Explaining Southern California's economy

DeBord Report sits down with Idealab's Bill Gross

Idealab

Michael Juliano/KPCC

Matt DeBord talks with Idealab founder Bill Gross.

I've written about Idealab, a well-known incubator in Pasadena, before. I've even visited the place and taken pictures! But I hadn't ever had the opportunity to sit down with founder and CEO Bill Gross. KPCC's crack video crew and I recently rectified that.

Gross is a compulsive inventor and entrepreneur — and one of Southern California's true business leaders. He started his first company in high school, selling solar energy kits. He then created a few more companies before founding Idealab in 1996.

Idealab has gestated numerous companies, including Citysearch, Picasa, and Shop.com. It's kind of tucked away on the northern edge of Old Town Pasadena, but it has an influence far beyond the Southland. Both because the incubator concept has become increasingly important for the startup ecosystem, as investors become much more discriminating about the maturity and potential of companies they want to invest in; and because Idealab is working on some projects that could have a significant impact on well-being in the developing world.

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Building the biomedical future in Orange County

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Matthew DeBord

TechPortal Orange will provide space and access to services in an incubator environment. The location at the UC Irvine Medical Center campus provides startups with the opportunity to work with high-level medical talent.

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Matthew DeBord

TechPortal Orange occupies space on the second floor of a building at the UC Irvine Medical Center campus. Startups in residence at the incubator will also have access to additional labs.

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Matthew DeBord

Jacob Levin, PhD, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Research Development at the UC Irvine Office of Research. He has been instrumental in setting up the TechPortal Orange incubator.

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Matthew DeBord

This is where cutting-edge biomedical research will be transformed into commercial applications.

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Matthew DeBord

The "wet" lab area has room for 14 individual companies. More complex equipment is located elsewhere in the building. The overall space is 3,100 square feet.

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Matthew DeBord

Each 150-square-foot lab area has bench space for 4 researchers, as well as instruments for cell culture, microscopy, biochemistry, and molecular biology.

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Matthew DeBord

Valves! Biomedical research may be high-tech, but there are still some elements that are sooooo 20th century.


There's a problem in the venture capital world. The amount of venture funding flowing into startups has been reduced by the financial crisis, but VCs are still looking to make money off new technology businesses. Biotech is another story. A mobile application or social networking website can turn to gold far quicker than a biomedical play. 

"[Information] technology has faster exits than biomedical," said Dr. Jacob Levin, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Research Development at the UC Irvine Medical Center. "The burden of the FDA approval process isn't there. It can take eight years to get a new technology or treatment approved."

According to Levin, the dreaded "valley of death" — the point at which a startup moves from early stage funding to more serious investment, commercialization, and revenue — for biomedical is "expanding." This is a major challenge in Southern California, where biotech is often viewed as the region's answer to Silicon Valley's tech juggernaut.

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