Friday, March 17, 2006
Interview with Stephanie Yanchinski, Pasadena Entretec
BK: What's the purpose of Pasadena Entretec?
SY: Our purpose and mission in life is to grow and retain high tech companies in the Los Angeles basin, and help them create quality jobs and build our economic future. We especially want to provide opportunities that will keep our highly educated and talented young people here.
BK: How long have you been doing this?
SY: We're into our sixth year. We began in October 2000, right before the economic downturn. Despite the tough times we're still thriving!
BK: I see you have a new relationship with the Caltech/MIT Enterprise forum. How does that work?
SY: We've always had a close relationship with Caltech but recently we assumed the administration of the Caltech/MIT Forum with the idea that there will be immense value in bringing our two entrepreneurial communities into closer touch through partnering these events.
BK: So you're now running the events?
SY: Yes, of course the Caltech/MIT Enterprise Forum also has a vigorous volunteer committee that puts together the programs. We anticipate that this relationship will provide mutual synergy and value for enhancing entrepreneurial activity in the Los Angeles basin.
BK: It looks like you are ramping up your events, and expanding your coverage beyond just Pasadena?
SY: Yes, exactly. We focused originally on growing companies in the San Gabriel Valley. We were started through a partnership between the City of Pasadena and Caltech. But now we work closely with Pasadena, Monrovia and Irwindale helping them build their high tech clusters. More recently the 134/210 corridor has become a major center of activity for us and this year, our annual Entretec PWC award attracted applications from Orange County as well as LA. We now draw membership from all over Los Angeles and even beyond.
BK: What are your plans for the future?
SY: We are now organizing our activities and events around strategic partnering, and strategic referrals to customers and financing. We are regarded as one of the key strategic partnering and corporate development organizations in Los Angeles. There is also a renewed focus on entrepreneurship and earlier stage companies. Frankly, those are the ones most likely to stay here, and become the largest source of future economic growth in high tech. Thirdly, we are strengthening something that Entretec has emphasized from the beginning, and that is our "in the trenches" support for early stage companies. We're returning to offering one-on-one support to companies seeking strategic partners, financing, real estate, people, something like a one stop shop for high tech entrepreneurs. In the beginning it's a question of a shortage of time and of resources for most of these ventures. If we can provide them with additional corporate development resources, and save these busy CEOs time and money, we believe we will build loyalty and a feeling of being connected to our community. The fourth thing we offer is group discount programs. We are a state affiliate of BIO, the largest biotechnology industry association based in Washington, and they operate one of the largest buying programs for early stage companies. This program gives our members from any industry deep discounts when they buy office and lab supplies, newswire services. It also offers access to insurance and 501K packages that new ventures couldn't normally tap, because they're too small. Also, apart from the Caltech/MIT Enterprise forum, and the Entrepreneurship Award, we do networking events called "cluster events" - very focused, structured industry seminars and "matchmaking" meetings where our members get a qualified introduction to key individuals within larger companies that could become potential partners or customers.
BK: What's the state of the technology industry in the area-have we recovered from the post bubble downturn?
SY: Yes, absolutely. Companies are beginning to expand again, and those that survived the downturn are already into the next phase of their growth. We see them moving rapidly ahead beyond the R&D stage, and beginning to market and sell exciting products. They are adding staff, particularly the kind of people who can develop a product, or who can bring seasoned expertise in sales and marketing.
BK: What's needed to grow the industry further?
SY: The most serious challenge we face is access to entrepreneurial management, that is, access to executives who have done multiple technology startups, and who are experienced in growing and developing small companies beyond the initial one or two years. There is a shortage here, and in all of Los Angeles of that kind of talent and this is the reason why many promising start-ups relocate to other high tech centers in San Francisco, San Diego or even out-of-state. Finding early seed stage money, particularly for biotech start-ups, is also still a major hurdle to getting started.
BK: How are you addressing issues?
SY: We're doing a couple of things. For finding management we've connected to two informal mentoring circles of seasoned technology entrepreneurs, investors and business people. Through them we tap into a very broad network of connections and people up and down the West Coast. We also know a lot of highly skilled consultants who were former employees or execs of high tech companies and we refer them on to companies looking for that kind of experience. As for financing, we introduce selected opportunities to angel groups, wealthy private individuals, and early stage VC funds with whom we have a relationship, and we do it in a way that often brings these companies serious attention. We just wish we could guarantee that it happens all the time!