5 Years of Innovate Pasadena

We reflect on the connections we’ve made and the people who’ve helped us make a difference.

On June 27, 2018, Innovate Pasadena celebrates five years of working to showcase Pasadena as the hub for technology, science, design, and entrepreneurship. When we looked back at where it all started, we realized that we’ve made a lot of connections along the way, going from a couple of people in a coffee shop to a network of thousands.

Back in 2012, a small group of Pasadena leaders set out to create a grassroots and volunteer-driven organization that could engage the entire community. Many planning sessions and partnerships later, Innovate Pasadena launched as a nonprofit organization to a full house of enthusiastic local entrepreneurs.

Why Innovation and Why Pasadena?

A longtime hotbed for innovative new technologies — from the rocket launch experiments of the 1930s, to the dotcom boom of the 1990s — Pasadena’s legacy had since been lost in the noise of the rise in Silicon Valley startups. The resources that contributed to the once-thriving ecosystem, however, still remained.

And so the city of Pasadena determined to help the group, making “innovation” one of the four key areas of focus identified in its Economic Plan (pg. 3). Co-founders Mike Giardello and Andy Wilson set out to put the plan into action with a strong vision: further stimulate and grow the innovation ecosystem in Pasadena.

“We have one of the most diverse ecosystems around, from software companies, to hardware companies, to hard science technology out of Caltech and JPL, to design driven opportunities out of the Art Center.”
— Mike Giardello (socaltech.com)

The organization started small, focusing on bringing people together and running local meetups. Some of the earliest programs produced — including Friday Morning Coffee Meetup, TechSparks pitch fests, and the Tech Leaders Forum — continue to operate to this day.

But these programs were just the beginning, a small step to the larger goal of bringing the larger community together. Pasadena was still often overlooked in the world of technology, design and science. One flagship event, thought the group, could help reach more people within the community.

In 2014 the group began planning an innovation week. But could this truly happen with a small team of volunteers and limited time to commit? After reaching out to other local organizations, securing venue locations, and planning the events, Innovate Pasadena had its first trial run at an innovation event series with Connect Weekend. With 14 events held at various locations over 4 days, the new series served to gauge community interest. Would anyone show up?

Connect ’14: URB-E riding, exploring through microscope, and VR playing

It turns out, the community was very interested, and the weekend series attracted nearly 2,500 attendees. The turnout was so overwhelming that the team went on to plan a week-long series in October 2014, and Connect Week was born, growing to 40 events and than 7,800 attendees by 2015.

This same year, IP introduced Leadership Council, a team of community members who would provide sponsorship and support. Later in 2015, IP held the Epic Failures Competition to promote the concept of innovation through experimentation. The competition showed how failures had helped provide paths to success, encouraging all with an entrepreneurial spirit to take risks. CloudSponge won the People’s Choice category, with GonnaBe snagging the Judges’ Award.

2015: Neon Retro Arcade joins Connect Week 2015. The Women Technology Leaders panel shared great insights about their experiences. The Epic Failures Competition, put a positive spin on taking risks and learning from mistakes on the path to success.

2016 was another busy year. To bring together a community, you need space. IP advocated to have Cross Campus open a new coworking location in Pasadena. WeWork moved into the AT&T building, and down the street in the Playhouse District, EpicSpaces (now BLANKSPACES) opened their doors. June saw the addition of Supplyframe’s new Supplyframe DesignLab, established to bring together inventors and entrepreneurs. Pasadena suddenly found itself with nearly 50,000 square feet of collaborative space where entrepreneurs could share ideas and grow by socializing among others who could provide resources or different perspectives.

L to R: NELAUX Happy Hour at Cross Campus, a presentation at EpicSpaces, Space Apps Kickoff party at Supplyframe DesignLab.

The highlight of 2016 was probably the continued growth of Connect Week: IP collaborated with Old Pasadena Management District and the City of Pasadena to officially unveil one of Old Pasadena’s well traveled alleys as “Big Bang Theory Way”. In fact, if you happen to be walking along Big Bang Theory Way, stop by CTRL Collective to visit the IP office space and say, “hi!” to the IP team.

Even more programs emerged as 2016 continued: IP co-hosted the Idea to Innovation (i2i) series with Caltech, bringing together students, faculty, and the outside community over topics like artificial intelligence and aerospace. Pasadena Tech Jobs matched local talent and student job-seekers with local tech companies. Collaborator Luncheons promoted community building among small grassroots groups and meetups.

2016: i2i, Pasadena Tech Jobs, and the christening of Big Bang Theory Way with the producers.

2017 showed no sign of slowing down. The numbers of new groups involved in the Meetup Creators program grew by leaps and bounds, with new and interesting topics added, like game design and development, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and living in space.

Connect Week 2017 included electric scooter races (attended by 200 supporters who cheered on the good-spirited rivalries), the IP Tech Ride which opened the doors to different tech startups around the city, and the Connect Festival in front of Pasadena City Hall. By now, Connect Week had grown to 87 events and more than 23,000 attendees.

2017: IP Friday Coffee continues to draw in crowds, URB-E competitors getting ready, Mr. Pasadena joining in the fun as our emcee.

2018 started with a fun collaboration with The Pasadena Playhouse. “Pirates, Innovation, and Rum” gave an opportunity for attendees to truly experience the stage up close and get a feel for the innovations taking place in stage and live entertainment — showing off Pasadena’s creative and cultural side. IP’s first in a series of new tech mixers launched in April, to much positive feedback from the growing community.

Now on June 27, 2018, we celebrate our 5th anniversary with the people we have met along the way, the companies that have supported our efforts, and the volunteers who have helped us achieve our goals.

Board members have come and gone, countless ideas have been exchanged, and our team has grown, but our mantra remains the same:

Pasadena is the city for all things innovative.

We look forward to many more years of Innovative Pasadena. Explore our newly-launched website on June 27th, or stay in touch on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. As always, #StayInnovativePas #StayInnovative