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Development center for tech start-ups launches in Los Angeles

June 13, 2013|By Adolfo Flores

When tech entrepreneurs look back at their bumpy launches, a common lament is, “If only I had known.”

To shorten the list of regrets for the next Snapchat or Facebook, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Administration on Thursday launched Bixel Exchange, a small-business development center focusing on technology start-ups.

The center aims to help the Southland’s proliferating new tech entrepreneurs by offering mentors and classes and by advocating for them in government. Just as important, said Sean Arian of the chamber of commerce, entrepreneurs will be connected with large companies that could one day buy their products or their entire ventures.

These services will fill gaps in the Los Angeles tech scene, said Arian, vice president of innovation for the chamber of commerce.

“Despite the fertile ecosystem that L.A. has in the tech industry, there seems to be a lot more to be done,” Arian said.

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During a soft launch, the Bixel Exchange held a course and workshop on crowdfunding that attracted about 120 people.

At Bixel Exchange, companies like Los Angeles-based Connu will have free access to intellectual property lawyers and angel investors. Connu has been working with the center for the last few months, developing a publishing platform that aims to deliver top-notch writers’ stories and recommendations to avid readers via smartphones and tablets.

The center brought in mentors — experts in entertainment and engineering — to help Connu’s founders develop their business plan. They were also able to meet investors and get advice on raising seed money.

Connu Chief Executive Susannah Luthi, who likens her product to Pandora for readers, said the company would have been months behind schedule without the help they received.

“Basically, we were the recipients of all their knowledge,” Luthi said. “They got us through the whole process. It’s very unusual to have that kind of mentorship, which was key.”

The center is getting help from about 15 partners including TechZulu, a tech news organization, and L.A. Cleantech Incubator, a nonprofit business incubator. The center also built partnerships with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and corporations such as Warner Bros.

The SBA and Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce split the cost of running the center, which should be $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

“We hope we’re putting in place an organization that can be dynamic enough to keep up with changes in the community,” Arian said. “I would hope to see Los Angeles become a booming tech community, where L.A. is acknowledged as the tech capital of the world.”

Bixel Exchange is based downtown, but almost no activity is to take place there. Instead, the center will rove throughout the region, moving from office to office on different days.

It makes sense to create a center to foster tech start-ups in Los Angeles, Manatt Digital Media Ventures CEO Peter Csathy said, given the city’s status as the entertainment capital of the world.

The Bixel Exchange mentor recalled that during a recent trip to New York, an investor said he was setting his sights on Los Angeles because it was “hot, hot, hot” for start-ups.

“The tech community and digital community is expanding rapidly in this brave new world of digital media,” Csathy said. “L.A. is absolutely the home of digital media because at the end of the day, content is king, relationships do matter and that’s right here.”

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adolfo.flores@latimes.com | Follow Adolfo Flores on Twitter.

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