Alliance Blog

What Orange County business leaders discuss over dinner

A few weeks ago we held another one of our intimate business leader dinners, this time at Shady Canyon in Irvine to connect leaders from business and academia to discuss the amazing assets as well as the challenges of the Orange County innovation ecosystem.

The group immediately jumped into an intensely productive conversation that didn’t end until the dessert dishes were cleared. These leaders were not only highly engaged, but were actively organizing to implement solutions locally that can help ensure their community becomes a thriving business center that supports entrepreneurship.

For example, UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gilman reported that the university is investing $1.5B in medtech, tech, life sciences, and artificial intelligence (AI) as well as adding 600 heads to the existing 2000 faculty already working in cutting edge research areas across UCI. All of this is supported by top notch ecosystem organizations several of whom were present at the dinner such as Octane led by Bill Carpou and the expanded facilities and services at UCI Beall Applied Innovation led by Richard Sudek.

Our dinner guests conceded that OC also has some areas where they need to improve. These areas included addressing a shortage of startup capital in OC; increasing connectivity and stakeholder engagement; building a workforce development pipeline that helps people acquire the skills required for innovation; attracting and retaining talent; and retaining startups in O.C.

Finally, participants also noted opportunities to further support the ecosystem such as a new fund currently in development which will increase startup capital for OC-based startups as well as enhanced economic development and branding efforts; increased community engagement and activity; broadening the talent base; and offering more training and mentorship to founders.

OC’s corporations have organized under the CEO Leadership Alliance to address the challenges of attracting, retaining, and building the condition that lure companies to locate in OC or to retain them once they get started. Mark Percy, the President of the CEO Alliance and ecosystem connector Carey Ransom, who wears many hats, including helping the CEO Alliance to bridge the corporate and startup worlds are helping to corral next steps on many of these efforts and the Alliance stands ready to help.

Corporations are key stakeholders in a startup ecosystem, yet it can be difficult to capture their attention, much less their engagement, as they focus on other priorities or markets. The result may be fewer resources for innovation communities and a much less vibrant ecosystem. And for the corporation, that may mean a missed opportunity to recruit local talent or leverage leading technologies and resources that may be located in their backyard. What we heard from business leaders gathered around the dinner table last month in Irvine, however, was a refreshing departure. Great things are happening in O.C. and there’s still plenty of opportunity for leaders looking for fertile ground to grow and prosper.

Dinner participants included successful founders, corporate executives, and the leadership from the university and key ecosystem organization in Orange County.

Our evening’s hosts were Julie Hill the Vice-Chairperson at the Alliance as well as a prolific board member and philanthropist) and Derek Hoyt, Managing Director-OC, Silicon Valley Bank. Andy Wilson, Executive Director at the Alliance, moderated the evening’s discussion.

Guests included Doug Holte (The Irvine Company), Kim Letch (EY), Stuart McClure (Cylance), Michael Mussallem (Edwards Lifesciences), Jim Peterson, (Peterson Capital Group), Dean Stoecker (Alteryx), Bill Carpou (Octane), Howard Gillman (Chancellor of UC Irvine), Bruce Hallett (Miramar Digital Ventures), Mark Percy (CEO Leadership Alliance-OC), Carey Ransom (OC4 Venture Studio), and Richard Sudek (UCI Beall Applied Innovation and Board Member at the Alliance).

@Eric Eide is Director of Ecosystem Development at the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. You can also find him on LinkedIn.