Alliance Blog

How can a not-for-profit start-up possibly move a massive ecosystem?

Every great start-up is built around a bold idea — usually one that most people think is either crazy or impossible. The bold idea behind the Alliance is to fully realize the amazing innovation and start-up potential of the SoCal region. Really? A humble non-profit, just starting out, is going to “bend the curve” on the number and quality of SoCal start-ups that bring break-through ideas to the world? That’s both crazy and impossible!

Or is it?

After two years of analyzing, mapping, meeting, connecting and planning we have, indeed, found a path to bring this bold idea to life. Believe it or not, there is a way for a small organization to punch way above its weight class and truly move the massive SoCal ecosystem.

Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far:

We’re huge!

  • SoCal is an amazing region extremely rich with innovation assets and eager entrepreneurs (read the BCG report)
  • The region is massive: >20,000 square miles, 20mm people and $1.2Tn economy
  • The region is a diverse network of 14 innovation nodes or clusters that have unique competencies and achieved varying levels of activation

We have the same problems!

The region shares common challenges:

  • Accessing mid stage VC
  • Retaining more of the local talent coming from top universities
  • Extending the SoCal brand beyond the consumer entertainment genre that has been the hallmark of Silicon Beach (and dominates SoCal’s narrative)

Internally, and even more so externally, there is a lack of understanding of the abundant and complex SoCal innovation landscape

We aren’t alone!

  • On any given night, there are dozens of start-up and tech meet-ups, conferences or workshops serving local communities or industry sectors
  • There is a growing infrastructure of start-up focused organizations (incubators, accelerators, mentor groups, angel groups, etc.) and committed ecosystem leaders, but there is little connectivity and knowledge sharing among these players

But, as we say in the tech world, “we have a usability problem.”

The region truly does have a lot going for it. All the right pieces are there, but it is challenging to get your hands around them. We believe there is a critically important and compelling role for an organization to connect the dots. However, that connector has to have a very broad yet specific set of skills. It cannot be a group that is running a specific program or event series, funding start-ups, or championing a specific technology sector or particular community. It must be a group that can take a higher, system-level view of the entire ecosystem in order to see what is missing, who should be working with whom and then weave the fabric together; a kind of “Smart Super Connector.”

We are that Super Connector.

By having a high-level architectural view of the entire region, the Alliance will have its greatest impact by acting as a strategic convener and matchmaker; putting players together who have complementary capabilities but share common objectives. It is only by having a holistic and broad view of the region and its strengths that we can facilitate the alignment of assets and players across the ecosystem.

We are already helping leading organizations like Kaiser Permanente, Edison International and Wells Fargo better navigate and engage with the SoCal innovation and start-up ecosystem. Each of these organizations has essential innovation agendas and sees significant value in engaging with relevant players across the SoCal region. However, they often don’t have the specific knowledge and relationships in order to effectively identify and engage the appropriate local innovation players, whether they be VC’s, start-ups, research institutes or other corporate entities.

The Alliance can, indeed, move mountains — but not alone. We are engaging and aligning strategic partners to advance and accelerate their innovation agendas by better capitalizing on what the SoCal ecosystem has to offer. We are already helping to incubate several bold innovation projects that, if (when) they materialize, will dramatically advance SoCal’s standing as a global innovation powerhouse. We aren’t just a connector but also look to spark powerful new collaborations that produce game-changing innovation initiatives. It is through this highly leveraged approach that we believe a small not-for-profit like the Alliance can indeed move mountains.

@Andy Wilson is the Executive Director of the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. You can also find him on