Entering a Virbela virtual meeting. Courtesy of the company

By Tom York

San Diego’s answer to Zoom, Virbela, which deploys 3-D technology to host online meetings and events, recently reported a 78% increase in new users in the second quarter. Its international markets accounted for 50% of new user growth.

According to a news release, the global COVID-19 pandemic enabled Virbela to step up its game to meet the growing demand for immersive collaboration gatherings. During the year, Penta Marketing, which specializes in experiential marketing in Latin America, partnered with Virbela to create immersive event experiences for its clients, including Mercedes-Benz, Mobil Oil and Samsung.

Viberla is a unit of EXP World Holdings, a public company located in Bellingham, WA. The unit was founded in San Diego in 2012 by a team of behavioral psychologists who wanted to help people thrive in remote settings. Virbela participants use their web browser to create an avatar that can collaborate and socialize, just like in the real world.

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Trust Restaurant Group — the operator of five San Diego area restaurants — is donating three-course steak dinners to restaurant workers left jobless by fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. TRG has kick-started the campaign by providing $5,000 for 150 meals. Executive Chef and Owner Brad Wise is asking loyal patrons, vendors to dinners that will be distributed to the affected restaurant community workers. The dinners can be purchased here. The distribution starts Dec. 16.

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City Heights nonprofit Reality Changers, which helps area youth graduate from college, is offering a free six-part workshop on financial education with the help of local Bank of America. The local bankers will teach the Better Money Habits virtual workshop series to help families under the wing of Reality Changers develop a deeper understanding of their personal finances.

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Local Initiatives Support Corp. or LISC, which claims to be the nation’s largest community development organization, is launching a whopping $1 billion campaign “to dismantle racial disparities across the country.” The campaign is a decade-long initiative to bridge racial gaps in health, wealth and opportunity and build a more broadly shared American prosperity. LISC says it will invest in various groups to help people of color and boost the communities where they live. LISC is seeding Project 10X with $20 million—including $10 million from a donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, divorced wife of Amazon founder Jess Bezos.

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Drive-in Opera. Is this a new thing? Members of the San Diego Opera will be featured in a filmed performance of Peter Rothstein’s “All Is Calm” in the parking lot at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The one-time event will be held 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21. For tickets, head on over to here. “All is Calm” dramatizes the Christmas Truce of World War I when German and British soldiers put down their weapons to celebrate the holiday.  The rather unusual venue is due to the need for social distancing during the current pandemic. The presentation was brought to San Diego in 2016 by Walter and Diana DuMelle. They run the nonprofit Bodhi Tree Concerts, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2021. They donate proceeds from their events to area nonprofits. Click here for a run down on the 2021 series.

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The nonprofit West PACE (All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) is hosting a drive-thru donation event of “Everyday Necessities” from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Dec. 22. They wish to collect enough items to assemble 200 gift packages for seniors. All donors get coffee and a holiday treat. The nonprofit has set up a GoFundMe page to collect financial donations.

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Cox Communications says it will double download speeds of its Connect2Compete internet service through the end of the 2020-2021 school year. According to a news release, this increased speed will enable students in need to better do their schoolwork, communicate with teachers, and access information on par with classmates. Families with at least one K-12 student at home and who participate in government subsidy programs are eligible for the program.

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People in the news. Sempra Energy top executive Jeffrey W. Martin is named Chief Executive of the Year by S&P Global Platts at its annual Global Energy Awards event. The company also received Deal of the Year recognition for the sale of its South American operations earlier this year.

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Erica M. Pinto, chairwoman of the Alpine’s Jamul Indian Village of California, which operates the $430 million, 4-year-old Jamul Casino, is elected chair of the Southern Indian Health Council, a social and health care services agency targeting the region’s native American population.

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Spreading the wealth. La Jolla’s Palomar Specialty Insurance has agreed to deposit $10 million by early 2021 with Los Angeles-based Broadway Federal Bank. Palomar says it already has deposit $5 million with the Black-owned institution.

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And finally, in case you missed it…I am saddened to report that 99-year-old North County entrepreneur Ted Vallas died in mid-November from heart failure, according to a north county publication. Vallas spent the last decade of his life in a futile attempt to launch California Pacific Airline, a commercial carrier that would be located at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. He suspended his near epic quest last year because he was unable to get the necessary approvals from federal agencies. Earlier in his career, he was a successful developer of golf resorts in Southern California, as well as Europe and North Africa. Despite numerous setbacks, he never gave up on his hopes to launch a regional airline. He was a headline maker. He will be missed.

Tom York is a Carlsbad-based independent journalist who specializes in writing about business and the economy. If you have news tips you’d like to share, send them to tom.york@gmail.com.

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