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Interview with Douglas Howe, Advanced Technology Incubator

Among one of the assets the Southern California has that benefits the high tech economy in the region is a wealth of educational institutions, many of which are very interested in spawning new companies from research, helping create and support local entrepreneurs, and bolster the local economy. One of the efforts from local schools is a new business incubator being developed at the College of the Canyons, in Valencia, which is looking to help bolster entrepreneurship and high tech businesses in the region. Ben Kuo spoke with Douglas Howe, Interim Director for the Advanced Technology Incubator (www.i3incubator.com), who gave us some insights into what the incubator is looking to do, and how it benefits entrepreneurs.

What's the purpose of your program?

Douglas Howe: The initiative to launch an incubator at the College of the Canyons began about two years ago from discussions with the Business Technology Center in Altadena and the director there, Mark Lieberman. The ultimate goal of the incubator is providing a facility and services that would, number one, match education with entrepreneurship, as well as provide traditional services of an incubator for startup companies. That includes introductions, mentoring programs, and help of third party service providers, and a number of programs to nurture, grow, and graduate advanced technology related companies into the local economy. The effort really got rolling last year with two grants -- one federal grant, and another state grant--to hire a couple of staff people, including myself and an associate. We're working to bring together the operational aspects of the incubator, and initially on an affiliate program, which is to provide help to entrepreneurs and startup companies located in the general vicinity, but who don't need a facility. Second, we have a tenant program, which would be for companies to move into a facility which is under construction on campus. From our understanding, it will be the only incubator housed on a community college campus in California.

When will that building be done and when will you start housing tenants?

Douglas Howe: The building is due to be completed in Q2 of 2009. We broke ground last year. We expect to start accumulating a waiting list of entrepreneurs in late summer to early fall this year, for entrepreneurs who may want to move into the facility. We expect to have space for approximately 15 companies, with an average of around 500 square feet each to start with. We have the services and facilities of office space, a receptionist, Internet access, two digital manufacturing labs, a web lab, and a clean room. The industries we're trying to target include biotech, biomedical devices, digital manufacturing, aerospace, IT, entertainment--both cinema video and music sides of the entertainment industry--as well as Internet applications. Our focus is not exclusively on those industries, but those kinds of advanced technologies are the kinds we'd like to attract to the program.

What was the idea behind creating an incubator on campus?

Douglas Howe: It was a bit before my time, of course. But, the college was very instrumental in pursuing the idea with city government. The city government in Santa Clarita is very pro business. They've been declared an enterprise zone--which brings tax advantages to companies that hire and locate in the Santa Clarita Valley. Between the city, the economic development efforts of the college, and the president of the college, Dianne Van Hook, there was a lot of common interest in looking at a vehicle to enhance economic development in the region. We're not just focused on the Santa Clarita Valley, which is our main focus, but we're also serving North Los Angeles County, the San Fernando Valley, the Antelope Valley, and maybe as far as the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles itself. We're looking to help entrepreneurs and companies that want to take advantage of these services.

Santa Clarita's not well known for its high tech companies, is it? Though I suppose lots of high tech employees live and drive past Santa Clarita every day?

Douglas Howe: Aerospace manufacturing is fairly strong in the valley. We've also got very good relationships with studios, who do a lot of filming in the general vicinity and on our campus. We are also member of the 126 biotech corridor effort, which is a collaboration with Ventura College on biotech opportunities and exchanging resources with our cleanroom and our web lab. This is also a very large, growing residential area with lots of folks, who would hopefully would be interested in working more locally with the right combination of elements, and helping the area grow.

Working with lots of entrepreneurs, what are the biggest problems you see them running into?

Douglas Howe: One of the major starting points is putting together a business plan, and proving the feasibility of their technologies and the ideas that they bring to the table. Our interest is really now in finding and identifying folks that are working on an idea out of their homes and garages, or whatever the case may be. We're here to provide structure and support, starting with a business plan, to help the get organized and put the elements in place to really seriously pursue growing the venture. Eventually, we have a network of investors who are quite interested in seeing deals develop in the Santa Clarita Valley. We've had very productive discussions with the Pasadena Angels and Tech Coast Angels. We've also signed up a number of mentors and local business professionals across a variety of functional areas to support entrepreneurs as they start down the path. To answer your questions, the early concerns are really around getting organized, and getting their arms around the task of defining their vision, their mission defined, and putting together a business plan with very solid goals towards future success.

Thanks for the interview!


 

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