VENTURA COUNTY LEADERSHIP GROUP
Who is part of this effort?
The leadership group is comprised of individuals with deep local ties and a shared commitment to nurturing their region’s innovation community.
Mike Panesis is the Steven Dorfman Professor of Practice and Executive Director of the Steven Dorfman Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cal Lutheran. He teaches innovation and entrepreneurship in Cal Lutheran’s undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA in Europe programs. He also organizes Cal Lutheran’s New Venture Competition.
Mike is a startup community leader in the Conejo Valley and Ventura County, to the north of Los Angeles. He leads the operation of Hub101, Cal Lutheran’s community coworking space, and is a frequent speaker on entrepreneurship and early-stage investing.
Mike advises startups on funding, operations, and business model strategies. An experienced angel investor, Mike is Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Governors of Tech Coast Angels (TCA) and was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Angel Alliance. He sits on the Boards of Whistle Messaging and Sensor Industries.
Mike has an MBA Marketing from Rutgers University and a BS in Computer Science for Business from the DeVry Institute of Technology. He lives in Camarillo with his wife and two children. He is on the Steering Committee of the Ventura County Greek Festival.
Alon is a Founding Partner of Draper Goren Holm, a Venture Studio focused on accelerating and incubating early-stage blockchain startups.
Alon is also Co-Founder of LA Blockchain Summit. As well as being an investor, Alon is the leader of one of Southern California’s largest groups of investors and entrepreneurs, 805 Startups, with alaser-focussed eye on building and supporting startups and entrepreneurs.
A pioneer in the crowdfunding space, Alon had been involved in over $300 Million Dollars in online investment transactions. He has developed technology that powers websites and financial transactions for Fortune 500 companies and well-known foundations such as Coca-Cola, American Express, ATB Financial and Global Philanthropy Group. InvestedIn, Alon’s previous company, InvestedIn, created a white label fundraising portal for individuals and businesses hoping to crowdfund ventures independently of major platforms. Later, his support of the JOBS Act, online media expertise and day-to-day interactions with venture funds, investors and financial professionals inspired him to create a solution to market hedge funds, real estate funds and venture funds to investors over the internet.
Before InvestedIn, Alon worked for entertainment tech giants such as Amazon, IMDb and MySpace where he managed customer experience, product development and community. InvestedIn was named “Best Marketplace Platform” by the Los Angeles Venture Association in 2013 and he was named to the Socaltech 50 for his work with InvestedIn. Alon is a thought leader on blockchain, social enterprise, venture capital and crowdfunding, and has spoken at SXSW, Kingonomics and many other conferences and been featured in prominent publications including Forbes, WSJ, Washington Post, TechCrunch and VentureBeat.
Bryant Went is the co-founder and co-CEO of Matter Labs, a corporate innovation lab that focuses on solving problems in the technology industry at a local level. He also serves on the Board of Directors at FATHOMWERX, a public-private consortium and technical innovation lab located in Ventura County.
Bryan’s entrepreneurial journey started at the age of 16 when he founded Eccentric Motors, one of the first alternative fuel companies to generate power for automobiles from hydrogen and other natural fuels. Bryan also co-founded Higher Standard Solutions with his brother Erick, where they provided strategic and innovative technological solutions for companies such as Microsoft, FOX Studios, and Honda.
In 2019, Bryan spearheaded the founding of FATHOMWERX, a program created by Matter Labs that is designed to exchange knowledge and opportunities between public/private sector businesses and government entities in Ventura County.
Outside of work, Bryan is an avid world traveler and adrenaline junkie. He has worked in more than 12 countries over the course of his professional career and continues to seek out adventure with his family in his free time. He continuously uses his maverick spirit to create and support programs aimed at impacting the world through innovation and technology.
Kristin Bell is the Community Manager of Hub101, Cal Lutheran University’s coworking space and launchpad for entrepreneurs and startups of various stages. She develops educational programs to guide entrepreneurs through the process of launching a business and programs to educate mentors on how to advise and engage with entrepreneurs. She also organizes Cal Lutheran’s New Venture Competition, which showcases student-led startups.
Kristin is an entrepreneurship educator and teaches entrepreneurship at Oaks Christian School and for Cal Lutheran University’s Executive MBA Program. She also manages operations, portfolio, and deal flow for Santa Barbara Angel Alliance, a group of angel investors in Southern California.
Kristin leverages 10+ years’ experience in marketing strategy and implementation and an MBA in Enterprise Innovation & Entrepreneurship in work with early-stage and growth-stage ventures. She is passionate about the entrepreneurial ecosystem and mentoring and supporting entrepreneurs.
Gary is a Ventura County native that began his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 12 selling snow cones and simple programs designed in Visual Basic. While attending Agoura High School, he began his photography career under the tutelage of Mr.Neely and took up the role of manager for the band, Underwood.
These experiences led to Gary starting his first startup in 2001, a social network and online magazine mashup called A.Refuge. It saw modest success and resulted in Gary being recruited as a Product Lead for Iteration Group, a local experience design and product development firm.
After helping many founders and companies design, develop, and launch new products Gary moved on to co-found another startup in Santa Monica, began a consulting career, and furthered his photography career where he had the privilege of photographing the LA Kings during both of their Stanley Cup runs, here at home.
Eventually, Gary would return to Conejo Valley and reconnect with his childhood friend, Alon Goren, the founder of 805 Startups. After attending a stellar event in downtown Ventura, Gary excitedly asked Alon if he could come on board to help take 805 Startups from a successful meetup group to a full-fledged organization serving our wonderful region. Alon of course said yes and the group grew from 300 members to over 1200 in just six months.
Gary has since become the President of 805 Startups and continues to leverage a wide range of skills and background experiences to serve the community. He can be labeled as a founder, co-founder, experience designer, producer, photographer, event organizer, product manager, and more.
Above all else, Gary is a champion of the region and actively working to improve the well-being of the community and individuals it relies upon as proven by his work at 805 Startups.
Chief Executive and Owner of Pharos Leadership, a veteran-owned leadership consulting business. Conners is also the author of an Amazon best seller Fighter Pilot Parent, a leadership guide for both parents and managers. Conners brings his leadership experience from being a commanding officer in one of the U.S. Navy’s largest and most strategic bases which included: two airports, three runways, a deep-water port, an island, retail stores and 17,000 employees. Most recently, Conners became the City Manager for Port Hueneme.
Estelle is a fourth generation Ventura native and has a strong background in strategic planning, project manager and effective collaboration. In her role as Economic Development Manager, Estelle works closely with the City Council Economic Development Committee, the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Ventura Partners, Visit Ventura, the Ventura Port District and other business partners. Estelle works closely with the Planning and Building and Safety Divisions to support the City’s efforts to encourage private sector investment in Ventura.
Estelle previously worked four years at Patagonia where she served as International Planning Manager, E-commerce Forecast Planner and Senior Supply Chain Analyst. She also has experience working for Adidas Group as a Senior Project Manager in Brand Harmonization.
Estelle received her Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Operations Management, from the University of Portland and a BA in Social Sciences from San Diego State University. She is proud alumni of Ventura High School and Ventura College, where she was a back-to-back State Champion in Woman’s Basketball.
“Ventura is a great place to live, work, and do business. I am looking forward to building a strong economic future where my daughter and future generations can thrive”
Georg is currently working on implementing the City of Camarillo’s Economic Development Strategic Plan while also assisting businesses with recovery due to COVID-19. He serves as Vice President of the CSU Channel Islands Alumni and Friends Association, and is a Board member of the Camarillo Hotel and Tourism Association.
Previously, Georg was recognized with the Young Professional of the Year Award (2018-2019) by the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce for his contributions to local entrepreneurial and professional development, and was the Organizer of TEDxCamarillo.
Benjamin F. Kuo is the founder of SOCALTECH LLC, and the publisher of socalTECH.com. Kuo initially started socalTECH.com as a hobby, looking to highlight Southern California’s diverse and growing high tech industry, and has turned the site into the “go to” place for information on the growing high tech region. Kuo has been active in supporting Southern California’s high tech industry, and hasserved on the selection committee of the Los Angeles Venture Association’s Annual Venture Capital awards, served as a judge on the Software Council of Southern California’s Software Industry Awards, and is active in many other efforts promoting Southern California’s technology industry.
Kuo has a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, and has worked in a variety of management and development positions at high tech firms in both Southern and Northern California.
Outside of his efforts with socalTECH, Kuo has served in a number of technical and marketing positions in the high tech industry, for companies such as QLogic, Inc.; Troika Networks, Inc. (acquired by QLogic), IBM, Micropolis Corp, Echelon Corp., and Paracel Inc. (Celera Genomics). He also has served as a Chairman of T11 industry standards committees, serving as an officer of the NCITS T11.5 Fabric Applications Interface Standard (FAIS) efforts and has been active in other T11 and SNIA standards efforts.