By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
I am talking to Mark Lieberman, manager of regional economic development at the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles. He has also been managing Business Technology Center of Los Angeles County for the past nine years.
Irina: Hi, Mark. How did you arrive to this point in your life?
Mark: I grew up in New York City and spent my formative years there. I graduated from the City College with a political science degree, of all things, and worked as an international banker, and then went over and worked as chief operations officer for an international investment bank.
From New York, I decided to leave investment banking and came out to California, primarily, because I met the woman of my dreams. I started consulting and went back to school. I went back to Pepperdine and got an executive MBA and a doctorate in management of organizational change.
From there on I started consulting. I was consulting for a while, and unfortunately, due to some family circumstances, we had to cut back on hours. The position at the incubator came up. I guess that was quite fortuitous and seemed like it would be a fun position. A lot of people applied, and I was the one selected. And that was just about nine years ago.
So, about nine years ago I took over the incubator. Then, four or five years ago I was promoted to a managerial position for regional economic development, which encompassed the managing two incubators, a $100 million loan program and the State Enterprise Office.
Irina: OK, so now you are also in charge of regional economic development?
Mark: Right. We had a bit of change in staff at our incubator. I’m back in the project until we can find an appropriate replacement. So, right now I am doing regional economic development and incubation, yes. Incubation is my true love.
Irina: What is your official title right now?
Mark: My official title is manager, regional economic development, and the organization is the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles. The project that I am in right now is the Business Technology Center of Los Angeles County.
We believe it is the first incubator owned and operated by a county organization. This incubator is owned and operated by Los Angeles County.
Irina: What year was this incubator started?
Mark: In 1998. This is year 13.
Irina: Does this incubator have a particular industry preference?
Mark: We’re a technology incubator. We are focused on more of the hard sciences. We draw our clients from a number of research institutions in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles is known for its research, one being California Institute of Technology, or Cal Tech as it’s known.
There is the University of Southern California, USC. Also we have a federal lab, just a mile down the road, the Jet Propulsion Lab, JPL, which is part of NASA [the National Aeronautics and Space Administration].
We are also close to City of Hope [National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers] and UCLA – University of California Los Angeles – all primary research institutions.
Irina: What kind of businesses do you usually get in the incubator?
Mark: It varies. We have a very broad spectrum of clients running from game development and cloud computing to implantable sensors to 3D imaging for security, all the way up to even someone doing a high definition karaoke machine.
Irina: At what stage do you suggest a company apply for incubation with your program?
Mark: We tend to take a little bit of a later look at the companies. So, if someone just has an idea and hasn’t looked at where he can commercialize it, that would be too early for us.
We are looking at someone who probably has a prototype or has proof of the technology. We’re looking at someone who has looked at it in an industry and a potential market, hopefully has written – actually has written – a business plan, although I am not a fan of business plans. I can explain that to you later. But maybe someone who has a very good executive summary, but certainly someone who could talk about where their target market is.