OP-ED: Leaders from public and private sectors must step up to ensure local tech community continues to click.
L.A.’s tech scene is taking off. But how fast, how far and in what direction? And what role, if any, is there for L.A.’s business, civic and political leadership to play?
It has been clear for a while that with its strong base of universities and creative talent, a Hollywood-fueled edge in digital media, a large local market and relative proximity to Silicon Valley, L.A.’s tech scene has been on the verge of lift-off. Over the past few years, the rise of Silicon Beach on the Westside, new accelerators popping up all over Los Angeles, and the southern migration of capital and service providers from the Silicon Valley have all fueled the industry’s ascent. As Angelenos, we can be proud that the L.A. area was recently ranked the third-best startup ecosystem in the world, just after Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, Israel.
Despite this newly fertile ecosystem for tech entrepreneurs, there’s a lot more to be done. L.A. tech startups have some of the same challenges faced by startups everywhere: finding customers, product development, raising capital and hiring talent. But, as a region, there are other areas where Los Angeles needs to improve to be competitive: forging closer ties between our world-class universities and the technology community, providing mentorship and support services for entrepreneurs, building a community across the vast L.A. area, connecting government to the technology community and establishing partnerships between tech entrepreneurs and larger companies that might eventually buy their products. These problems can’t be solved solely by the government, or one organization or group – they require us all to work together.
At the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, we are doing our part. The chamber earlier this month launched the Bixel Exchange, a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration to support L.A.’s tech entrepreneurs.
In developing the program, we wanted to focus on what the chamber does well: linking entrepreneurs to mentors and advisers who have experience building technology companies from the ground up; creating a platform to connect startups to talent, capital, new markets and other resources; and advocating for small technology entrepreneurs with local government as well as in Sacramento and Washington.
We also want to connect the Bixel Exchange – its name was inspired by the chamber’s location on Bixel Street – to people and organizations already on the rise. Where others are already doing a great job, we are partnering and supporting their efforts, not replicating them. We have partnerships with innovative new local players like Hub L.A., Tech Zulu, Silicon Beach L.A. and the L.A. Cleantech Incubator. We are partnering with UCLA and USC to support entrepreneurs who are commercializing university technologies. And we are bringing industry players like Warner Bros., NBC-Universal, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Microsoft into the mix to give entrepreneurs access to companies that can be partners, investors and future customers.
We are eager and hopeful about the role government can play to fuel the innovation economy. In regions where technology companies are succeeding, like San Francisco and New York, there has been recognition of the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship between local government and its tech sector. Local government can help create the conditions for the technology industry to grow and thrive in Los Angeles through things such as business tax reform, investment in L.A.’s growing tech hubs and better use of workforce development dollars in the tech industry. A focus on technology can also make government more efficient, transparent and increase civic participation through the promotion of open data initiatives, civic hackathons and better use of online and app-based city services.
We hope to be part of a growing groundswell of civic leaders contributing to the growth of the local tech sector. Signs are that this is happening. Look at the tremendous work by the industry leaders who make up the Mayor’s Council on Innovation & Industry, which has published a manifesto on how government and the tech sector can work to promote this emerging industry. Or our tech-friendly mayor-elect, Eric Garcetti, who during his campaign proposed many innovative ideas, from hiring a chief innovation officer and developing a Compstat-style system to measure and manage city departments to supporting a network of incubators and working with local universities to commercialize their technologies – and, as a councilman, provided the very first grant to launch the Bixel Exchange.
So, you might ask, what does a 125 year-old organization get out of working with a newly growing technology industry? Los Angeles has always been a city of strivers, of world-class innovators and boundless creativity. Whether it was the birth of the entertainment industry or the growth of aerospace, the invention of the hula hoop or the fortune cookie, the chamber has historically played a role in supporting innovation and building those industries. So for us, moving Los Angeles into the future is just getting back to basics.
Sean Arian is the vice president for sustainability, innovation and emerging technology at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. He previously served as director of economic development under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.