SoCal is reinventing how we reach for the stars

By Steve Gilison

As an Alliance devoted to “innovation”, we’ve done a lot of thinking about the meaning of the word and how to best harness it to create economic gain for the region. Last year we engaged Bulldog Drummond, an extremely talented brand agency based in San Diego, to help us articulate the power and essence of SoCal’s unique innovation ecosystem. Among the many insights they uncovered, here’s one that has proven prescient:

“Whether it was Hollywood of the 50s, the cultural revolution of the 60s, the green movement of the 70s or the tech revolution of the last few decades, SoCal innovators have always lived and breathed new ideas. From Santa Barbara to San Diego, Irvine to Riverside — different orientations, backgrounds, perspectives, expertise and passions come together to create something new. So, whether it’s a team of scientists pushing the frontiers of the human experience in Sorrento Valley or a group of astrophysicists imagining and designing the next generation of space exploration in El Segundo, SoCal’s diverse community is working together to create and commercialize some of the world’s most radically different ideas.”

The collaboration and collisions described above is an integral part of what makes SoCal so compelling as an innovation hub. It’s even more exciting when we see the unique ingredients in the region combine to create something brand new that could only really be built in SoCal. Take for example, the recently formed consortium focused on “the next generation of space exploration” which includes large corporations like Lockheed Martin, SAIC, and Aerospace Corp plus JPL and the U.S. Air Force and, wait for it…Techstars and the Starburst Accelerator based in El Segundo (see, I told you it was prescient). What makes this accelerator program so interesting — and potentially groundbreaking — is its ability to enable incumbent industry leaders to be part of the disruption and provide startups with resources they’d never be able to acquire on their own. You can’t just launch a satellite even if you’re Elon Musk…ok fine, he managed to figure it out, but you get the point.

The takeaway for me is that this region’s orientation is to welcome new ideas and that thinking different is embedded in the culture. Add to this our powerful instinct to collaborate within our communities, even if that has traditionally coalesced around an industry or a neighborhood (we’ve begun calling them “nodes”). In the example above, the aerospace industry is one of SoCal’s oldest and most enduring hubs of innovation, so it comes as no surprise that it has embraced the region as the place where it too can reinvent itself.

Side Note: it is hard to imagine the space accelerator program would have been created without the advocacy efforts of the members of the Space Ventures Coalition, an industry-focused affiliate of the Alliance whose mission is to connect startups and academic discoveries to the space industry. Kudos to Andre, Richard and the gang on this big win for the region!

Steve Gilison is Head of Programs and Operations at the Alliance for SoCal Innovation. You can also find him on Linkedin.