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Silicon Beach Fest highlights evolution of L.A.'s tech scene

June 20, 2013|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • Bee Ottinger, right, founder of SnapCuts, makes a pitch for her company in the start-up showcase semifinals competition during Silicon Beach Fest.
Bee Ottinger, right, founder of SnapCuts, makes a pitch for her company… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

Hundreds of start-up tech developers and others converged in Santa Monica this week for Silicon Beach Fest, seeking to raise money from investors, build industry contacts and gain exposure for their companies.

The four-day tech and entertainment festival, which runs through Saturday, is intended to promote the fast-growing entrepreneurial community in the greater Los Angeles area.

Local tech leaders have cheered the event, now in its second year. It includes start-up showcases, parties and panels on topics including app creation and development, crowd-funding, mobile advertising and legal and public relations help for start-ups.

Much of the focus of the festival, based in downtown where new tech companies have amassed in recent years, is on L.A.'s tech strengths in e-commerce, entertainment, gaming and advertising technology.

"It's a unique fest that's shaped and formed by what we already have," festival director Kevin Winston said. "We're not trying to be anything else."

Winston estimated that about 3,000 people will attend the festival and related events, a 50% increase over last year's fest. More than 100 start-ups are involved.

Although the inspiration for Silicon Beach Fest came from the popular South by Southwest Interactive conference, the L.A. version has a ways to go before it gains similar scale or clout.

The event got off to a shaky start Wednesday: Badges weren't ready to be picked up, a start-up demo day event began late and someone apparently hacked the Silicon Beach Fest website, preventing attendees from checking the event schedule.

Several attendees also complained that the festival was hardly a serious event. They noted the lack of a high-profile keynote speaker and the emphasis on parties and networking. Many pointed out that a number of L.A.'s most promising start-ups, including Snapchat in Venice, weren't involved.

"I think they have a lot of good intentions; it's one of the only events that galvanizes the whole tech community," said TX Zhuo, managing partner at Karlin Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund in Los Angeles. "But I think we need more established companies and thought leaders and interest from up north."

Supporters, however, point out that the festival is only a year old.

"Last year's Silicon Beach Fest was really an important event for our start-up community," said Dan Dato, a co-founder of Cross Campus, a Santa Monica co-working space that is hosting many of this year's panels.

"For a lot of us who have been involved in building companies here and have seen the struggles, Silicon Beach Fest marked a point of maturation for our community," Dato said. "We started to see momentum."

Others are noticing, too.

Former Los Angeles resident Kelly Krause, a spokeswoman for the Interactive portion of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, swung by the festival. She said she was surprised by how much the tech scene had evolved in just the three years she's been away.

"It's more tight-knit," she said. "It's exciting to see a bigger tech contingency."

That was a sentiment echoed throughout Silicon Beach Fest, especially by early-stage companies looking to build buzz.

Many developers participated in events designed to showcase the region's newest start-ups, including FilmBreak, a data-driven marketing platform for filmmakers and studios co-founded by Darren Marble, its chief executive.

"It's important to be dialed into the ecosystem and know what's going on," Marble said Thursday after completing a three-minute pitch of his company to a panel of judges. "There's a start-up renaissance happening in Los Angeles. It's definitely the right time to roll the dice."

Silicon Beach Fest is run by Digital LA, a tech and entertainment networking organization that hosts panels and mixers throughout the year. Digital LA was founded by Winston, the festival director. He has become a fixture on L.A.'s tech scene in his ubiquitous red shirts and red-rimmed sunglasses.

After the success of last year's event, Winston added a day to this year's event to make room for additional speakers and sessions spread out among various meeting places in the area. Full pass tickets cost $399.

As he did last year, Winston plans to hold a follow-up, one-day event in the fall, tentatively planned for downtown Los Angeles "to show the fact that Silicon Beach Fest refers to all of L.A., not just the beach."

andrea.chang@latimes.com

Twitter: @byandreachang

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