Why First Look SoCal 2023 Was the Best One Yet
This marked the sixth straight year that the Alliance has produced the First Look SoCal Innovation Showcase and from my perspective, each year it gets better. It’s not the startups that get better– they’ve always been consistently amazing examples of innovation and high potential commercialization of translational research and ingenuity emerging from SoCal’s unparalleled world-class research institutions (yes I am a fanboy). It’s not the panel of experts we bring in to ‘judge’ who have always been top caliber investors and corporate leaders, although I can say that we now have a much deeper bench for this important role where they give invaluable feedback and suggestions to the presenters during the Q&A that follows the 3 minute fast pitch. And no, it’s not the inspiring and informative keynotes even though we had a remarkable double-feature this year that included a pair of JPL engineers who part of a mind-blowing team that basically achieved the impossible (built an FDA-approved ventilator in 37 days during the early lockdown days of the pandemic) and a second fireside chat with faculty at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience who are disrupting the traditional model of innovation through the convergence of multi-disciplinary teams to develop (and commercialize) complex, high-impact solutions.
If you’re thinking “it’s the audience”, you’re getting closer. This year we hosted nearly 200 people at the lovely Skirball Cultural Center in LA versus 130 at the same venue last year (plus over 50 virtual livestream attendees this year vs 99 last year), but candidly we achieved similar numbers before the pandemic. So why do I make this claim that it’s better each year?
The main reason is that each year we get better at creating an environment that is centered on the founders and innovators – whether they are presenting or not – and we make them the stars of the show. That focus drives us to make sure we get the right members of the community together to support the founders. We bring in interesting keynote speakers, world-class investors and corporate leaders, and the best service providers in the region so the startups get access to the key relationships to help them succeed and bring their breakthroughs to the world. What makes this event work year after year is setting the tone and communicating that to everyone who participates. It’s vital to get buy-in from all the participants, judges, attendees, and partners since it takes a collective effort to help these startups cross the chasm from the lab to the market, which is extremely difficult to do without the proper support.
I want to acknowledge with gratitude that we are able to continuously improve the program based on feedback from the array of engaged stakeholders who make this event possible, especially the university staff who identify and prepare the startups, the investors and industry leaders who volunteer their time to help select the startups and/or ‘judge’ the fast-pitches at the event, ecosystem partners who promote the event to their networks, sponsors who underwrite and participate in meaningful ways (thank you Wilson Sonsini, KPPB, JPL, and Michelson Medical Research Foundation as well as Countsy and Bolton), the attendees, and of course the startups who prepare a custom pitch for the day and for many of them, are pitching their life’s work in public for the first time.
This big tent approach to community works for us and is consistent with how we support the broader innovation ecosystem overall because all innovators need support at some point during their journey — it takes a lot of hands to build a successful venture. Thanks for another great year of showcasing some of the best startups emerging from the region’s top research institutions – see you next year!
To access the full recordings of the keynotes and startup pitches, plus a photo gallery, visit our website. For more detail on the agenda including speaker and startup profiles, please visit the First Look SoCal 2023 event website.