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The Cutting Edge | SPECIAL REPORT: The Tech Coast 10

Local Leaders Making Waves on Tech Coast

April 12, 1999

In all of Southern California, the largest concentration of technology companies lies in the IRVINE CO.'s Irvine Spectrum center.

About 25,000 people work in 1,000 high-tech Irvine Spectrum businesses at the junction of the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways in Orange County, including scores of computer, software, biotechnology and medical device companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 firms.

Dick Sim, group president of investment properties for the Irvine Co., saw a high-tech future in what once was a 5,000-acre strawberry field. He envisioned buildings--incubator-style offices as small as 500 square feet--that would appeal to engineers who were tinkering with inventions in their garages.

As the companies grew, so did the Spectrum. Sim, 62, added 100 more buildings to accommodate everything from wet labs to clean rooms to light assembly to drafting tables to office space.

Over the last 15 years, that variety has been key to Irvine Spectrum's success.

"It gives us a lot of flexibility," he said. "If the computer business is down, you may have biotech and medical devices rolling. If all you have is computers and software, and that's down, you're in trouble."

Today, the Irvine Co. is developing University Research Park to accommodate another 100 companies on the northwest corner of UC Irvine. UCI faculty members screen potential tenants to gauge their interest in partnering with the school, and only companies that are UCI-approved are able to lease space.

Indeed, Sim said UCI could do for the Tech Coast what Stanford and UC Berkeley did for Silicon Valley.

"UCI will drive this in the future," he said. "If you're going to have a successful high-tech business center, you should be close to a major research institution."

The New Media Chief

As chairman of Disney's Buena Vista Internet Group, JAKE WINEBAUM is arguably the most powerful new media executive at the entertainment company with the most aggressive strategy for the Internet.

From his North Hollywood office, the 39-year-old Winebaum directs Disney's massive Internet presence. The new Go Network includes the Infoseek portal site; ABC news, sports and entertainment sites; ESPN sites, including official sites for the National Football League, the National Basketball Assn. and other professional organizations; and dozens of entertainment and family-oriented sites under the Disney banner. E-commerce sites are spread throughout the network.

Go Network is the fifth-most-popular property on the Web, with a monthly audience of nearly 22 million, according to Media Metrix. Nielsen/NetRatings estimates that Go Network's reach extends to 27% of the Web, compared with 16% for Time Warner, Disney's closest rival among major media companies.

Most of Buena Vista Internet Group's employees are based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Seattle, but more than 100 workers who focus on entertainment and marketing are located near Disney's Burbank headquarters. The Southern California crew is responsible for the critical--if intangible--qualities that make Go Network successful.

"Here, it's really the user experience--the look and feel--that we specialize in," Winebaum said.

In the process of building a model for other studios to follow, Winebaum has also played a critical role in building up the Tech Coast work force. Ever since Disney plunged into the Internet in early 1995, the company has been a target of recruiters from other local tech companies.

The Educator

One of the San Gabriel Valley's greatest high-tech assets is the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and one of Caltech's greatest assets is DAVID BALTIMORE.

As president of the world-renowned university, Baltimore, 61, is interested in turning out more than just science and engineering graduates. His personal goal is to produce high-tech companies as well.

The university is spinning off between six and 10 companies a year, but Baltimore said the number could go much higher.

To make it happen, would-be entrepreneurs need more commercial space around Pasadena. The Pasadena City Council has expressed its support for a biotech corridor, Baltimore said. To support these efforts, Caltech created a fund that university researchers can tap when they want to study the potential commercial applications of their discoveries.

Because moving technology from the lab to the private sector doesn't always require a new company, Caltech will step up its efforts to license technology to existing firms from its labs and from the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which the school manages for NASA.

Both efforts will create jobs for Caltech graduates--among others--and contribute to the local economy.

"There's tremendous opportunity here," Baltimore said. "My hope is if we can seed it here in Pasadena, it will spread in the San Gabriel Valley."

The Lawmaker

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