Addicts can never take a hit and workaholics can never take an interesting job. I just couldn’t resist when I got the call about the Executive Director’s gig at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), even though we were in Bolivia. It sounded too good not to pursue: starting cleantech companies in an incubator financed and embraced by the City of Los Angeles? Now almost four months into being the ED at LACI, I’m back into working seven days a week with little time for anything else.
How did this happen?
Here’s the speed dating version. KR and I came back early from our South American m/c trip so I could interview for the above. Somehow Neal and I convinced them that we were the team to build the City’s incubator. I moved downtown to be close to LACI and KR went back home to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I started in June, we had the office open in July, we got our first portfolio company in August, our second on September, and we just threw an all-out LA-style Launch Party for 400 of our closest supporters in LACI’s parking lot. Along the way KR came up to LA for a couple of months, Lilly got some acupuncture to help her sore hip, and KR has decided we need to remodel Corona (our house in PV). Oh, and did I tell you that we were going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro next summer and ride our bike in Europe next Fall?
The two most often asked questions regarding LACI: (1) What’s an incubator? (2) And from those who know what it is and its potential, how did you get this job? An incubator is the business equivalent of baseball team’s farm system: our job is to find young talented cleantech entrepreneurs and get them to “The Show” – the marketplace. We do that by providing incredibly cool and cheap space, CEO coaching from people who’ve actually built companies, and access to a growing number of friends and supporters (the network) that can help our portfolio companies tremendously. What makes LACI special is that its at the heart of Los Angeles’ most important economic development strategy — to build LA into a huge green economy. That’s why the Mayor came to our launch and why we get all the attention that we do. As for why me?, there ‘s just no accounting for taste and judgment. Go to www.laincubator.org to find out everything you never wanted to know about LACI.
Why is this important? I became convinced that if we were ever going to get control of our destiny, the US needs to get off its dependence on foreign fossil fuels and find affordable, workable, appealing
sources of sustainable energy. It’s also probably not a good idea to punch a hole in earth’s atmosphere along the way. Now before you start pointing a finger and yelling “There’s a tree huger!” remember I’m a business guy deep down. Transforming our energy and transportation infrastructures over the next decades is a trillion — with a T — dollar business opportunity. So, for those who embrace this new world, there is huge potential riches to go along with the huge risk and capital requirements. It’s my bet this will be the single biggest technological revolution in my lifetime (eclipsing the PCs and the Internet). From this perspective, it makes some sense to build a long-term economic development strategy behind clean technology as Los Angeles is attempting.
This is an odd-ball public/private partnership that is both working and…fun. LACI is a little weird. We’ve been funded by two city agencies, yet we’re a private non-profit organization which is run by a couple of business guys. What’s more, the money to build our permanent 60,000 sq/ ft. home is from the city’s municipal utility in combination with city, state, federal funding with a sprinkling of private donations. A bit unusual, yet it all seems to be working well together. And what’s more surprising — and important — is that we’re having fun along the way. Building LACI is exactly like starting a company, its just the names for things are different as are the revenue streams. As anyone who’s done it will attest (admittedly in hindsight), building companies is really fun.
Fred, what ever happened to The Plan? You know, the one in which Our Hero rides his motorcycle to far away lands with his woman snugly tucked in behind. First South America, then Europe, Africa and maybe Australia and New Zealand while hanging back in Mexico in between continents. I’m in a tug of war between becoming a Motorcycle Adventurer or Cleantech (mini) Titan? What’s it to be? You know my answer.
Both : )