An innovative start-up in Silicon Valley is garnering awards and attention, but the company has nothing to do with computer science or engineering.

Needs Emotion and Empathy for Beliefs to Awake, or NEEBA, is a “video agency for the new age” that creates brand narratives through augmented reality, virtual reality and 360-degree video.

Last week, state Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose) recognized the branding agency as District 15’s Small Business of the Year. Beall’s district encompasses the majority of Santa Clara County and represents roughly 950,000 people.

California Small Business Day is designed to recognize the contributions small businesses make to their local economy. So far, 1,500 small businesses have been awarded. The day brings legislators, business leaders and a variety of public agencies together.

In just two years, NEEBA has worked with recognizable brands such as Jamba Juice, the city of San Jose’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, and family wineries such as Hill Family Estate. The company’s larger mission, however, is to assist under-represented nonprofits and community organizations in telling their stories.

“These stories deserve the same amount of equality as big corporations,” says Marlo Custodio, NEEBA’s CEO and co-founder.

The company’s team started as a collective of friends, but it soon morphed into a passion project that also pays the bills.

“We are friends and creatives in film, writing, music, design and production,” says Andrew Bigelow, NEEBA’s customer service lead. “This was our way of doing this full time, but being able to run a company where we are able to live by our own terms and fund ourselves in what we want to do.”

NEEBA’s organizational chart operates on a horizontal structure, Bigelow says, meaning decisions are made in collaboration.

Initially, the company felt pushback from their Cahill Park neighbors, who were uncertain of the video production company operating at all hours. Those concerns quickly subsided as the team members became familiar to the surrounding community, which consists mostly of residential apartments, condominiums and single-family homes.

“As young millennials in the game we were not treated with a lot of respect,” Custudio says, “so we hopped off and did our own thing.”

Phillip Du, a San Diego native and NEEBA’s design specialist, joined the team after working at Microsoft. He immediately felt the difference in going from a corporate to close-knit environment.

“I found a new way to intrinsically tell stories,” Du says. “Being an artist for NEEBA is a good combination of arts and creativity, and I’m doing it for other people.”

With most of the team hailing from San Jose, NEEBA’s team decided to bring their talents home after studying and working in other areas of the state. “This isn’t a major corporation or hipster tech dudes,” Custudio says. “This is us rooted in this community.”

The agency has earned additional recognition from its work with Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), a nonprofit that focuses on providing greater resources to Latin Americans. NEEBA’s branding efforts proved a success in helping HIP spread its message to people in Mexico City and Latin America. On a local level, NEEBA has worked with the popular Local Color arts space in downtown San Jose, and Mayferia on the East Side.

The key to all NEEBA projects is to address clients’ problems with a “challenge-solution” format, and then create authentic stories.

“Once we understand their challenge we can be unapologetically human,” Custudio says. “We enjoy the protagonist as they challenge to grow. That makes the story more interesting.”

After receiving a grant from the Knight Foundation, NEEBA began tackling a new challenge: telling the story of real people in the 10th largest city in the nation. The company will soon begin rolling out a video series called “This is San Jose” in partnership with Metro newspaper.

Juan Saucedo, NEEBA’s CFO, says the project aims to address a key question: “How do we connect the missing tissue between young kids, millennials and older adults?”

NEEBA’s answer is to tell stories that highlight the city and people’s strengths, Du says, and fill in the gaps that separate Silicon Valley.

“We want to continue to increase the magnitude of what we are doing,” Custodio says. “It’s a local movement from bottom up.”