Cleantech Coming to Los Angeles

The confluence of technology and entertainment has long been the dream of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists living in Los Angeles. But Digital Hollywood, like so many other dreams born in the basin, has proved to be less substantial than appearances would suggest.

The Los Angeles area is uniquely poised to grab a piece of the emerging alternative energy, resource efficiency and modern transportation industries, however.

Most Angelinos know, at least intuitively, that the movie business is only a small part of the local economy. In fact, take a list of the ten biggest companies in the Los Angeles area and you’ll see remarkable diversity:

Occidental Petroleum Corporation (NYSE:OXY)     -ENERGY
Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS)                                   -ENTERTAINMENT
Amgen Inc. (NasdaqGS:AMGN)                              -BIOTECHNOLOGY
DIRECTV Group, Inc. (NasdaqGS:DTV)                   -ENTERTAINMENT
Allergan Inc. (NYSE:AGN)                                       -PHARMACEUTICALS
Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC)        -DEFENSE
Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NasdaqGS:ATVI)              -VIDEO GAMES
Broadcom Corp. (NasdaqGS:BRCM)                         -SEMICONDUCTORS
Public Storage (NYSE:PSA)                                      -CONSUMER SERVICES
Edison International (NYSE:EIX)                              -ENERGY UTILITY

Compare that to the San Francisco and San Jose areas and you have scroll down to the 21st largest company on the list to find a company that isn’t doing tech or finance (It’s Gap Inc.).

If you don’t buy that logic, ask yourself this, how far would you have to walk from an office on Sand Hill Road before you ran into a multi-billion dollar company building something other than computers, software or networking gear?

Sitting in my office on the 23rd floor of the Library Tower (U.S. Bank Building) in downtown, I can look out to the skyscrapers of Long Beach and see one of the world’s largest shipping hubs aching for efficiency improvements. In the other direction lies Santa Monica, consumed each evening in a ball of setting-sun fire, the home of the first Tesla retail store.

That’s of course when I actually can see through the brown haze of smog hovering over the city.

Looking north, I know UCLA recently won a government grant to encourage its PhD students to work on environmentally friendly projects. And in a quiet neighborhood not far from the school, David Gelbaum runs the secretive Quercus Trust, one of the most prolific early stage cleantech investors anywhere in the world.

The research and development departments for the major domestic automakers, or at least the talent formerly employed by those companies, resides in Los Angeles as well.

And over the hills in Pasadena CalTech’s campus and the innovation enclave nurtured by firms such as Idealab flourish.

We’re fortunate to have such a rich environment for nurturing innovation. Yet a well-defined cleantech ecosystem has been slow to take off in this region. VC firms focusing on the industry find themselves traveling north to Silicon Valley to find startups and entrepreneurs feel stymied by a lack of intelligent investment dollars.

I’ll be discussing these and other issues on December 3rd with a distinguished panel of local experts, hailing from multiple perspectives in and around the cleantech business. Please consider joining us for the evening event.

>>Link to Event Page<<