Macala Wright: A Field Guide To Innovation In Los Angeles

Macala Wright: A Field Guide To Innovation In Los Angeles

In L.A. innovating means providing a better quality of life for the city’s inhabitants across public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Macala Wright

Los Angeles is a city ripe with innovation, from technology  to social enterprise.

Innovation “propels us forward, it creates jobs and raises standards of living,” according to Marco Annunziata, Chief Economist for General Electric. When it comes to to social growth within an urban city environment, innovation happens when someone happens upon an idea and is able to make it better. Within Los Angeles, innovating means providing a better quality of life for the city’s inhabitants across public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Los Angeles, A City of Collaborative Innovation

In LA, from economic development to cultural arts, technology to philanthropy, innovators bringing about change all share these three passions:

  1. They share a mindset of inclusivity, not exclusivity.

  2. They possess a strong sense of community, not just self.

  3. They have a passion for social good, as well as social enterprise.

What’s more, these innovators are bringing about change without foregoing the eclectic individuality intrinsic to Los Angeles’ culture today. It’s these new ways of thinking combined with a collaborative and community-oriented mindset that is enabling LA to expand past its flashy Hollywood roots.


Tech & Entertainment Are Only Two Pieces Of The Picture

When one thinks of Los Angeles, ideas of Hollywood immediately come to mind–red carpets, botox, and The Kardashians. Sure, these might be stereotypical images of Hollywood and, yes, the entertainment sector is very much intertwined into Los Angeles culture.

However, modern LA is also home to a growing technology startup community known as “Silicon Beach (Fast Company, TechCrunch). Beyond Silicon Beach, Los Angeles’ innovators are revitalizing initiatives in art, agriculture, and aerospace. In fact, both agriculture and aerospace are larger industries than entertainment. Given these emerging industries, we ought to consider the following:

  1. What’s marginalizing and what’s modernizing our future?

  2. Where are areas the status quo needs to be altered?

  3. Where are our beacons of hope the will us achieve that?

After addressing these questions, only then can we begin building societal incubators and design programs that will serve as the foundational building blocks to improving Los Angeles.  Currently, many areas and groups within Los Angeles are tackling the answers to the aforementioned questions.


5 Collaboration Hotspots

In Los Angeles, our neighborhoods are extremely fragmented. Los Angeles lacks efficient public transportation systems and traffic congestion poses challenges for residents in terms of connecting one neighborhood to another. As a result, our beacons of hope operate in geographical and industry silos.

For those attempting to connect the dots, it’s overwhelming to try and piece together an organized view of the who, how, and where of LA. Lucky for you, I’ve done my research. Let’s start with geography, the following are five areas within Los Angeles county that one needs to know:

The Westside: Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Culver City and even Playa Vista are known as “Silicon Beach.” Nearly 36% of all technology startups are located here. The Westside has become the primary home of startups, including Shop Hers, Piglit, and Use Porter, tech giants such as Google, and content distributors such as Edgecast. Educational group, General Assembly, and coworking space, Cross Campus LA, offer Silicon Beach residents and companies networking, learning and collaboration opportunities. The YouTube Space for creators and partners is here, as well as Young Turks.

Hollywood/West Hollywood: The center of the city hosts up-and-coming media groups, including Buzzfeed, Tubefilter, Complex Media and Live Nation. Media groups such as We Work and Ignited Spaces have set up co-working spaces off of La Brea and Hollywood Blvd, becoming home bases of mid-city startups such as iPredcinct, Portfolium, and Presentize.

Downtown Los Angeles: Downtown is home to a unique startup scene that focuses primarily on social enterprise and innovation rather than business products or mobile apps. Most of this activity can be found at The Hub LA located in the Arts District. Downtown is also home to the “clean tech corridor,” organizations such as 350 Green and LA Cleantech Incubator can be found here.

Burbank/Pasadena: Yahoo, Jet Propulsion Laboratories (NASA), and Idea Lab call the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys home. In addition, Burbank is home to all the major movie studio lots (Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon). According to Burbank Chamber of Commerce, over one million people per day commute to work on a daily basis.


“Make a city a great place to live and people figure out how to make a living there.”

Bert Helm –  Senior Editor at Inc. Magazine



14 Innovative Companies and Organizations

Who are the key people and businesses within the different neighborhood of Los Angeles? From hiring the right talent to finding the right partners, it’s difficult to navigate the waters of LA. Below are 13 groups that are worth bookmarking because they’re committed to serving the needs of the community through creative and unconventional business practices. Defying the status quo and taking risks is what has allowed the below companies to offer Los Angeles innovative change.

Community Events: Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. Lecture topics include: Urbanism in LA, building brands, commercialization of art. The format of these lectures ranges from fireside chats with successful LA leaders to collaborative talks about company and city-wide issues. Their events foster cohesion within the local creative community. Whether you’re launching a new product, seeking to hire new design talent, or simply interested in supporting your city’s initiatives, Creative Mornings provides the forum for creatives to connect.

Economic Development:  The Goldhirsch Foundation, founded by Tara Roth and Ben Goldhirsch of GOOD Magazine, seeks to identify the brightest emerging talent and provide them with the tools to best support their success. The foundation also publishes LA 2050 study on educational, financial, housing, employment and environmental issues that impact LA’s economic growth as a city. The goal of the project is to provide a framework and lay out a roadmap to create a metropolis that boasts a robust middle class, fosters innovation and embraces community. Ultimately, LA2050 seeks to promote a future where people are deeply engaged in rebuilding and reshaping Los Angeles.

Environmental Consulting: While San Francisco and Seattle are culturally prone to integrating sustainability efforts into their government initiatives, Los Angeles is a different story. Luckily, Clean, an analytics-driven environmental consulting firm for Fortune 500 companies, aims to tackle sustainability and government initiatives in Los Angeles. Given the large number of corporations based in the LA metro area, Clean encourages large corporations to consider their environmental impact as a key component of their CSR efforts. The firm’s research department is run by Dr. Bob Vos, PhD. a professor at USC teaching Industrial Ecology. “Large corporations have the biggest impact on our planet,” says Clean’s founder Seri McClendon. “If one of our global client makes their processes even 1% more efficient, they can potentially save millions in dollars and have a significant reductions of carbon emissions, water and waste.”


Video Content: Maker Studios is a talent-first, technology-driven media company that creates content for millennials in the United States. Maker is the #1 producer and distributor of online video to this diverse, tech-savvy group attracting 4.5 billion+ monthly views and 340 million+ subscribers. It recently acquired Blip.TV in order to expand its technological infrastructure and distribute its content across partner networks, mobile devices, and other online channels.

Networking: Digital LA is the city’s #1 networking group across industries and geographic locations. From entertainment to education, the organization’s founder, Kevin Winston (a former MySpace employee), uses technology to facilitate even programming between city organizations, movie studios, venture capitalists, and startups. The group most recently produced the film Idea To Screen as part of the first annual Silicon Beach Fest.

Cultural Education: The Skirball Cultural Center has launched Tent, a series of weekly seminars for 20-somethings, providing participants the opportunity to explore modern culture through a Jewish lens. Topics discussed include food, comics, creative writing, journalism, museums, fashion, The South (New Orleans), and comedy. Each series admits 20 applicants whom are provided with food, lodging, meals, and tickets to shows.


Fashion: This year fashion industry trade fair veterans André Warren and Bernard Campbell established the Fi3 Conference. The fashion industry in Los Angeles out numbers New York in terms of jobs created and manufacturing output. Yet, LA has yet to join the ranks of Milan, Paris, and New York due to the city’s challenges of geographic fragmentation and self-interest. Fi3 seeks to change that, altering the way that designers and business operate in Los Angeles. Through educational programming, designer incubator labs and events, the Fi3 Conference has emerged as a promising leader in fashion business direction.

Accelerator Programs: Be Great is an incubator group that aims to be the largest catalyst for building LA’s largest startup ecosystem. This group publishes LA’s Startup Report, a semi-annual publication that analyzes financial and economic conditions surrounding the market. The group also hosts accelerators and events and offers entrepreneurs an alternative financial and collaborative project model than most coworking spaces in LA.


Social Enterprise: diy days is a group that seeks to improve the planet by making ideas, resources, and networks accessible to the community. The group offers cities the tools to unite diverse groups of people to construct solutions around real world problems.  Recently, the 40-member group participated in a four-day session, which consisted of tackling the problems that they believe are hindering the growth of Los Angeles. The resulting ideas and solutions from diy day’s session will be available in February 2014.

Entertainment: Entertainment Media Partners helps makes sense of the entertainment industry as whole. Under the guidance of Adam Leipzig, the consultancy provides its clients with greater value and visibility for their work through creative, financial and distribution strategies. What’s making them successful is their “S-Curve” model of the global entertainment market that took five years to develop. The algorithm, similar to an innovation curve, indicates when business trends ebb and flow, ultimately revealing when the industry is profitable and not profitable. Currently, the model reveals that, due to the impact of streaming technology, the entertainment industry is on a profitable upswing until 2017.

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Art: According to the LA Downtown Arts District, In 1970, the Arts District was established in response to people now wanting to follow traditional path of artist discovery. In the past 10 years, gentrification and development initiatives have driven artists out of their homes as a result of high rent costs. The LA Downtown Arts District established non-profit initiatives to preserve the district. According to Jonathan Jerald, veteran resident and Director of the District Gallery, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Warner Brothers and the developers of One Santa Fe are enthusiastically supported them through grants and legislation for affordable housing.

Publishing: Established in 2007 by Andrew Gibbs, The Dieline is dedicated to fostering the progress of the package design industry and its practitioners, students and enthusiasts. The Dieline seeks to define and promote the world’s best packaging design, and provide a place where the package design community can review, critique and stay informed of the latest industry trends and field design projects. The Dieline publishes content that responds to the needs of its niche readers, rather than focus on publishing content that yields the highest sales.


Philanthropy: Los Angeles is home to many notable non-profits groups that advocate for the homeless, minorities, and children, all of whom compete for limited state, federal, and personal dollars. Yet, there are still groups of people, such as the disables, that get lost in the mix. Let’s Ride Equestrian Therapy Program works to serve adults with developmental disabilities. Horses help these individuals learn to communicate constructively, develop better muscular control, and improve their overall mental state. What makes this group unique is their commitment to serve the community. Despite monthly financial challenges, they turn no one- not students, clients, or horses- away.


Why is Innovation So Difficult To Find in Los Angeles?

According to Mayor Eric Garcetti, “Los Angeles is the creative capital of the world and our diverse population, talent pool, great universities, Pacific Rim location, and innovative make L.A. the ideal city to foster new ideas and businesses.” In order to make that statement hold true, one must understand that innovation requires changes to our social fabric and shifts in balances of power.

In an interview on innovation in Los Angeles, Media Psychologist Lisa Snow MacDonald explains, “the challenge comes from our tendency to overvalue what we have and undervalue what we don’t. As human beings we fear the unknown and posses the tendency to prefer the certainty of the status quo over the uncertainty of change.”


Eventually, the balance shifts when the potential benefits appear more valuable or outweigh the risks.  Change is most likely to occur within this realm. “The challenging part, however, is that much of this is unconscious with results that sometimes conflict with existing theories or even common sense,” said Snow.

For example, existing economic theory would say that the value of a coffee cup should be more or less established, however, experiments have shown that coffee cup owners consistently tend to overvalue value the item and potential coffee cup buyers tend to undervalue the item (assuming that there is ample supply).

“Change can also be hard because the consequences may be unknown,” says MacDonald. “It may take a larger burden of proof to show the potential benefits and reduction in risk before support for change can occur.  This can be true in governments as well.  As old patterns become comfortable, known and understood, those involved may be less willing to embrace change regardless how much it is needed.”

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How Do We Overcome Those Challenges?

In Los Angeles, MacDonald’s theory holds true. Both the city of LA’s mayor and half of the city council is new. This is a great time for change as they will be learning everything and do not have the established comfort levels that make change so difficult. They are working to open more city data to people who can use it to create apps to improve the LA and our experiences in it or to hold the government accountable.

Couple that with the trend of no longer doing business through the traditional gatekeepers, we find individuals in all industries successfully creating ways to achieve what they want through non-traditional means. Innovation has begun to creep in the back door, becoming a disruptive force with positive effects.

They key to the city’s continued development of innovative models and practices is to enable those causing  positive growth to continue to pull the triggers on what they’re driving. Innovation is born from cross sector pollination. By mixing learning curriculum, community events and business opportunities, removing a specific industry focus, the diversity of people brought together in an open access forum lends itself widely creative collaborations between businesses and individuals. And with the support of the local government,we can bring big ideas to life through actionable programs.

In your local community, how are businesses, organizations, government entities and individuals making your city a better place to live?

photos: Finer Things In LA, LA 2050, Bob Jensen