applies modern AI to video streams to identify security threats. Brent reached out to his network to line up financing and even recruited one investor on a plane flight.


Vintra retrofits existing security cameras with AI, so they can rapidly sort through months of video streams to detect, classify and track patterns on a massive scale and screen for potential problems. With intelligent monitoring, staff watching banks of cameras see only the most pertinent feeds, allowing them to quickly recognize threats and act. In 2023, Brent and Amato sold the business to a company that will expand the technology’s impact.

Erica and Brent now live in San Jose with their two daughters, both budding gymnasts.

“There’s a huge need for Christians to be involved in AI and approach the technology from an ethical standpoint,” Brent says.

He will continue to seek mission-oriented ventures that help people. “How can I best take care of employees, unleash their creative and productive potential, protect the environment and join in God’s work in the world?” he asks himself.

“I had such a rich experience of a really big world at Westmont,” Brent says. “It compelled me to take risks and build things that make life better.”