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  • Pasadena Gets a Spark!

    Over the past decade, a change has been in the air in Los Angeles.  Specifically, in the past two years, a startup ecosystem has come about as a result of both the concerted efforts of individuals driving towards a goal, and less surely, but equally importantly by entrepreneurs who were creating their own opportunities.

    Locals have seen evidence of the change in the myriad events around town - from hackathons with prize money to pitch events open to the public, to launch parties for budding companies, energy was high.  The fervor of activities was supplemented by the launch of coworking spaces, accelerators and incubators - something only heard of a few hours up the coast in years past.  (If you somehow missed the action I'm describing, check out this slide deck of Sam Teller from LaunchPad LA / General Assembly).


    Locals weren't the only ones noticing the activity; the Startup Genome Project recently ranked Los Angeles the number three startup ecosystem in the world in 2012!  (Download the full report here.)

    Living in Highland Park, and then Pasadena, I loved going to events in the startup space, all for fun and games, and because I thought it was good to see more people trying new things, and taking risks to work for themselves.  I was very content with my work at Energy Cache (ski lifts for rocks!), but loved hearing what other incredible things were being made.  

    Unfortunately, the closest of these events were 15 minutes' Metro ride away, and the others required a rush-hour dash over to Santa Monica.  It seemed that Pasadena wasn't even a bus-stop on the route of startups in Los Angeles.
    I didn't understand at first:

    Why isn't the young, raw talent being fused and funded by local success stories to create wonderful new things?


    Then I realized something that Brad Feld reinforced in a recent talk about Startup Communities (and in his book by the same name).  Brad notes that there aren't hard and fast rules about how these discrete happenings need to occur.  Anyone can run a tiny experiment (perhaps, launch a social gathering!), take some data (see if people show up), and then continue to evolve the idea (make it a monthly meeting!).  So Jennifer Chang and I decided to start down this path earlier in 2013, right here in Pasadena.


    We've found massive support both from the other startup ecosystem evangelists, as well as from those talented individuals slowly coming out of the woodwork, talking about their projects, and taking the plunge to pursue a passion full time.  

    Pasadena has amenable conditions to thrive as a successful startup community.  It has some incredible talent, it has some money to take risks, it has great weather and year-round access to diverse outdoor landscapes.

    The sky's the limit!  Perhaps we'll follow the Long Tail of business and offer specific SparkUps events for Tangible Products, and some for WebApps, and some for Social Enterprise ventures, and some for Game Theory.  We're not sure.  But we're here to test the Social Spark Theory (that we invented)  which states that when driven, smart people play games and socialize, they will spark big ideas that change the world.


    Come to our next SparkUp and put our theory to the test!

  • Welcome to TechSparks

    An idea is a powerful thing, and all ideas stem from people. 

    In March 2013, a couple of us had an idea. Holden Bonwit and I were talking about how most of the startup events in LA are in Santa Monica. The fact is, while there is a vibrant startup community in Pasadena, as everyone knows, LA traffic is horrible, and most of us can't make the trek from Pasadena to Santa Monica by 6PM on a weeknight. This conversation sparked an idea: If we want more startup events in Pasadena, wouldn't others? 

    We decided to invite other people in the community to discuss this over lunch at Idealab. We had about 15 people show up, from all of the Idealab operating companies and from other startups in the area, to talk about the idea of starting a new organization that would put together events for the local startup community. From that informal lunch meeting on March 8, 2013, TechSparks emerged. 

    Like all great ideas, this one had a mind of its own. Soon after we decided to start TechSparks, Tom McGovern, Managing Director at Idealab, introduced to Pasadena Innovation Council, a group of entrepreneurs looking to unify the local startup community. Pasadena Innovation Council liked the idea, and we decided to form as an extension of their existing non-profit entity. Idealab also liked the idea of mobilizing our local community and jumped on as our first sponsor. The Idealab Design team helped us out with picking a name and designing a logo. A few days after our first TechSparks meeting, I serendipitiously met Media Temple's VP of Marketing, Todd Greene, in the valet parking line at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica. He liked the idea, and as a result of that conversation, Media Temple became a sponsor of TechSparks. When it came to picking a venue for TechSparks events, we checked out numerous locations on Colorado Blvd and really liked the 2nd floor of Barney's Beanery in Pasadena because it could accommodate our group as it grew. As chance would have it, I already knew the owner of Barney's Beanery, David Houston. When I reached out to David, I found out he is working on a tech startup called Abicam and was excited to host the Pasadena startup community at his restaurant. We rounded out our sponsors with Signworks USA, a company started by a couple of my childhood friends and that provides printing and web services to small businesses.

    I tell you this story because it's a testament to the power of an idea and demonstrates how good ideas are sparked and cultivated when people come together. That is how TechSparks came to be, and that is what we hope to accomplish by putting together these events. 

    We look forward to hosting all of you at our TechSparks Sparkups, a monthly mixer at Barney's Beanery. Sparkups won't have a formal agenda, but rather, we'd like you to come make it your own. The TechSparks Steering Committee will be responsible for providing the infrastructure - sponsors, venue, marketing, demo schedule, etc. - but TechSparks is about providing the Pasadena startup community a social forum to interact and collaborate, so that you may spark some new ideas that change the world as we know it. 

    With Spark, 

    Jennifer Chang
    Director of Strategic Marketing at Perfect Market
    Steering Committee Member of TechSparks