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.
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.