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A conversation with EPIC prize winner Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator: 

OTT: Congratulations on receiving $50,000 as part of OTT’s EPIC prize! First, please tell us a little more about your company/who you are.

Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator: Thank you! The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) is creating an inclusive green economy by: unlocking innovation through working with startups to accelerate the commercialization of clean technologies; transforming markets through partnerships with policymakers, innovators and market leaders in transportation, energy and sustainable cities; and enhancing communities through workforce development, pilots and other programs. My name is Mayte Sanchez and I work in our Market Transformation team as LACI’s Energy Director where I oversee our energy initiatives that support the region’s clean energy entrepreneur ecosystem. I have a background in energy policy having worked on legislation that provided financial incentives for solar rooftop on multifamily affordable housing and advanced initiatives that assisted the clean electric grid transition with the California Independent System Operator.

OTT: Will you give us a brief description of your winning program plan?

LACI: LACI proposed to expand regional innovation by leveraging key partnerships with academic institutions, community-based organizations, local electric utilities, and U.S. incubator and accelerator peers in order to identify market opportunities in the energy- transportation nexus and distributed energy resources landscape and  support the growth of a diverse set of clean energy startups in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Orange Counties.

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EPIC Blog - LACI Video
EPIC Blog - LACI Video

OTT: How has this program impacted your region/local community?

LACI: This program has bolstered LACI’s operations in the midst of the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis as we transitioned to virtual engagement with our partners to drive innovation in the Southern California Region. With this program, we have been able to provide virtual workshops to our startups on key topics like Business Formation and Grant Writing, host virtual events with regional partners, and bring together our startups and investors through virtual Investor Talks.

OTT: When it comes to lessons learned with building out your regional innovation ecosystem, what is one thing that has worked and one thing that has not?

LACI: As we have built out our regional innovation ecosystem, we have successfully been intentional about building out an inclusive green economy.  To ensure we build an inclusive green economy, we developed best practices and metrics that incorporated diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work. Over the past couple of years, this has allowed us to increase the number of diverse startup founders in our programs, deploy clean technology pilots in communities most burdened by air pollution, and launch the Nation’s first Equity Earnback Program which provides our startups the opportunity to earn a portion of their equity back in exchange for higher environmental, social, and economic impact metrics.

When working towards the inclusive green economy, one area where we want to continue to improve is how we facilitate the collaboration between cleantech startups and local community organizations when they do pilots together. For example, startups often come in with fully-baked technologies and slick pitches, whereas many community members are unfamiliar with the technology and looking for co-creative opportunities and dialogue, which can  lead to confusion and unclear expectations between parties who are working together on a pilot. In the future, we're planning trainings for our startups so that they are better prepared to work with local under-resourced communities when designing and implementing pilots.

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Female Founders Focus Group - LACI hosted a female founder focus group to get feedback on how to better support them.
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OTT: What does it mean to be an accelerator/incubator during the coronavirus pandemic? What is one lesson learned from this virtual experience?

LACI: Being an incubator during the coronavirus pandemic has really put at the forefront the importance of our work as we work to accelerate the adoption of clean technologies. The pandemic highlighted the longstanding racial, environmental, and economic inequalities in our country and underscored the necessity to ensure we acknowledge and solve for these inequalities at the core of our programs. Along these lines, at the beginning of this year,  we published a report on the landscape of green jobs in LA and provided local, state, and federal recommendations on equitable and inclusive workforce investment as we navigate out of the current economic crisis.

One lesson we learned from this virtual experience is the power of everyone who makes up the Southern California Ecosystem. People who visit LACI’s headquarters often laud the campus. While we still see the value of being on campus with one another, we have also come to have a greater appreciation that at the core it’s the people who make the campus exceptional.

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Curriculum Workshop - LACI held a workshop for their startups on Business Formation.

OTT: How can we stay up to date on the latest news or events with your company?

LACI: You can stay up to date with LACI at the following places:

  • Website
  • Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram: @laincubator
  • Facebook: @LACIncubator

Thank you LACI! Congrats again on being selected as an EPIC prize winner!

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