Spotlight: LA Tech Winter

By Mara Peterson

I was thrilled to be a part of the lucky few to secure a ticket to “Spotlight: LA Tech Winter,” a quarterly event hosted by TechZulu that showcases the latest and greatest startups from the Los Angeles tech community.  Excitement grew with the arrival of local entrepreneurs, students, investors and other courageous Angelinos who braved the rush hour traffic to gather and share ideas in the name of technology.  To my right sat an investor at a small scale VC firm enthusiastic to find his next portfolio company.  To my left sat a CEO of a startup, his first of many from the enthusiastic words that rolled off his tongue a mile a minute.

In short, this event truly captured the essence of the LA tech scene and serves as a great reminder of the growth of an economic force in the region that really didn’t blossom until quite recently.

A few highlights from the “5-minute demos” that featured some of the cutting-edge startups:

1)   Crowd Seats, a Groupon-esque website in its early stages, features daily deals on sporting events (up to 50% off).  So far, major partnership teams include the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Nets and the New York Yankees. Daily-deal enthusiasts and sports fans alike have been waiting for this one, which can be accessed on the web or on multiple mobile platforms.

2)   Rapid Fire Trivia, a multi-platform website, offers wagering and non-wagering trivia games for sports, entertainment, history, science, geography — you name it.  The company has already created partnerships with CBS, MGM and the Dallas Cowboys and is growing rapidly.  With its wide range of topics and compatibility with tablets and smartphones, what better way for users to tap into their inner geek to win some money!

3)   Leftronic, a site that provides custom metrics for business websites in a dashboard format, enables businesses to track their social media following, website visitors, Google analytics, etc. all in one personalized, customizable space.  The best part about the company’s presentation? When asked by an audience member what business model they use to make money they responded, “Uh, we charge people.”

The final “superdemo” featured Bill Gross from Idealab, a firm dedicated to tech innovation started by Bill Gross, a veteran in the tech community from the early days of software like Lotus and HAL.  Bill had some wise words to pass onto the entrepreneurs in the crowd about his successes and failures over the years.  One was “Test, Test, Test”—testing the product you’re trying to sell with actual consumers is a surefire way to determine whether people want what you’re trying to sell.  Another was “Find Essential Partners.” The best startups, according to Bill, are those where the team at the top has complimentary skills, contrary to the belief that the people you work best with are those that are like you.  Finally, when asked by the audience what Los Angeles needs in order to create a more robust tech community comparable to Silicon Valley, Bill responded, “More get-togethers; more events to bring together the entrepreneurs here in LA. We have the money pouring in and job stability in the tech market.  More things happening in LA will lead to a greater success factor.”  Right on, Bill.

The undercurrent from the event is that the tech world is decidedly mobile these days.  Even if you’re building a website like Leftronic, you still need to be optimized for the myriad of mobile devices people are using at a dizzying rate.

Whether I’m talking with consumers or app developers, one issue that needs to be addressed at both an educational level and a policy level is spectrumLet’s not go back to the days of our garage door openers being the latest and greatest in the “tech” world.  It’s time to unleash a new level of innovation that is only possible through greater enhancements in mobile technology.  Without companies like Apple developing platforms used on mobile devices, we’d be missing out on roughly 500,000 jobs created in just 5 years.  This is just the tip of the iceberg if (IF!) we get the spectrum we need to sustain and fuel our networks.

Where are the next 1.5 million jobs going to come from and how fast can they get here?  Companies like Crowd Seats, Rapid Fire Trivia and Leftronic provide much more hope than some of our favorite blue chip stocks from the garage door opener times of the past.