Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Startups In LA... Building The West Coast Corridor Of Innovation - 1400 miles Long

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 19, 2010

I caught up with Kieran Hannon the other day. He was in the Bay Area for a meeting with the Irish prime minister (he's on the board of Enterprise Ireland) and I realized it had been a good few years since I had last seen him.

He used to be co-managing director of Grey Advertising, then had gone off to Texas to work as VP of Marketing for Radio Shack, and then moved to Santa Monica, in Southern California. He's now working as COO at a promising startup called Sidebar, which has an interesting mobile technology that recommends content based on what people like, very useful for online retailers and others.

Kieran and his family had spent 18 years living in San Francisco, and I was curious what life in Southern California (SoCal) was like.

He said life was good, and that the startup scene was healthy and that there are a lot of media/technology centers there. I often write about how Silicon Valley has become Media Valley, because of all the media companies here (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, etc) so it makes sense that SoCal, with its rich media history, would be a fertile breeding ground for media technology startups.

Earlier this week, Mark Suster, a VC based in SoCal, wrote an excellent post about startups in LA. Want to Start a Technology Company in LA?

He makes some great points:

...LA [is] the second largest city in the country with a population if 16 million. We have universities like Caltech, UCLA, USC and many more. We have many seasoned entrepreneurs who have built successful companies here and made a lot of money for investors and themselves. But LA is not Silicon Valley and we don't need to aspire to be so. We will never be Silicon Valley in the way that Toronto will never be Hollywood. But we have a great city for building technology companies.

He goes into details about how LA is not like Silicon Valley.

- Funding is different, there are smaller "A" rounds of around $3m rather than $10m here.

- Recruiting is different. There aren't huge pools of engineers, but it is possible to build 100+ sized teams.

- Commuting isn't as bad as people think it is, most people live close to where they work. And hey, commuting isn't that easy here.

- Lots of content creation skills. This is an interesting point to make because software engineers can be found almost anywhere in the world today, but content creation skills are very culture specific, you can't outsource this work.

- There are now larger numbers of successful entrepreneurs, many are on the their second and third successful company.

Here are a few success stories:

There is a lot of innovation happening in LA from places like Eqal, Deca.TV, DemandMedia's studios, Clicker, Filmaka and other initiatives.
. . .
The whole category of "sponsored search" came from a successful LA company, Overture. (my firm, GRP Partners, was an investor). LA produced Applied Semantics that created AdSense and was bought by Google. We were also an investor in the early local listing company, CitySearch - an LA company. LA was a leader in lead generation (LowerMyBills), comparison shopping (PriceGrabber, Shopzilla), social networking (MySpace ... I know, I know - Facebook won - but it was still a big business). If we extend a bit North up the coast line we have many affiliate marketing innovators including ValueClick, Commission Junction and FastClick. They also produced GoToMeeting and CallWave.
. . .
A great team from MySpace has created Gravity. Gil Elbaz from Applied Semantics has now created Factual. Zorik Gordon is tearing it up at ReachLocal. TechCoast Angels backed GreenDot should be a major IPO this year. Frank Addante has created Rubicon Project. Douglas Merrill, the former CIO of Google, is building his next company in LA. Scott Painter, founder of CarsDirect has created two new generation LA startups (Zag and TrueCar, both backed by GRP Partners). Brett Brewer (ex MySpace) has AdKnowledge, there is Adconian, Legal Zoom and many more. Hautelook, Gogii, Magento - all very high potential companies building in LA.

Mr Suster is one of the organizers of Launchpad LA V2, which was announced today. This is a project aimed at helping first-time entrepreneurs and helping to educate them and guide them in building successful companies.

We will be selecting 10 startup companies to participate. There is no cost but you must physically be based in or move to Los Angeles for the 6 months of the program. Applications are due April 6th, 2010, the form is on the website and the Twitter address is@launchpadlad


A West Coast corridor of innovation...

It won't be long before we have a West Coast corridor of innovation stretching from Silicon Valley to Southern California, and beyond.

In fact, if you fly from San Diego heading north along the coast you pass over tons of innovation centers:

- The communications and biotech industries of San Diego;

- The electronics industries of Orange County;

- The media centers of Hollywood and Santa Monica;

- Then you reach San Francisco/Silicon Valley with its electronics, software, media tech, biotech, cleantech industries;

- Then Portland with its thriving startup scene plus Intel's big presence there;

- Seattle with a thriving tech scene mostly spun out of Microsoft, and Amazon;

- Vancouver and its software industry.

Wow. 1400 miles of innovation. There's no other region like it, hundreds of miles of world-class, industry leading, innovation and creativity.

Interestingly, it's all built on top of one of the most unstable fault lines in the world. A disruptive reality. Is there a connection?

I've always said that innovation has to be disruptive otherwise it's not innovation.


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