Alliance Blog

Advisory Dinner Tackles Storytelling

At our recent Alliance advisory board dinner, Larry Sonsini (Advisory Board chair and the evening’s host) asked the group how to best unlock the potential of SoCal’s innovation ecosystem so that it performs in line with its potential (i.e. the mission of the Alliance). The 20 guests tasked with this whopper of a topic included VCs, corporate leaders, and startup CEOs who largely agreed that the ingredients are in place but that we have a problem with our “story”.

This notion of story is nuanced — nobody was suggesting we enlist fictions and special effects to obscure the reality and gloss over our shortcomings. This was a call for a strategy with tactics that employ clear and consistent messaging to dispel the pervasive myths (‘fake news’?) about the region and replace them with authentic narratives.

Clearly, great SoCal startups with traction are not getting enough attention from the media. Even eye-popping funding rounds and exits are largely ignored by the tech and local press. Without a mainstream publication (other than scrappy covering innovation in SoCal, who is telling our story? This reveals that we need to build a much stronger communications channel to get the word out.

What about a clear, consistent narrative? Humans naturally crave easy labels and filters to make sense out of the chaos. San Diego stands out for being a BioTech hub (although it’s so much more) but what is LA or OC or Santa Barbara known for most and is that reputation in line with reality? Diehard ecosystem nerds (like us) can point to factors like startup density, corporate presence, IP from universities, etc to give an inventory of assets but that data hasn’t made the leap into a digestible narrative, yet.

And let’s be honest, SoCal’s diversity and the power of that convergence to produce amazing companies is arguably its biggest strength but also part of the challenge to its narrative. We don’t fit into a neat and tidy box and we are culturally resistant to labels.

So how do we attract executives from elsewhere to uproot their families and join that SaaS startup in Irvine if they don’t know that there are plenty of other opportunities waiting for them nearby if it doesn’t work out? They need access to the true story or else it seems like a big risk even when they factor in the abundant sunshine and quality of life.

By the time dessert was served, the dinner guests were inspired to do what they can to help us spread the word and connect the dots in their respective spheres. The larger questions are still out there and we need your help to answer them. Please reach out if you have thoughts on how to help us tell our hero’s journey.

@Steve Gilison is Head of Programs and Operations at the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. You can also find him on LinkedIn.