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Catching Up With Mike Giardello, President of Innovate Pasadena

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

Pasadena has a long history as a center of the technology and innovation world—all the way back to first American experiments with rocket launches in 1936—Southern California's first foray into the rocket business (sorry, SpaceX)--through the Internet boom with Idealab, to today. We thought we'd catch up on what's happening today, and in particular, how Innovate Pasadena (www.innovatepasadena.org) is looking to spur even more startups and technology in Pasadena—and why that's important for the rest of Southern California. We caught up with Mike Giardello, President of Innovate Pasadena, to chat about what's going on in Pasadena today.

Remind our readers who haven't heard of Innovate Pasadena, what your group is all about?

Mike Giardello: About four years ago, Andy Wilson and I got together to talk about how to stimulate and grow the innovation ecosystem in Pasadena. We wanted to create an organization that was grassroots and volunteer-driven, and where we could engage the entire community. After careful planning and working with major institutions of nnovation here, companies, and community leaders, we launched Innovate Pasadena in 2013. We had a great launch and have seen great success, which has validated the fact that there is a lot of pent up demand for an organization here. We began with the basics, by connecting people and running meetups. Plus, early on, we starting bringing out co-working spaces to Pasadena to show them what we had here. We convinced Cross Campus to open a location here, and they just celebrated their first anniversary this past February. They've filled up pretty quickly. That was followed by WeWork, which opened in May this year, they just announced another expansion, adding an additional floor in the AT&T building. Also, Epic Spaces is opening up, and well as SupplyFrame's Makerspace. We went from zero square feet of coworking to 50,000 feet of open, shared workspace, which is a great way to bring people out of the woodwork, and get the together, and to connect people. As we have developed over the last few years, we've started running our own events, and tried out our own connect weekend in 2014, and that went to a full week the next year. This is our third week of having a full week of events, and has been our most successful event so far. In 2015, we had about 39 events with 7800 attendees; this year, we had 65 events and over 10,000 attendees for our connect series.

Why did you focus on getting co-working spaces to Pasadena first?

Mike Giardello: We felt that was a great way to bring people together. There are always the hard core entrepreneurs, who will do anything they have to do get it done, and they'll work in the basement, they'll literally use their car as their office, wherever. However, we wanted to create a more open environment, and more welcoming place for people who are on the fence, or who are circling around, so they can take the leap into entrepreneurship in a low risk way. We looked at other sites, such as Cross Campus Santa Monica, and we saw the events they were running, which we went to a lot before they opened a location here. We looked around the country at other co-working spaces, and see how it's been the hub for lots of growth and activity. With the number of companies in Pasadena, and the existence of such organizations as Idealab, the Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative, and others, it's a great fit for this ecosystem.

What else do you think Pasadena needs in the ecosystem?

Mike Giardello: As you know, every ecosystem in nature, whether it's a coral reef, or a rainforest, or deciduous forest, is different. But, most successful ecosystems have good diversity. We have one of the most diverse ecosystems around, from software companies, to hardware companies, to hard science technology out of Caltech and JPL, to design driven opportunities out of the Art Center. There's also things coming out of HRMI, Huntington Hospital and groups around there. Technology is very strong in this area, and it has a long history. In some ways, diversity is a strength, but it also can be a limitation in the short term. A lot of the time, a critical mass of companies might build up around an area—say, in consumer based apps, or a particular kind of software, or therapeutic biotech. For example, Orange County with medical devices. When you have a beach-head in one area, it's easier to grow. However, we have broad groups of entrepreneurs and types of technology, which makes it challenging to develop programming around that fits everyone. Our first meetup we developed was Friday morning coffee, which meets every friday. Our mailing list is now 4000, and over 100 people meet up every Friday at Cross Campus. It's moved around over the past few years but we've now settled on Cross Campus. However, it's not one specific topic we talk about. We might have the same 30/40 in our core group every Friday, but we'll have another 20/30 just interested in seeing what's going on, and another 30/40 interested in the specific topic being covered. So, we have a good turnover in terms of topics, with events specifically for C-level people, meetups around design, others on entrepreneurship, others on HR, another on women in technology. We have to have different meetup topics so we can engage different people and groups, along with the broader ones that we can invite the whole community to.

Pasadena has long been known as the home for many spinouts of Caltech and JPL... Is that still the case?

Mike Giardello: Obviously, they are the anchor groups that bring intellectual property and technology to the area. However, you see technology and innovation coming from all over the place, including the Huntington Medical Research Institute (HMRI), the Pasaden Bioscience Collaborative, Idealab. You might have seen recently that iRobot moved its location here, and ADP relocated their engineers here from San Dimas. There are many companies from outside the area who have located here, in addition to the companies coming out of Caltech. There are also many from USC and UCLA. The important thing to realize, is we are not just an isolated island. There are clusters of companies in San Gabriel, clusters growing Glendale, there are companies in Monrovia, Orange County, and out to Santa Monica and Silicon Beach. We are all neighbors, and we don't want to be the only island here. Neighboring clusters are important, because you have to be able to let employees know—hey, if things don't work out, there's another company nearby. We also have many professional couples, where one might work in Pasadena and another in Orange County, and that lets them split the distance and still have a reasonable quality of life, so they each only have commutes of 10 to 20 minutes each. Even though Caltech and JPL produces tremendous companies, new companies come from all over, including Idealab, the many companies that have outgrown Idealab, from CrossCampus, from many places. We have Everbridge, which moved from Glendale to Pasadena, ADP and Green Dot who moved here from Monrovia. I think it's healthy to have companies moving in and out of the area, as long as we have net ins into the ecosystem. We've had substantial net growth over the last several years.

If there is anything you'd like people in the technology community to know about Pasadena, what would that be?

Mike Giardello: There's something here for everybody. If you want to engage with us, sign up for our newsletter, come to our events, and come meet the brightest, most innovative, and most energetic people around. Find a place to work, find a place to collaborate, find a place for your office, and find service providers to work with. The most important thing, which both Andy and I ascribe to—and which Brad Feld called out in his book—is to engage the entire stack. Everyone needs to be welcome. Anyone, from any walk of life, who is interested in the community, there's something for you. You might not go to every event, or participate every day or week, but there's always something someone is interested in technology and innovation can attend.

Thanks!