By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
Irina: Could you give an example of what kind of entrepreneurs you would like to see applying to your incubator?
Mark: Yes. I am looking at a spin-out at a university where they might have had an SBIR [Small Business Innovation Research Program] grant or an STTR grant [ Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program]. They made a prototype. They have approached a couple of companies to figure out if there is a market there.
They have a few dollars to pay, because we do charge rent to be here. That’s our primary source of income. They’re ready to commercialize, but they are scientists. They know their science, but are unsure about the business aspects of the things. They may have made an attempt at writing a business plan or have some good PowerPoint presentations and can talk about potential market. That is the stage at which we like to see them.
Irina: How many companies have been incubated since the incubator started?
Mark: I started to do a count, and I got over 100 and then stopped counting. But I think that we have incubated more than 100. We have probably helped in at this point with multiple interviews and multiple consultations, which, of course, we don’t charge for, probably, we’ve helped more than 1,000 companies.
We have over 20 companies in the incubator right now. And we generally will range from 22 to 28 companies at any given time. Of course, it depends on the stage of development and how long they have been here. That’s part of what we excel at, enabling the entrepreneurs to grow within the space without having to take on the extra risk of real estate.
Irina: What are your core benefits?
Mark: There is a number of things that we provide. I can divide it up into two pieces. One, of course, is the facility. If you know anything about Los Angeles, we are located in a very nice area, right outside of Pasadena, which is a suburb of the city of Los Angeles.
There’s a lot of technology going on right here, right in this area. Cal Tech and Jet Propulsion Lab are right here. We are right between the two, so we are a mile and half from JPL – or a mile from JPL – and three miles from Cal Tech. We’re well situated. It’s a large technology community here.
What we offer is we have a 40,000 square foot building. We offer subsidized rents, so rent is much cheaper than going market rates. We offer reduced risk for the entrepreneurs. They come in and they take on the space that they need. They don’t have to think about what they might need a year from now, two years from now.
We’ll absorb that risk; we hold 10% of our space available for companies to grow. We have space on demand. Need another office? We supply them with another office. Need to downsize an office? Thirty days’ notice, they can downsize.
There are no personal guarantees, and the price, again, is below market. There is nothing there. We have no low charges, so there is no paying for common space. We have three conference rooms that they don’t pay for.
We have high-speed Internet, a telephone system, and FedEx postage. They pay for what they use. Everything is right here, so they don’t need an operations person. We take care of that. The entire risk of facility is out of the equation. That’s the facility part. That is the easy part for anybody to understand.
The service part comes in a number of different packets. Number one, because everybody here is doing technology, all the entrepreneurs are in the same position. A huge community is built, and you can’t discount the effect of community when everybody is commercializing and working together.
Two, of course, we do a lot of mentoring. We have a team of about 40 volunteers mentors, so it comes from the private community, who dedicate their time to mentor the companies. Clearly, the companies that come in earlier need more hand-holding than companies that are in the later stages are getting ready to leave. But we are willing and able to mentor them at all stages, and we have the expertise to do that.
We also provide a network. We have been around a long time, and we are experienced. Our mentors and advisors open up their contact lists and make introductions. We walk people into their doors with strategic partners.