Pasadena is Fountainhead of Regional Innovative Technology, Nonprofit Leader Says

Mike Giardello, Founder and Chairman of Innovate Pasadena, calls the city an epicenter of innovation

Published : Monday, March 25, 2019 | 5:10 AM

Mike Giardello, a founder and the Chairman of Innovate Pasadena

Right here in Pasadena’s technology corridor, there are companies creating products that touch consumers around the world every day.

With assets like Caltech, Jet Propulsion, Idea Lab and other tech companies, Pasadena together with surrounding cities like Monrovia and Glendale are evolving into a leading U.S. technology region.

Robotics, pharmaceuticals, driverless vehicles, bioscience and sustainability and green tech are represented among the local companies.

One force behind the growth of the local high tech push is Innovate Pasadena, a non-profit organization that fosters and encourages funding in local tech companies.

At its core, Innovate Pasadena is often a tech matchmaker, bringing together entrepreneurs with funders and resources.

Mike Giardello, the co-founder and chairman of Innovate Pasadena, said the Pasadena area is an ever-developing tech “cluster.”

The Pasadena area has always had the technology talent and anchor institutions, Giardello said in an interview, but more recently investment has been driving growth and there is a significant ever-increasing number of tech companies succeeding. conducted the following Q & A with Mike Giardello to unpack his insights into Pasadena’s tech boom.

PN: With technology leaders like JPL and Caltech, Pasadena has a prominent spot on the technology map. Can you talk about the region and new innovations coming from the Pasadena area?

MG: When we look at Pasadena we don’t just put hard borders around Pasadena, because it’s a little unfair. We look at companies that are here in Pasadena that move out to Monrovia or Glendale or back and forth.  If you look at Xencor, the biotechnology company that started as a Caltech spinoff, they were in Pasadena, but they needed some additional, very significant space. They moved out to Monrovia. They’re a couple of billion-dollar biotech company now, they started in the mid-’90s.

We like to think of Pasadena as the epicenter of innovation.

PN: With the actual innovation what are we talking about here?

MG: The fountainhead. We spent a lot of time looking at innovation “clusters” and not only in the United States, but around the world. People talk about Silicon Valley. Look up north, there are numerous clusters. With most of those clusters there is some fountainhead of intellectual property and technology. And you know, if you look at Boston, of course you’ve got MIT and Harvard and other places in the Boston-Cambridge area.

You look here in Pasadena, it’s Caltech, JPL, also ArtCenter College of Design. Their footprint has grown tremendously over time. Now the [ArtCenter’s] south campus, which is just a couple of miles away from Caltech, is very significant and there’s a lot of interaction there because of design interacting with technology. That’s very important for things like robotics and a number of other innovations. So engineering, science, design, those things start to come together.

PN: What’s the latest thing that’s coming out of Caltech or JPL the public needs to know about that has come out of this cluster that we have?

MG: It’s hard to say latest because I take a little bit longer perspective, but GM Cruise has been in the news a lot. They acquired a company called Strobe, which came out of a JPL spinoff, so there was a spinoff out of JPL, which is called OE waves. They were a platform technology company and they’ve done lots of great stuff. That was a spinoff (Strobe), and then it got acquired by GM Cruise  and Cruise is now going to be opening up and expanding their facilities here in Pasadena because of that connection with JPL. So I think that’s one of the big ones, because autonomous vehicles are obviously at the forefront of a lot of things and in the news.

PN: So give me one example of something that a consumer might see five years from now that may have been developed or partially developed in Pasadena?

MG: What every consumer knows about are the cameras on their phones. And that’s all CMOS technology that came out of JPL. That’s something that people would never have thought about.

The DNA sequencer that came out of Caltech led to huge innovation in genomics and things have gone on since then. There have been a number of companies that have come out of Caltech that are working in applied biology and physics, aerospace. So I guess it’s really hard to point to one that consumers would have a direct relationship to, but they touch it all the time and don’t realize it. If you look at the next generation of 3D printers, for instance, there’s a company called polySpectra that came out of Caltech, out of Prof. Grubbs’ lab who’s a Nobel laureate there. That’s moving forward. It could be at the forefront of 3D printing for industrial applications in the next several years.

It’s really the applied technology that gets underappreciated because it’s not splashy. It’s not consumer based. Most of the technologies that come out of Caltech, GPL are really B2B technologies and not B2C technology.

When it’s B2C, it’s at the forefront of things. It’s in the news because people understand it and they’re there. But if you look at the next generation of therapeutics, the next generation of sensor technology, those are all B2B things that people don’t necessarily directly appreciate or really understand. It’s really behind-the-scenes.

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