Driving deeper trust and shared action from the region’s “Generals”
When describing how the Alliance serves the entrepreneurial ecosystem in SoCal, we often like to compare ourselves to NATO because we act as a neutral organizing body to coordinate efforts between the local innovation hubs in the region and help them build out their infrastructure. Also, in most respects we work directly with the leaders (“Generals”) and not the soldiers who, in this analogy, are the founders and entrepreneurs.
And like NATO, we occasionally convene a large group of leaders for a Summit, which we successfully accomplished on November 14th at the Research Park at UC Irvine for our first annual SoCal Ecosystem Leadership Forum. The forum provided an unprecedented opportunity to gather a cross-section of innovation leaders from across the region — Santa Barbara to San Diego; Silicon Beach to Riverside — to meet and learn from each other, build relationships and new partnerships, and work on regional solutions to our shared challenges in supporting innovation broadly. Our approach was to foster new and improved relationships that can lead to deeper trust and ultimately shared action.
The all day workshop was professionally facilitated by Dr. Diana Joseph, founder of the Corporate Accelerator Forum who is one of those rare souls who “gets ecosystems” and was able to masterfully engage 50 diverse attendees which included founders, corporates, investors, academic/tech transfer, ecosystem organizations, government and others who defy simple categorization. The day was made possible by generous support from The Irvine Company who hosted us at their amazing conference center and our track sponsors: Wells Fargo, Verizon, and Kaiser Permanente.
What we learned and what we hope to accomplish
Collectively, the group articulated 65 separate strategies to address the key challenges facing SoCal’s innovation ecosystem. These strategies were aggregated into seven key lines of effort including: SoCal branding, shrinking distance, mapping resources, capital/money, talent, projects to bring people together, and tech for social good.
We found common assets and resources gaps across the region that included:
- SoCal’s compelling asset is deep technical expertise through universities/research institutions that create talent and IP
- Gaps include lack of resident capital and big venture-backed companies
- Need for better and more storytelling narratives that capture our strength in innovation
- A better articulation of our regional story will lead to more talent staying in SoCal
We drilled down into aspects of SoCal’s connective tissue. In breakout discussions we focused on strategies to shrink distances, fostering relationships that drive trust which drives action, and how we can take what we know about the ecosystem and turn it into a transformative map.
Shrinking Distance: Distance is a major component when evaluating the cost versus benefit of engaging in the ecosystem. Deciding to attend an event or meeting is highly dependent on the perceived value / quality vs the time and effort in travel.
Tactics to reduce the costs of engaging regionally include:
- Maximize time spent e.g. coworking spaces, rideshare, public transport, ubiquitous broadband (5G, wifi)
- Amplify signals of quality through greater transparency of resources and events
- Identify and leverage community champions as resources. This process is the core of an Alliance Program called Finding Innovation through Node Development (FIND).
Relationships: Relationships between communities, industries, and businesses are the key to driving ecosystem health because they rely on and create trust. Having trusted partners and resources outside of your organization or community is crucial (and a key benefit of engaging with the Alliance). Engaging in actionable projects brings people together and forges strong relationships. A central output of this forum was to get people aligned with others in the region that share their passion for addressing these challenges.
Mapping: We have compelling resources to foster and support entrepreneurship and assets that enable the creation of innovative processes. However, these are widely dispersed and not mapped in an easy-to-find resource. Maps are especially helpful to first time entrepreneurs who don’t have the pathways figured out yet. The Alliance is working on a broad-based effort to provide a map of talent, funding, and resources for all of SoCal. Other partners, like the LAEDC, are developing lifescience mapping that we plan to amplify when launched.
Core challenges (and potential solutions!)
Capital/Money: Despite vast local wealth in SoCal, there is a lack of local venture capital firms, especially those who lead Series A rounds. Participants discussed alternative funding avenues to explore to drive local investment such as corporate venturing, tax incentives, opportunity zones, and creating a fund of funds.
Enhancing the SoCal brand: SoCal’s branding as an innovation hub is not well known or clearly understood and is often overshadowed and obscured by competing established narratives (dominance of Hollywood or consumer tech). The region’s diversity is a huge asset, but the lack of a focal point exacerbates the clarity of messaging. Defining the brand and getting widespread adoption from the leaders of the region to amplify the “message” will be transformative.
Talent: SoCal exports more talent than it retains, especially graduates trained at universities who would like to stay, but are lured North by lucrative tech jobs and perceived lack of local options. More can be done to entice them to stay, such as engage them while still in school through internships and mentorship with local corporations. By re-branding the region, we can attract/recruit from outside the state.
Following the gathering, the Alliance created working groups and virtual work spaces to foster ongoing collaboration and progress on these activities to bridge the distance spanning our highly dispersed region. Moving forward the Alliance will help manage the activities on the areas that have the highest impact for the region and received the most support. These topics include branding, delivering more Series A capital, mapping SoCal’s plentiful innovation resources, and talent retention strategies.
We look forward to sharing our progress. If you want to get involved in any of these ongoing activities, please get in touch with us. We can always use more Generals!
Article was co-written by @Steve Gilison Head of Programs and Operations at the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. You can also find him on Linkedin.
@Eric Eide is Director of Ecosystem Development at the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. You can also find him on LinkedIn.