Building OC’s Version of Austin’s South by Southwest
By Bill Carpou, CEO of Octane | as featured in Orange County Business Journal’s OC Leaderboard on March 20, 2023 Back in 2019, Octane led a coalition of organizations across southern California to create an OC Innovation Week with the anchor being in Orange County. The idea was driven by the success Austin, Texas has had with South by Southwest (SXSW) and Denver with Startup Week and an opportunity existed to put Orange County in the center of a weeklong series of events reflecting the innovation of our region. Then COVID happened and the idea of an in-person week of activities collapsed. Now in 2023, OC innovation Week is finally becoming a reality during the week of May 8th. Led by Octane, UCI Beall Applied Innovation, the Orange County Business Council, the Irvine Chamber, and the City of Irvine, the structure has come together with Octane’s annual Tech Innovation Forum being used as the anchor event. the plan is to have entrepreneurs, investors, and industry leaders convene in Orange County for a week that will highlight our region as a global hub of innovation while also surrounding the business portion with entertainment and networking opportunities. SXSW, which began in 1987, typically lasts 10 days and includes music and film as well as potential investment opportunities in emerging technologies. the event, which officially ended March 19, was expected to attract hundreds of thousands. What makes the annual events in Austin and Denver stand out? Both SXSW and Denver startup Week have been successful as they are supported by the city of Austin, city of Denver and state governments. We are working with and encouraging Irvine and other cities in OC to become financially engaged in delivering the many benefits that OC Innovation Week will have for their economy, residents and businesses. We need city government to be part of this. Six Imperatives Octane has identified six imperatives for a high performing innovation ecosystem.
- Innovation and ideas are driven by serial entrepreneurs, core technologies and our great universities.
- Capital access through relationships with institutional, strategic and private investors.
- Infrastructure, which considers the collective output of the regions incubators, accelerators, lab space and professional advisers.
- Community where leadership is provided by individuals, large corporations, middle market companies and both state and local governments.
- Growth resources, to provide growth capital, operational expertise, shared services and talent that will accelerate a company to revenue.
- Center of gravity where industry expertise, relevant content, diverse workspaces all with a national and global reach exists. There can be more than one center of gravity in a region with abundant resources such as Orange County.
We have all the proper ingredients to bring this from concept to reality. When I first became the CEO of Octane eight years ago, I had a significant number of individuals try to convince me that Orange County did not have an ecosystem. That was only partially true. We have always had the proper ingredients for a world class innovation hub but lacked the collaboration that would result in collective impact. The pieces were operating independently, in some cases competing with each other, which resulted in a dysfunctional ecosystem. Much of that has changed since that time as coalitions have been formed that are creating high impact results. Octane portfolio companies alone created 5,073 new high-paying jobs in 2022 along with adding $1.6 billion of capital to these companies. In a recently announced partnership with the Paul Merage School of Business at UCI, we have established resources from both organizations to help early-stage companies on their journey providing a clear road map of the many organizations that can help support and accelerate that journey. Many startups focus only on raising capital, so a combined objective is to make capital more accessible and provide the resources for that company to secure customers and revenue thus improving sustainability options and investor returns. OC Innovation Week will build upon other initiatives occurring such as Irvine Startup Week and the many events incubators, accelerators and universities already have. While SXSW is famous for music, film and food, we intend to start with a three-day event that emphasizes emerging technology and their entrepreneurs. We’re aiming to attract 850 to 1,000 attendees. The goal of our coalition is to have entertainment, food, fun events into the program by 2025 with some most likely inserted in 2024. We want to see a week of innovation and entertainment in a festival atmosphere that will draw an international audience. The goal is to establish by 2025 a brand, well recognized internationally as a destination to come and learn what is trending new, how that technology will change the way we work and live, and of course provide investment opportunities for both public and private investors. The Challenge Orange County has a capital access challenge where only 13% of the capital required by startups is headquartered in our region. By default, a founder needs to find capital in other areas, with Boston, New York and the Bay area being three regions that invest heavily in Orange County companies. In 2015, Octane founded and currently is a general partner of Visionary Ventures which is the most active fund for eyecare companies. Later, elevation Ventures was created using the same formula and a focus on sustainability and climate tech. The current schedule will be for OC Innovation Week to kick off on Tuesday May 9th at noon where 40 companies will present to invited investors at the UCI Beall applied innovation Center. The objective is to utilize the technology at Bai to also bring investors into the discussion across the country and internationally. Goldman Sachs will host a gathering for the top performing companies. the following day, Wednesday, May 10th, the venue will shift to AV Irvine in the spectrum area as Octane produces the annual Technology Innovation Forum on both Wednesday and Thursday. The agenda for all activities can be found at our website: octaneoc.org Thursday will be capped off by an event focused to the next generation of leaders across Orange County at a location in Laguna Beach to be determined shortly. Since this is the first year, the concept of OC Innovation Week first discussed several years ago will continue to evolve adding entertainment elements as we work towards 2025 when the entire week will be filled with thought leadership to attract investors, entrepreneurs, industry and those who want to participate in the technologies shaping our future. Now is a great time for all participating in the future of Orange County to join this coalition and help in elevating the external perspective of the types of companies being created across the community. During Innovation Week, come join us and support the work being done by many organizations across Orange County. For more information, see https://octaneoc.org/tech-innovation-forum. GET ACCESS AND READ THE FULL ORANGE COUNTY BUSINESS JOURNAL ARTICLE HERE. VISIT PAGE 59 FOR THE OC LEADERBOARD.