NEWS: Another Effort to Unify SoCal’s Innovation Ecosystems

Bill Carpou, CEO, OCTANe

OC’s startup ecosystem, Digital Coast, is young comparatively, but vibrant and growing. OC startups have been acquired by major tech companies, as was the case with Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of VR hardware startup Occulus in 2014 and LinkedIn’s acquisition of AI-powered recruiting startup Connectifier for $100 million in early 2016. This week, a startup that digitized the home loan process announced a $50 million investment. (see here).

But OC doesn’t exist in a bubble. Last year, an alliance formed to unify the innovation ecosystems of Digital Coast, Los Angeles (Silicon Beach) and San Diego (Biotech Beach). It’s known as the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. It brought together a group of tech, university and research institute leaders, including UCI’s innovation center, Applied Innovation.

Now, OCTANe, a life sciences and technology accelerator in Aliso Viejo, is leading another initiative to unify the region. It partnered with the Los Angeles Venture Association, and the San Diego Venture Group to form the Innovation Network of Southern California, with the acronym of INSoCal.

The measurable goals of INSoCal are increased capital flow, the creation of a VC fund, with HQ here in SoCal, and joint conferences that draw from the entire SoCal region, OCTANe CEO Bill Carpou told OC Startups Now.

The intent is to increase the effect of SoCal’s accelerators. It also aims to reduce “fragmentation” throughout OC and the entire SoCal region, Carpou said.

Historically, OC’s innovation ecosystem “has not been aligned, as there are many different organizations with their own goals,” he said. “What we have to accomplish is bigger than any single organization. It takes collaboration and organizational alignment, which the INSoCal network will help convene and facilitate.”

Carpou said INSoCal is about “inclusion” and that the three member organizations “look forward to working with the alliance to provide more capital” to the SoCal region.

Marc Averitt, managing director of Okapi Venture Capital in Laguna Beach, used to be on OCTANe’s board of directors. The VC firm, with $67 million-plus currently under management, has three funds that invest in seed and early-stage technology.

Averitt told OC Startups Now that he would “support conceptually anything that helps SoCal.”

Unifying Efforts – Similarities and Differences

The expectations for both unifying efforts is the same: an increase in venture capital in SoCal. The original intent of the alliance was to get more high-caliber VC firms to set up shop in SoCal and/or persuade individual venture capitalists to leave their firms and create a new fund in SoCal.

Last year, the alliance announced that its first venture fund partner was Encinitas-based Section 32, a $160 million fund at the time. It was created by Bill Maris, founder and former CEO of Google Ventures (now known as GV). Maris could not be reached for comment. Section 32 has made 13 investments, none in SoCal, according to Crunchbase.

As far as INSoCal goes, both the L.A. and S.D. venture groups used to be loosely affiliated with OCTANe. This new formal partnership will fully leverage each of the organization’s relationships and expertise. The three members of INSoCal will serve as “anchors” in their own counties. These three organizations already have 30 partner organizations among them, Carpou said.

“An important distinction is the alliance is a separate organization,” Carpou said. “INSoCal is not. It’s structuring a network of already existing (organizations) that are embedded in the ecosystem and providing results. Each operate independently.”

Andy Wilson, the alliance’s new executive director, told OC Startups Now, that he welcomes any efforts to bring the region together in a “more compelling way.” And emphasized the alliance’s focus on commercializing innovation from universities.

“There are many important local players in the SoCal innovation ecosystem like OCTANe, the Los Angeles Venture Association, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC), the San Diego Venture Group, and CONNECT, (an organziation in San Diego that helps to create and scale nnovative companies),” Wilson said. “It is these important local efforts that create successful nodes and vibrant communities across the region. The alliance is focused on unifying these disparate nodes into a singular region with an emphasis on commercializing the breakthrough innovation coming out of the $7 billion of research investments from top SoCal universities and institutes.”

On May 24 , the alliance will host its first SoCal Innovation Showcase in Silicon Valley. Select SoCal entrepreneurs will travel to Silicon Valley to pitch to investors there. The event will feature a panel with innovation leaders speaking about opportunities for Silicon Valley investment in SoCal. More than 100 Northern California investors are expected to attend, Wilson said.

A similar event will take place in L.A. on June 20. (see info here)

About the Alliance

The alliance was spearheaded by Steve Poizner, a former insurance commissioner, candidate for governor and Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The goal is to unify entrepreneurial ecosystems across SoCal and accelerate their collective growth.

The alliance functions as a nonprofit with no physical headquarters, since its far-flung members work remotely. Its reach extends as far north as UCSB.

About OCTANe

OCTANe was originally launched in 2002 to connect people, resources and capital to fuel technology growth in SoCal. Its members include tech executive leaders, entrepreneurs and investors. The organization has helped more than 800 companies via its LaunchPad SBDC accelerator, which started in 2011. Companies that have participated in Launchpad have raised more than $2.1 billion collectively – via investments or by exiting through acquisition or going public.

About the Two Venture Groups

The Los Angeles Venture Association has been providing forums since 1985 for entrepreneurs and startup execs to connect with investors, bankers, financial advisors and other providers of professional services.

The San Diego Venture Group is a non-profit that works to promote the San Diego startup ecosystem.

Going Forward

OCTANe and the two venture groups will formally introduce INSoCal at OCTANe’s Technology Innovation Forum, a two-day event in Newport Beach starting May 31 (see more here). On June 1, INSocal will host a panel to further discuss how it will operate and work toward uniting the SoCal innovation ecosystem.

INSoCal also intends to share resources and host industry events throughout SoCal. Quarterly meetings will be held and universities, investors, incubators and industry leaders will be invited to participate.

About The Author

Deirdre Newman is a long-time journalist, who's covered OC startups for a few years.

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