(photo credit: OnGig)
While doing research on local entrepreneurs recently, I came across an intriguing quote by one startup founder – “Innovation comes from collaboration.” Southern California is fortunate to have a vibrant entrepreneur ecosystem that produces a multitude of exciting innovations. In the past year, we at Long Beach City College have been engaged in a fascinating journey with The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to launch Innovation Fund SoCal. In putting together the pieces on the new program, which provides critical pre-seed funding and training to innovative startups, particularly in biomed, cleantech, and advanced manufacturing, we have conducted hundreds of conversations with entrepreneurs, investors, business experts, venture capitalists, angels, financial types, universities, incubators and accelerators. From these conversations, a few common threads and questions have emerged:
1) Entrepreneurs don’t swim in schools. Nationally, women represent less than 11% of the partners at venture firms and minority entrepreneurs make up just 8.5% of entrepreneurs pitching their businesses to angel investors. With Southern California experiencing a 42% decline in VC funding thus far for 2013, we can’t afford to miss an opportunity with potentially great innovative startups. So how do we cast a wider net and built a bigger tent?
2) How do entrepreneurs learn? Some schools of thought would have us burn the business plans, but the question still remains as to what tested effective, applied, and customizable education experiences support success and help companies to fail faster and accelerate growth? Our experience with two major, regional entrepreneurship programs that we manage here at the College suggest that there’s always room for testing more novel approaches to providing experiential educational programs for founders and their teams.
3) The old adage “Cash is King” was coined for a reason. Accessing capital for innovative startups, especially in the pre-seed stage, is still a problem that needs a bigger solution. Yet, it is a complex issue that requires understanding of a multitude of factors, such as the merit of their business idea, the company’s market potential, the composition of the founding team, how prepared are entrepreneurs for investment, etc. Knowing the right mix is important for improving deal quality for investors. Much of our work is focused on finding ways to better prepare entrepreneurs and reduce capital access barriers to under-represented demographic and geographic groups.
4) Building a Community of Innovation. Every community wants to be the next Silicon Valley, but there is only one Silicon Valley. How do we gather the various actors – entrepreneurs, funders, policymakers, corporations and others – who each have an important role in cultivating the conditions for a vibrant entrepreneurial environment in Southern California?
It is with these four threads in mind that the Innovate!SoCal 2014 conference was created. The conference brings together a diverse panel of speakers, drawing from their experiences to tackle each of these themes. Plus, our recently announced Keynote Speaker Johnny Earle, better known as Johnny Cupcakes, will share how he turned a regular business idea into an innovative and creative showcase that has somehow inspired thousands of people around the world to tattoo his company logo on their bodies and camp outside his fake bakeries buy his merchandise.
Join us at Innovate!SoCal 2014 on Jan 16, 2014 at the new Long Beach Arena and become part of our movement. The conference runs from 8am to 4pm, with a general reception following the conference. For more information or to register, go to www.innovatesocal.com.