#TechLA 4 Keys to Bioscience Success in Los Angeles

At the #TechLA Conference which took place in Downtown Los Angeles this May, a panel of L.A.-area tech experts wrinkled their noses at the term “Silicon Beach.”

If we do ‘Silicon’ anything, we’re always going to be playing catch-up,” said Brent Bushnell, CEO of Two Bit Circus, an “engineering entertainment” company in Lincoln Heights near downtown. “L.A. is like 80 cities. It’s got all of its own amazing aspects to it. There’s no reason for us to be another echo of Silicon Valley.”

Michelle Garakian, who serves as business liaison to the tech community for Mayor Eric Garcetti, threw out the hashtag “#TechLA.” “There’s a lot of opinions,” she said. “Whatever you want to call it, it’s happening.”

The fireside chat, held at The Reef (near the L.A. Mart), was hosted by TechShop CEO Mark Hatch, who’s raising money to bring one of his maker labs to L.A. However, on Wednesday evening, the conversation focused solely on the state of L.A. tech scene.

Garakian rattled off the latest statistics: Los Angeles has been ranked third in the world among startup-friendly ecosystems behind Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. More than 900 startups are operating in the city right now, with a new one launching every 40 hours, as well as 100 accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces. Los Angeles is home to three of the top 25 universities in the world in patents: UC (#1), Caltech (#6) and USC (top 20).

Yet 70 percent of L.A.’s engineering students migrate out of the area upon graduation.

With L.A.’s heritage industries like manufacturing and aerospace along with creative arts—including, but not limited to Hollywood, which wasn’t even mentioned until 15 minutes into the discussion—Garcetti’s vision for the city includes a vibrant tech scene to keep them here.

“The mayor doesn’t look at it parochially. He looks at it as a giant ecosystem,” Garakian said. “Where tech comes in is it layers over all these amazing heritage industries like this beautiful wave washing over where it’s just inundating and revitalizing these industries from obsolescence.”

#TechLA: 'L.A. is like this Beautiful Mess', Michelle Garakian (Credit: L.A. Biz).

“L.A. is like this beautiful mess,” says Michelle Garakian, business liaison to the tech community for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Nothing makes sense, but everybody kind of loves it. It’s the same way with the tech industry—it’s organic and it’s indigenous, but it’s never been organized. So how do we kind of wrap our hands around it and actually give a little boost?” (Credit: #TechLA / Annlee Ellingson, L.A. Biz).

#TechLA: 'L.A. is like this Beautiful Mess', Michelle Garakian (Credit: L.A. Biz).

“L.A. is like this beautiful mess,” says Michelle Garakian, business liaison to the tech community for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Nothing makes sense, but everybody kind of loves it. It’s the same way with the tech industry—it’s organic and it’s indigenous, but it’s never been organized. So how do we kind of wrap our hands around it and actually give a little boost?” (Credit: Annlee Ellingson, L.A. Biz).

#TechLA: 'L.A. is like this Beautiful Mess', Michelle Garakian (Credit: L.A. Biz).

“L.A. is like this beautiful mess,” says Michelle Garakian, business liaison to the tech community for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Nothing makes sense, but everybody kind of loves it. It’s the same way with the tech industry—it’s organic and it’s indigenous, but it’s never been organized. So how do we kind of wrap our hands around it and actually give a little boost?” (Credit: Annlee Ellingson, L.A. Biz).

#TechLA: 'L.A. is like this Beautiful Mess', Michelle Garakian (Credit: L.A. Biz).

“L.A. is like this beautiful mess,” says Michelle Garakian, business liaison to the tech community for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, at the #TechLA Conference. “Nothing makes sense, but everybody kind of loves it. It’s the same way with the tech industry—it’s organic and it’s indigenous, but it’s never been organized. So how do we kind of wrap our hands around it and actually give a little boost?” (Credit: Annlee Ellingson, L.A. Biz).

#TechLA – Four Keys to Success:

  1. Heritage industries: Los Angeles has a strong legacy in manufacturing and aerospace, but they “are on the verge of obsolescence,” Garakian said. “Everything’s either being outsourced and it’s moving away, or it’s being digitized or automated or something like that.” She pointed to Elon Musk’s SpaceX as an example of how such industries can be reinvigorated. “Tech plays into that,” she added. “Entrepreneurs play into that. Our collective brainpower in the city plays into that.”
  2. Capital: While a startup is born every 40 hours in Los Angeles, “Probably every other 40 hours, some startup dies,” Garakian said. “The reason why that is is we just don’t have the capital influence here like you have in the Bay Area.” Entrepreneurs who do secure angel and seed funding locally find themselves traveling north for later rounds, where they’re encouraged to relocate their businesses. “You were born and bred and L.A., and you were in Los Angeles for a reason. You should be down here,” she said.

    The industry shouldn’t have to look to Silicon Valley for funding, Garakian argued. “L.A. is a huge financial center,” she said. “There is so much family money and real estate money in Los Angeles. … How come those folks aren’t investing in the tech industry? How come they’re not investing in innovation? How come they’re not investing in these heritage industries that are on the verge of obsolescence?

    “That should be there goal because when they invest in those companies, the people that benefit from that are the folks that are going to be living in their apartments and their homes or banking at their institutions. It’s cyclical.”

  3. Talent: “We graduate more engineers in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country,” Garakian said. Yet 70 percent end up leaving the area, lured by signing bonuses and relocation fees and handsome salaries. “So how do we keep these folks here?” she posited. “It’s all about coming up with unique ways to keep this talent here. … It’s about inspiring them to stay here: ‘This is your hometown. This is where you wan to be. This is where you want to build your company.’”
  4. Digital Divide: “Los Angeles is huge, and as a result it’s very segregated,” Garakian said. “So as the tech community expands here and it grows into this wildly successful industry here, we want to see it spread across all planes so that multiple people are [impacted]. You have the underserved, the underemployed, communities of color, the disabled, veterans, women—all these people [need] to be brought into the fold. … How [can] we make Los Angeles, this example, this shining light of how you can really make this a ubiquitously tolerant and really inclusive industry here.”

“L.A. is like this beautiful mess,” Garakian said. “Nothing makes sense, but everybody kind of loves it. It’s the same way with the tech industry—it’s organic and it’s indigenous, but it’s never been organized. So how do we kind of wrap our hands around it and actually give a little boost?”

References

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of Wharton uPenn and the University Research & Entrepreneurship Initiative thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.
The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of Wharton uPenn and the University Research & Entrepreneurship Initiative thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.
The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of Wharton uPenn and the University Research & Entrepreneurship Initiative thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.
The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of Wharton uPenn and the University Research & Entrepreneurship Initiative thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.