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The Cutting Edge | SPECIAL REPORT: The Tech Coast 10

High Time for High Tech? Experts Ponder Southland's Possibilities


Southern California's high-tech companies are in the midst of a notable growth streak. But where is the Tech Coast headed, and where should it be going?

To answer those questions, The Cutting Edge invited some of the Tech Coast's most influential people to breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles to discuss the future of technology in Southern California.

The group consisted of David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology; state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey); Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who is shifting his focus to Los Angeles; Garry Betty, chief executive of EarthLink Network; Jon Goodman, executive director of EC2, a high-tech business incubator at USC; Alfred Mann, who founded MiniMed and several other biotechnology firms; Rohit Shukla, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance; and Dick Sim, the Irvine Co. executive responsible for building the Irvine Spectrum and University Research Park in Orange County.

They were joined by Times Business Editor Bill Sing, Senior Economics Editor James Flanigan, Technology Editors Lisa Fung and Bill Loving and reporters Karen Kaplan and Ashley Dunn.

What follows are highlights from the hourlong discussion. A full transcript is available on The Times' Web site at

Times: You've all done various things in your own spheres to try to boost the technology industry here in Southern California. What do you think is the potential for the industry here? Should Southern California try to be the next Silicon Valley, or should the goal be something different?

Bowen: I don't think our goal should be to be Silicon Valley. We're more entertainment-applications-oriented, and we have the legacy of the aerospace industry. That's very different from what Silicon Valley has.

Draper: The reason we're coming down to Los Angeles is that this is a very exciting time. The world economy is opening up with the Internet, and once the infrastructure is built out, all of this great content is going to have to be placed on the Internet and we will have a whole new platform with which to entertain. With the pulling together of Hollywood entertainment and the technology in Silicon Valley, we have the possibility of being the next big industry.


Times: There are lots of people who say that technology already is the next big industry in Southern California--but that the general public just doesn't know about it.

Sim: That's right. In Orange County, we have five major clusters--computers, software, medical devices, biomedical and a huge automobile design center. Most of the other areas, like Austin or Silicon Valley, have only two clusters. For us to emerge with five clusters I think is fantastic.


Times: The biological sciences have become essential in Northern California and San Diego. What are the possibilities here in Los Angeles and Orange County?

Baltimore: The possibilities are enormous. We have great educational institutions here, and we have a number of successful companies. The largest biotechnology company in the world [Amgen] is here in the Los Angeles area. There's a desire on the part of the hospitals and the institutions to spawn a much larger biotech industry in L.A.

Mann: I'm chairman of the Southern California Biomedical Council, and our objective is to try to build a biotech/biomed base here in the Greater Los Angeles area. There are some very exciting companies here, but the biggest problem for them has been the inability to raise capital. So we're trying to create a biomedically oriented venture capital community down here.

One of the other problems is finding space. I've been involved with Cal State University, Northridge, on their North Campus project, with the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles to try to organize a biomedical center there, with Pierce College, with Harbor-UCLA [Medical Center], and we're looking into what we can do at USC around the health sciences campus. There are a lot of opportunities for us--we just have to organize it.

Draper: To build out a region, there are a lot of things that have to come together. We're trying to emulate some of the things that work in Silicon Valley and then adapt them to Los Angeles. In Silicon Valley, we have a venture capital community, and in Los Angeles they are pretty much spread to the winds. I'm encouraging them to congregate--or at least get to know each other well--so they can share deals and work together.

Goodman: Welcome to Los Angeles. Our venture capitalists have known each other and worked with each other for years, and I hope they don't get as close as the Silicon Valley guys did. We're talking about lemmings over a cliff. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It is certainly not the sincerest form of creativity or intellectual attainment.

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