There’s no denying that LA’s tech scene is exploding at an enormous pace.
Fueled by a combination of the area’s emerging strength in venture capital, homegrown engineering talent, maturing startups, and city-backed initiatives, Los Angeles is becoming a talent magnet for locals and new arrivals to build their digital dreams.
But if you have a good idea, where do you begin?
Such is the problem BIXEL EXCHANGE is helping local entrepreneurs solve.
This digital-focused spinoff of the LA Area Chamber of Commerce started in 2013 as a means to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs, local government, and established business entities.
Says LA Chamber VP of Innovation & Emerging Technologies and Bixel Exchange founder Sean Arian, “We wanted to focus on what the Chamber does well: linking entrepreneurs to mentors & advisors who have the experience building technology companies from the ground up; creating a platform to connect startups to talent, capital, and other resources; and advocating for small tech entrepreneurs with local government.”
Arian built a core staff of seven to focus on three overarching initiatives:
1) Startup Development Program, a partially federally-funded, free program that partners with Small Business Administration. Bixel Exchange set up a Small Business Development Center to connect LA entrepreneurs with mentors and advisors.
The program has onboarded 14 advisors who have mentored up to 150 companies a year on various initiatives. Advisors include Cam Kashani (previously of LA’s first coworking space Coloft), Adam Chapnick (Indiegogo), Mark Kapczynski (UCLA Ventures), and Josh McGiniss (Intuit).
Arian notes that this program has been particularly attractive to entrepreneurs who don’t want to give up equity or don’t have access to traditional pathways into the tech world. As a result, their current founder base is 30% female, 12% African American, 14% Latino.
And because this program is funded by the federal government, “It allows us to be collaborative instead of competitive, building up super high quality advisors, folks that believe in the community that want to give back.”
2) Civic Innovation & Corporate Development, connecting local tech to large corporations. Such initiatives have included connecting Warner Bros accelerator Media Camp to local entrepreneurs, or having tech stars like Sam Teller, Eva Ho, and David Waxman do ride-alongs and disaster relief simulations with LAFD to assess the current state of technology and build reports to suggest improvements to processes and equipment, such as GPS and mapping tools.
3) Tech Talent Education. As the business intermediary for the LA HI-TECH Consortium, Bixel Exchange is part of a collaborative that includes eight community colleges, thirty high schools, and several public and private sector leaders to create career pathways to tech jobs for students.
LA HI-TECH received a $15 million grant from the state of California in order to develop the program, which includes mentorship, business plan competitions, hackathons, work site visits, and corporate / educator mentorships. The program was recently recognized by President Obama as part of the White House’s TechHire initiative.
Bixel Exchange Director of the Startup Development Program Kevin Lew adds, “The LA HI-TECH work this year is going to be hugely impactful on career pathways and giving access to education in underserved communities. What I’d like to see is eventually, students who come from our LA HI-TECH partnership join the Startup Development Program post college graduation, and after that, graduate to other accelerators and other programs around town.”
Bixel Exchange works with its mentees with internal monthly orientations and bimonthly tech councils, as well as external quarterly salons as places as varied as YouTube space LA , Maker City, and Dodger Stadium. Partners like Chase, SAP, LADWP, Microsoft, NBC Universal and others chip in to keep the programs free for all participants.
They also partner with local tech orgs and events such as Pay It Forward Labs, Tech Zulu and General Assembly to get deeper embedded into LA’s overall tech scene.
Says Arian, “We have built one of the more impressive group of advisors in the city of LA — you’re going to start to see some really big success stories, and give the tech community the opportunity to give back to the City of Los Angeles as well.”
To learn more about membership, which is totally FREE go to the Bixel Exchange website for more details.