Author: Mike Kilroy

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Covid-19 has created challenging economic times for every business. However, quantum technology companies continue to be funded at record levels by venture capital firms and governments worldwide while Fortune 500 companies continue to test the waters to ensure they are ‘quantum ready.’

That’s why it’s more important than ever that quantum technology startups continue to implement communications strategies that help them be seen, understood and attain success.

Whether it’s securing capital, attracting partners or securing initial customers, business success requires business communications. To meet the business goals of your quantum computing startup today and into the post-Covid world, now is the time to build a communications foundation that positions you for growth.

In that vein, HKA, the global PR and marketing headquarters for quantum technologies, has developed the following list of the best communications strategies for quantum computing companies to survive and thrive in the Covid-19 era:

1. Start a communications program now. Or if you have a PR and marketing program already in place, don’t stop. The fact is, with new legions of stay-at-home workers facing travel restrictions, there has never been a larger, more receptive online audience available. Take advantage of every digital marketing resource you can, from email marketing and social media to webinars and media stories. Take budgets you had set aside for travel and events in the 3D world and apply them to the 2D one for an even better return on investment.

2. Make your story comprehensible. Quantum computing might be complex but that doesn’t mean the narrative you tell in the marketplace has to be. It’s likely that the vast majority of your stakeholders are not quantum physicists. In fact, even non-quantum physicists have a difficult time understanding the field. Explain your company’s solution in terms that can be understood by a broad audience of business and IT professionals, investors, industry analysts and more. Using easily grasped analogies connected to everyday relatable settings is often the best way to achieve broader understanding.

3. Know your tech marketing history. In the early days of every nascent technology field, most people don’t understand its significance until it’s marketed to them in a compelling way. Mainframe computers weren’t automatically purchased by corporations until IBM explained their benefits to customers. Personal computers seemed out of place in homes until companies made it clear they weren’t. Semiconductors weren’t on everyone’s minds until Intel reminded them what’s inside. I’m old enough to remember when WSYIWYG was just another crazy technology acronym and then somehow became a household term. Complex technologies such as quantum computing can be effectively communicated and understood by everyone. It just takes work and imagination.

4. Avoid the hype. The quantum computing industry already has its share of companies exaggerating what’s possible today. Oftentimes, newbies to the PR and marketing discipline believe exaggeration is a smart strategy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The best communications program educates the market with factual information presented in interesting and accessible ways. Most experts believe useful quantum computers are a good five years away, so don’t add to the confusion. It’s also a truism in technology – the more something is over-hyped, the bigger the disappointment and the possibility of the so-called “winter of disillusionment.”

5. Map your milestones. While over-hyping quantum computing is bad, you should help people understand your technology’s path to success with a timeline of milestones you’re working towards. These clearly defined benchmarks can guide your audience by setting realistic expectations regarding where your technology will be in the coming years and the valuable contributions it will make along the way. Of course, when you meet a challenging milestone you’ve set, then trumpet that accomplishment all you can. Think Google and its “quantum supremacy” announcement but applicable to your market niche.

6. Know your audience. Before embarking on any communications program, you should have your target audiences well-defined to help focus your efforts and secure tangible results. A quantum computing software firm is not going to benefit from a Superbowl ad. However, developing and disseminating a best practices guide on how to create effective quantum computing algorithms for researchers in academia and the corporate world might be just the ticket in securing the right attention from the right audience.

7. Communicate value early. If you have created a solution of any kind, that means you believe it can help someone. Even if that solution is still under development, you need to let people know the clear benefits and what it means to potential customers. While academic research is dedicated to knowledge-seeking, if you wish to be viable in the marketplace you must explain the quantifiable benefits as early and often as possible.

8. Tell a business story not just a tech story. The sooner the market sees your quantum computing startup as a real business and not a pie-in-sky research project, the better. Talk about how you’re bringing the technology to market, who on your team will help customers meet their business goals, and why the market should care.

9. Become an industry thought leader. It’s an over-used term, but if you’ve been in this nascent field for just a couple of years or more, that makes you an expert to most newcomers. Work with your PR counselor on discussing how your informed perspective on the industry can become an indispensable part of the industry conversation.

10. The media are waiting for you. There is no lack of interest in quantum computing from the tech, trade, business and mainstream media. Covid-19 means there are less companies promoting themselves and many media are seeking forward-looking, positive stories. For many media representatives as well as their audiences, the unlimited opportunities of quantum computing can be as inspiring to the imagination as space travel. Get them involved in telling your story as part of the industry’s story.

11. Extra pro tip. Review these tips for quantum computing startups seeking funding for additional insights and recommendations to ensure you not only survive but thrive during these turbulent times.

More than 5,000 inquisitive minds currently are experiencing a very different kind of summer school right now. They’re not making up for poor grades – far from it. These students are learning how to change the world as we know it, ushering in a new age of computing.

The Qiskit Global Summer School program, based on premium training provided to IBM Quantum interns, is a two-week intensive program that is equipping a new generation of quantum developers.

The program’s curriculum, now wrapping up its final days, covers broad quantum preliminaries before laser-focusing on two main topics: superconducting devices and quantum chemistry applications.

Abraham Asfaw, global lead of quantum education at IBM Quantum, heralded the global turnout for the classes as a sign of quantum computing’s continued – and increasingly accelerating – growth.

“I am so humbled by these numbers,” Asfaw said in a post on LinkedIn. “Next time anyone tells you that the quantum computing industry is only 1000 – 10,000 people worldwide, tell them we’re scaling that out to the next order of magnitude really quickly.”

In addition to lectures from a cohort of international professors, the program includes ample time learning hands-on programming in Qiskit, an open source platform for working with quantum computers.

Qiskit serves as a complete toolbox of sorts for developing quantum applications, including everything a user needs to access circuits and hardware, optimize for noise mitigation and build upon a library of quantum algorithms.

While registration was open to everyone, students were selected by invitation using some prerequisites – including a certain level of mathematical aptitude and basic knowledge of programming in Python. A selection of resources was provided ahead of time to allow potential students to hone their skills as necessary.

Tomorrow, the first Qiskit Global Summer School program will have its Commencement via Qiskit Live, featuring a panel discussion from industry experts advising students on how to use what they’ve learned to secure their own careers in quantum computing.

Seeing a program like this get such widespread interest from youth around the globe is both encouraging for the future and demonstrative of the intense interest already in place for quantum computing. As Asfaw said, the quantum industry is quickly soaring into new orders of magnitude, and these students will be well-positioned to not only ride the wave but contribute to the field as “quantum” becomes a household word.

We wish the best to all of these scholars and look forward to seeing more of their work in the future!

Silicon Beach.  Silicon Alley.  Silicon Prairie.

For years throughout the U.S. various regions have tried to replicate the success (and even the name) of the Silicon Valley technology ecosystem and its potent mix of top-flight schools, world-class talent and oodles of venture capital. Business and academic leaders continue to look to the Bay Area’s achievements with considerable ‘Silicon Envy.’

While it’s true Silicon Valley-based companies mostly owned the personal computer, internet and smartphone eras, there is a new technology hotshot on the block and there’s a good chance the Valley won’t be the center of innovation and commerce of this next era. Southern California will likely rule the fascinating and limitless world of quantum technology.

Mark Gyure, the executive director of UCLA’s Center for Quantum Science and Engineering, had this to say recently:

“We sit at the heart of one of the most dynamic cities in the world and in an area where the local industry could very well dominate the quantum technology landscape for many years to come.”

How could that be?  What’s different about quantum technology?

Just like the Bay Area’s success, it all starts with a thriving academic research community.  Fortunately, there is ground-breaking quantum technology research going on at a half-dozen universities here in Southern California in addition to UCLA, including Caltech in Pasadena, USC, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, Chapman University and recent entrant UC Riverside.

There’s also a ton of private industry research into quantum technology going on around Southern California featuring such names as Google, Microsoft, IBM, JPL, Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin. In addition, there’s HRL Laboratories, a research center jointly owned by GM and Boeing, and the non-profit The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo conducting research on quantum-based satellite communications.

Of course, many of these companies maintain a symbiotic relationship with the academic institutions, collaborating on various research while many students trained by the universities often move on to work at these firms as well.

Quantum technology startups are also starting to take root, including Qulab in Los Angeles, developing advanced computational methods to automate molecular drug design; Q-CTRL, an Australian firm, HKA client and provider of quantum control firmware with its U.S. headquarters in L.A.; ORCA Computing, focusing on quantum computers powered by photonics; and Qubitekk in San Diego, developers of quantum cryptography solutions.

Many European and Asia-based startups are also reportedly eyeing Los Angeles as their North American base of operations, while individual emissaries from these companies already abound in the region.

And although it’s still a nascent field, high-paying jobs are the norm in Southern California’s quantum technology industry.  According to Sean Howell, head of Q-CTRL’s L.A. office, the company is offering higher salaries compared to similar positions up north, and with a relatively lower cost of living here in the Southland.

It all adds up to a quantum advantage for Southern California.  Doug Finke, HKA client and publisher of the highly influential industry resource site Quantum Computing Report — based here in Orange County — has written:

“Some of my friends who live in Silicon Valley still regard it as the center of the technology universe and believe that all worthwhile new technologies must emanate from there.  But this may not be necessarily true for quantum computing. Overall, I will give the edge to Southern California.”

As a PR and marketing agency dedicated to the quantum technology industry and based in Southern California, we look forward to many years of telling the stories of these exciting organizations in the region as they search to unlock the full human and commercial potential of quantum physics.

For a brief primer on quantum computing, see our previous interview with Doug, A Quantum Leap in Computing Is Coming. If you are a quantum technology startup, or are thinking about starting one, download HKA’s free 10 Tips for Quantum Tech Startups Seeking Funding.

There has never been a time in history when so much ground-breaking innovation is possible without major infrastructure builds or capital.

Today, all digital transformation takes is your imagination, an understanding of the existing enabling technologies, and partners who will help you see an idea through to reality.

That’s why if I was a young person in Orange County with some programming in my blood and a thirst for entrepreneurship, I’d be heading to UCI Beall Applied Innovation.

UCI Beall Applied Innovation can help an entrepreneur with just about everything, from ideation to funding to legal services to events at the Cove, Applied Innovation’s headquarters.   The Cove offers weekly seminars, panels, networking events and more to assist entrepreneurs (and recently moved into new expanded offices with further details below.)

The person overseeing all this good stuff is Richard Sudek, UCI’s Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director at Applied Innovation.  We recently spoke with Richard to get his take on the region’s current tech ecosystem and how UCI is playing a leading role in its growth.

……………………….

Can you provide a brief summary of your background?

I graduated from UCI with a computer science degree and started a computer consulting company at age 24. I sold the firm 17 years later to a large engineering company, SAIC.

At that point, I started angel investing and later served as the chairman of Tech Coast Angels. I decided I wanted to teach entrepreneurship to college students, so I went back to school and earned a Ph.D. I later led the entrepreneurship center at Chapman University for several years before joining UCI in 2014.

What drew you to UCI’s entrepreneurship program?

With UCI’s resources and strong commitment from our chancellor and provost, I felt I could really do something for the community. I liked the goal of bridging campus-based discoveries with Orange County’s vibrant business community to support job creation and economic growth.

At UCI Beall Applied Innovation we connect entrepreneurs seeking access to university resources, large corporations looking to tap the school’s research capabilities, and investors wanting to financially support promising new companies.

How did the Cove get started?

Applied Innovation is working to cultivate an “innovation district” in the heart of Orange County that would produce more startups, more scale-ups, and, ultimately, a world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem.  We wanted to create a space that would be a center of gravity for entrepreneurs, investors and the community to gather and collaborate. The Cove provides that space. The Cove, Applied Innovation’s headquarters, is a physical space that offers pitch events, lectures, panel discussions, collaborative and office space, conference rooms, event space, an SBDC office and other services.

Applied Innovation started with about 1500 square feet that grew to become the Cove with 46,000 square feet.  Last month, we moved into a building across the street, formerly occupied by Broadcom, which brings us to 100,000+ square feet.

In addition to offering space for larger events, the expanded facility includes a wet lab for pharma and biotech entrepreneurs in the community to rent. (Editor’s note: A wet lab is a laboratory designed to accommodate chemical experiments and research.)  Currently, wet lab space is not available for rent in Orange County and startups have to go to Los Angeles or San Diego.

What is your assessment of the state of the Orange County’s tech ecosystem?

I think we’re growing but there’s a lot more work to do. We need to market Orange County as a central hub in the Southern California region — we shouldn’t look at L.A. and San Diego as competitors, but rather as partners in scaling innovation. The Southern California tech industry is robust. This region graduates some 30,000 STEM students annually and has more Ph.D.’s than any other area in the country.

Orange County has a very large medical device ecosystem – there are over 400 medical device companies here. We have other ecosystems supporting fintech, gaming and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) startups. We also are seeing a resurgence of the semiconductor industry addressing specific applications.

What do you do to encourage entrepreneurship among UCI students?

We want to build the friendliest campus in the UC system for student entrepreneurship.

We have the ANTrepreneur Center on campus, which is the first place that most undergraduates go to learn more about entrepreneurship. The Center helps guide them from idea to reality with individual consultations, guest speakers, workshops, and networking events. It also connects students to additional resources across the university.

Then we have Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder incubator program that brings teams of students, faculty and alumni together who want to create a startup. The incubator provides mentors, workshops and more to help with everything from formation to funding to help bring a business to market.

We also offer the Student Startup Fund which provides micro-grants to get students started on their entrepreneurial idea. Then, if their idea progresses, we can introduce them to funding from the Cove Fund and angel investor groups and all the other partners they should be connected to.

Do venture capitalists (VCs) pay enough attention to Orange County?

Capital is much more accessible in Orange County than it was 10 years ago but there’s more efforts underway to bring VCs here.

We have top VCs from L.A. and Silicon Valley that keep regular office hours at the Cove, as well as several angel investor groups. We also hired someone with experience in venture capital – Luis Vasquez – who is solely dedicated to connecting local startups with over 100 of our VC partners at no cost.  We’re gradually building a better capital pipeline for companies here.

Final thoughts?

I would encourage all investors, inventors, consultants and corporations in Orange County to get involved with UCI Beall Applied Innovation in building the region’s tech ecosystem. Get engaged, attend our events, get on our email and see how you can give back.

For more information on the Cove’s new digs, including the addition of UCI’s Convergence Optical Sciences Initiative (COSI), click here.

 

As we’ve noted before, digital transformation (DX) will arrive at every industry’s doorstep – and much sooner than later. You can now count the nonprofit sector in that mix.

Today’s donors, volunteers and beneficiaries expect nonprofits to provide the same seamless digital experience that an Amazon or DoorDash provides. If it’s not on their phone, it doesn’t exist.

That’s why nonprofits are re-assessing their entire way of doing business to ensure that they’re making the most of the technologies the private sector is embracing, including mobile computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing.

A good example of this trend is the story of Chris Ticknor. For years, Chris was involved in the tech industry, leading marketing for an Internet services startup later acquired by a major industry player that eventually went public.

After that hectic time in his career, Chris was chatting with his friend Sue Parks, president and CEO of Orange County United Way, an organization he had previously served as a volunteer.  Sue let him know the charity was rolling out a cloud-based corporate social responsibility (CSR) platform with Salesforce.org (the nonprofit arm of Salesforce) and needed someone to lead the effort.  Although having never worked in the nonprofit sector, Chris accepted the challenge with the newly created position of Chief Transformation Officer.

“It’s an interesting time that we find ourselves in philanthropy, just like every other organization or industry,” Chris said.  “We’re all being impacted by this age of digital disruption and transformation. We have to adapt ourselves to the consumption model of today.

“We’re finding competitors emerging from least-expected areas, making inroads in some of the things that United Way has traditionally done,” he said.  “We’re finding barriers coming down for those now entering our space, creating a kind of activism ‘on the fly.’”

United Way began in an era when most charities were religion-based while other charitable donations were solicited primarily by individuals, Chris said.  The organization’s initial charter was to assure donors that people were truly being helped as promised.  Now the organization finds itself in a similar situation where platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter are soliciting individual donations without a process to validate whether people in need are receiving assistance.

“It’s this strange time where we are kind of back to where we started 125 years ago because of technology,” he said.  “So that’s where the Salesforce.org Philanthropy Cloud comes into play.”

Philanthropy Cloud mimics the Salesforce customer-relationship management (CRM) platform, ubiquitous in corporate sales departments, to help company employees more easily find opportunities to engage with those in need while also serving to better coordinate and track volunteer hours and fundraising.

The open platform enables employees to choose from a list of worthwhile causes provided by the company while also allowing them to suggest a nonprofit with a mission they are personally passionate about, encouraging their fellow employees to help with the cause, too.

“Companies are realizing they can create an army of volunteers among their workforce to tackle some of the issues important to the entire company, as well as to individual employees, and really make an impact,” Chris said.

The platform is available to employees as a web portal and soon will be launched on a mobile app. Chris said it helps companies meet the demand of a new generation of workers who expect their employer to do good in the world.  United Way is offering the platform to its 60,000 corporate partners globally.  Orange County-based organizations like Auto Club Enterprises are piloting the solution.

The challenge for United Way now, Chris says, is to take advantage of all the new opportunities that are arising from the platform.

“We have assumed a role almost like a service provider for companies that deploy the platform,” he said.  “They have content needs, questions about what type of activities they can do, and what causes they should participate in. Then we organize everything in the background from ideation to execution and implementation, to the processing on the back end. That’s where we really fit in with the platform – we’re basically the nuts and bolts running this thing.”

Nonprofit organizations that want to be included on the Philanthropy Cloud platform should register on GuideStar, a database of 2.3 million tax-exempt nonprofits.  Philanthropy Cloud’s AI program ‘Einstein’ leverages the database to determine if a nonprofit makes sense to suggest to employees in the system based on location, mission and more.  Nonprofits also can speak to the CSR department within a company that’s using the platform or talk to a United Way representative to be included.

With all this ability to connect and encourage employees to volunteer and donate to worthwhile causes, it will be interesting to see if the platform will make a bigger impact on the lives of those in need.  That, I suppose, will be the true test of digital transformation in the nonprofit world.

FYI, another cloud-based solution for charities coming to market includes one from an Irvine-based startup called Volunteer Crowd that’s dedicated to connecting high school and college students with nonprofits they care about.

Why PR Is Key to Digital Marketing Success

August 6, 2019 | Blog | 2 Comments

We live in the age of digital marketing — email campaigns, social media, webinars, content marketing, website SEO, pay-per-click advertising, branded apps and much more that fall under its umbrella.  This catch-all category is now considered the foundation of a company’s marketing strategy.

However, one critical element of digital marketing that gets overlooked these days is public relations.  Yes, PR is part of digital marketing.  If digital marketing is simply defined as any online effort to engage with relevant audiences, then today’s PR industry fits the bill.  While some media stories are still published in print, even those articles are almost always found online, too, where virtually all of us live and breathe.

For some strange reason, though, PR is relegated to the hinterlands of a cohesive digital marketing strategy.  Consider this: public relations is not even mentioned on the Wikipedia page about digital marketing.

How did PR get lost in the shuffle?  My guess is that a new generation of marketers who never experienced the heyday of traditional media may not fully appreciate the power of media coverage to dramatically enhance and amplify their digital marketing efforts.

Longtime PR professionals have seen this situation before.  In the pre-Internet era, traditional marketing and advertising ruled the day.  Self-published collateral like brochures, data sheets and white papers as well as print display ads and trade show exhibitions dominated the marketing landscape.  PR, on the other hand, was not well-understood by the C-suite and received the mouse’s share of the marketing budget. Businesspeople truly believed if it doesn’t cost a lot of money, it must not be worthwhile.

Then the dot-com era arrived, and PR zoomed to the top of the marketing heap as startups across every industry clamored for the attention of investors and customers.  These firms saw PR as the most effective way to get their stories told without a huge marketing budget.

During the past decade, however, as traditional media outlets experienced financial troubles or disappeared altogether, some marketers have assumed they must no longer have much of an impact.

That’s a serious mistake.  It’s an accepted law of economics that the scarcer a resource becomes, the more its value increases.  That is true of media coverage today.  In fact, media coverage can have more of an impact on a company’s overall digital marketing efforts than perhaps any other program element.

Following are just a few examples how public relations brings a digital marketing program to life:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

One story on a relevant media site can do more to jump-start a brand’s SEO and domain authority than any other single digital marketing tool.

Case in point is a recent byline article secured by HKA for SellerGard.  Recently founded by intellectual property (IP) attorney Eric Karich, the Irvine-based company offers patent and trademark protection for independent product sellers on Amazon, who are growing in vast numbers and riches by the day.

A byline piece recently published in E-Commerce Times garnered the following results:

  • Ranked No. 1 on Google News for searches involving key terms such as “Amazon sellers” and “intellectual property”
  • Appeared in the top-5 results in Google and Bing for anyone searching those same terms above. The only other sites to be included in the top 5 were from Amazon and SellerGard’s top competitor, which has been marketing itself for several years.
  • Reposts on ECT’s sister sites with well over a half-million combined monthly visitors
  • Generated inbound links from high-traffic, authoritative websites that are critical to being ranked favorably on Google and other search engines
  • A Tweet by the site resulted in dozens of Retweets by accounts with a cumulative total of more than 100,000 followers
  • SellerGard’s hyperlink in the bio section of the article raised the new website’s profile immediately on Google search

It would be difficult to show similar results from any other digital marketing exercise, especially for the relatively small investment in time and money.

Third-Party Validation

Digital marketers do everything they can to gain the attention and trust of potential customers and their influencers.  However, most digital marketers must rely upon their audience believing the company’s story without context or supporting evidence.

Quality media coverage through diligent PR efforts, on the other hand, delivers third-party validation from an objective source critical to customers during the buying process.  As marketers have learned, people put more trust in what objective sources say than information disseminated by a brand, as seen by the popularity of Amazon reviews, Yelp reviews, etc.

Content is even more trusted when it comes from a source that has professional editors who have vetted the information for accuracy and relevance, presenting the story with no ax to grind or favoritism.  The ‘fake news’ tag doesn’t apply to non-political stories.  There’s a reason it’s called earned media – PR professionals must earn their way on the media site with a compelling and factual narrative that passes an editorial team’s judgment.

Real and Larger Audiences

Good digital marketers are always seeking audiences for their company’s content.  Media, however, comes with a built-in audience that often has been nurtured and grown by an outlet over many years and even decades. You can also choose exactly the right audience for your current marketing efforts by targeting the right media outlet. These audiences can be expanded as well by sharing a story through the company’s various channels: social media, email, website, etc.

In addition, a case can be made there are more media outlets and audiences than ever before.

While many traditional media sites have taken a hit, other sites have sprung up in their place to serve “digital native” audiences, such as SheKnows.com (12 million unique monthly visitors), thebalance.com (15M UMV), and Curbed.com (3.2M UMV), not to mention every media property from Dot Dash or Vox.

And, as noted in a previous post, the 700,000 podcasts available on iTunes alone is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to reaching a potential audience.

Of course, there are a myriad of other reasons why PR must be prioritized in any digital marketing strategy.

One of these includes creating a company Wikipedia page.  The site requires links to objective media sources in the References section for a company to have any chance of keeping its listing.  So says the 5th most visited site in the world

That’s the power of the press alive and well in this digital marketing age.

How Sustainable Tech Is Changing the World

July 15, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

Can the environment and a thriving economy co-exist?  Through sustainable tech innovation, Yair Crane has no doubt they can.

As Principal of CTG Consulting, Yair offers strategic counsel and services for implementing clean energy and clean transportation technologies to businesses and government agencies in the Southern California region.

I recently spoke with Yair at a Young Professionals in Energy event, a networking group he co-leads, to discuss the state of the sustainable technology industry.

“Most companies want to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability,” Yair said. “It’s just a matter of bandwidth and budget.”

He said several factors are currently driving adoption of solar energy by companies, including local and state government policies, increased peak-demand energy rates, and the advent of affordable, onsite solar and energy storage technology.

Investor-owned utilities recently increased both the pricing and timing of peak energy rates for commercial businesses, he said, extending peak time of use rates (TOUs) well after regular work hours until 9 p.m., directly impacting the energy bills of commercial customers small and large.

“If you’re a large retailer like Whole Foods or a CVS, it’s a growing expense,” Yair said. “Retail stores, movie theaters, fitness centers – they can’t change their hours. People are going to come in after work. That’s their busiest time.”

That’s why most of Yair’s work is currently focused on helping firms achieve ‘peak clipping’ through solar energy generation complemented by battery storage. His firm analyzes a company’s energy bills then works with a solar partner and a battery storage manufacturer to design a system that reduces peak demand costs.

When completed, energy from solar panels is stored onsite in advanced battery systems. During peak demand hours, a building’s energy is drawn from the solar-charged batteries rather than from the grid. Even if the solar energy is only a percentage of the total energy use, it’s enough to lower peak demand costs, and can lead to a return on investment in as little as 18 months in some service areas.

Solar energy storage is being adopted across sectors in Southern California, Yair said.  Ports like the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro and the Port of Long Beach are implementing solar energy and battery storage for on-site generation and for added resiliency to their terminal operations. The two ports have been gradually meeting their emissions reduction goals defined in their joint Clear Air Action Plans, including reducing the emissions of ships while they are docked by plugging into on-shore or on-dock power.

In addition, biotech companies that require reliable power 24×7 are using solar energy and battery storage to support mission-critical portions of their operations.  Even microbreweries and car dealerships are exploring the technology, he said.

Yair sees many innovative companies rapidly commercializing their clean technology solutions, including:

  • NantEnergy, which has created a rechargeable zinc-air battery storage system that it says can provide power at a lower cost than lithium-ion batteries and with longer life. Its systems already are being used in commercial energy management, remote microgrids, and as reliable backup power to critical telecom infrastructure.  The firm is currently building a factory in El Segundo, Calif. that will produce its zinc air and lithium hybrid storage solution.

 

  • Newlight Technologies in Irvine, Calif. has found a way to recycle methane and carbon emissions produced by landfills and other sources into a bioplastic that can serve as a substitute for petroleum-based plastic. It has partnered with IKEA to create chairs and other furniture and is currently ramping up production.

 

  • Soon, electric vehicles will not only draw energy from the grid but serve as mobile sources of power back to the grid as well as to homes and commercial buildings as backup during outages. This “vehicle-to-grid” (V2G) model is exemplified by San Diego-based Nuvve.

Yair believes sustainable energy technology goes together with economic growth and success. The need for local workers to install systems and retrofit buildings also ensures that jobs are kept in the U.S.

“There is a way to thrive and not just survive in California and other states where more sustainable or green policies are being enacted,” Yair said. “Local governments, community choice aggregations or CCAs, and utilities aren’t waiting for federal action to make clean energy come to pass.”

 

 

The future of communications is unreal these days.

What has become known as “extended reality” (XR) is quickly coming to the fore in marketing and PR.  Nothing that has been in the communicators’ toolkit before can quite compare to the storytelling power that is now possible in the age of XR.

First, a brief description of the technologies that fall under the umbrella of XR:

  • Virtual reality (VR) which delivers immersive, computer-generated experiences
  • 360-degree video which uses VR glasses to immerse the viewer in the real world
  • Augmented reality (AR) which overlays digital imagery onto reality with mobile devices or smart glasses
  • and mixed reality (MR) which features elements of both AR and VR where real-world and digital objects interact.

HKA client Free Wheelchair Mission recently created a 360-degree video experience for its annual Miracle of Mobility Gala fundraising event coming July 25.  After donning VR glasses by Oculus, attendees will be immersed in the delivery of wheelchairs to three disabled residents of Guatemala, including a mother of eight children.

HKA account manager Stacy Nagai got a preview of the segment and said it was transformative.

“It was six minutes but it went by quickly because it was so engrossing,” Stacy said. “In the opening, you’re standing on a dirt road leading to a shack with children all around you.  It’s very moving and I can’t imagine a better way of communicating this woman’s plight and how important this humanitarian mission is.”

HKA vendor Beard Boy Productions recently created an AR experience for John Deere that has been traveling to agricultural shows around the country.

Once the John Deere AR app is downloaded to a mobile device, detailed features of a new tractor and related products can be viewed, including inside views of the equipment, animated video of the equipment in motion, and captions for more information.

According to Mike Smith, executive producer and creative director at Beard Boy, the AR experience has been a huge hit for John Deere.

“After 182 years of being a farming equipment company, they are repositioning themselves as a technology company that is helping to feed the world,” Smith said.  “Which is one of the reasons they are leveraging AR – it sets them apart as a forward-looking company.”

Smith said many firms are looking to tell their stories in one of the XR mediums.  He attributes XR’s appeal to the fact that our viewing lives have been dominated by 2D video since the 1950s and many people, especially younger generations, are interested in a different kind of experience.

“XR is more participatory,” Smith said.  “When you offer an XR experience, the individual fully engages in a way that’s not possible with video and they understand much more keenly what your product or service is all about.”

Smith points to the successful Burger King “Burn that Ad AR campaign earlier this year as a milestone in the use of XR technologies in marketing.  With the Burger King app, users could frame their mobile device’s camera on a competitor’s advertising which would then “explode” in flames.

“With XR, the audience is making decisions about what they want to see,” he said.  “It’s a highly effective way to implant your message into the mind of the viewer.”

Smith said his company starts with a discovery phase to understand what the organization wants to communicate and who the audience is they are trying to reach.  Once those questions are answered, they turn to creative ways XR technologies might underscore the messages a client is trying to convey.

At this point, AR and VR experiences are still cost-prohibitive for most smaller businesses, with projects averaging between $25,000 and $200,000 depending upon their complexity.  But Smith expects pricing to come down and be more affordable for average businesses over the next few years.

The good news about XR experiences is that they are highly measurable.  Data can be gathered and analyzed through app downloads from a link in a press release, website, PDF, trade show signage or brochure.

XR is an experience – and marketing tool — whose time has arrived.

It should be pointed out as well that Southern California has been a hotbed for XR innovation.  Oculus founder Palmer Luckey created his VR glasses prototypes in the garage of his parents’ Long Beach home.  Epson America, based in Long Beach but moving its headquarters to Los Alamitos next year, has been a leader in AR glasses for years.

 

As an emerging tech entrepreneur, you should consider all communications mediums suitable for telling your company story, being viewed as an expert in your field, and gaining the attention of investors, customers and partners.

One medium that many companies often overlook is podcasting.

It’s estimated that 62 million people in the U.S. listen to podcasts weekly, while one of the most popular podcasts in the world, The Joe Rogan Experience, is estimated to have over 90 million global listeners.  According to the latest statistics, there are currently more than 700,000 podcasts and more than 29 million podcasts episodes available on iTunes alone, and those numbers are rising rapidly.

Once relegated to the backwaters of media, podcasting has come into its own.  For smart entrepreneurs, it’s past time to investigate what’s possible in the world of podcasting to reach the valuable eardrums of the audience.

What has driven the growth of the podcast audience?  According to Ron Ploof, a podcast pioneer and storyteller, an initial factor was when Apple pre-installed its Podcast app on new iPhones, making podcasts more accessible by the company’s enormous customer base.  The more recent rise of voice-activated assistants has made it even easier to listen to a favorite podcast.

The breakthrough popularity of the Serial investigative journalist podcast, with its true tales of justice denied, was also a key moment as it became the subject of office ‘water cooler’ talk.  Google’s introduction of its own podcast app for Android phones has also expanded the podcast audience.

Ron says companies should take a good look at podcasting as part of their marketing efforts.

“Podcasts are an intimate medium where someone is talking in your ear,” Ron said.  “They can be accessed anywhere – in your car or while you’re working out.”

“People focus when they’re listening to podcasts – it’s eyes- and hands-free,” he said. “You can’t skim a podcast like you can an article.”

So how should companies proceed?

According to Fred Fishkin, a Bloomberg radio broadcasting veteran who now runs the Techinstation podcast, companies should consider starting their own podcasts.

“If a company has something new they could talk about every week or so, it makes sense to consider doing a podcast,” Fred said. “If you have someone in-house with the right skills, you can do it yourself or bring in an outsider to run it for you.”

Fred said the key is to make the podcast listenable, with interesting topics, a non-scripted conversational approach, and by using quality mics, mixers and other audio tools.

Once completed, podcasts can be made accessible to audiences far beyond your company website on platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Stitcher.

Of course, companies can also pitch podcasters to become interview guests as they would traditional media outlets and bloggers.

Before approaching podcasters, make sure you’ve done a thorough study of the kinds of podcasts that might make sense for you and your company.  iTunes has a podcast directory that you can scan by category to find shows that fit your communications objectives. You can also simply pull up the podcast app and add a keyword to find shows that focus on your firm’s relevant topics.  You will also want to read a podcast’s show notes which often contains guest booking guidelines as well.

Targeted podcasts for the emerging tech executive may include This Week in Startups by Jason Calacanis who covers the world of tech entrepreneurship, or Something Ventured by startup insider Kent Lindstrom who interviews founders of the most compelling new startups.

You can also approach podcasters in your specific industry such as The SaaS Podcast or Stacy on IoT.  Don’t ignore the smaller niche podcasters because of audience sizes that might be less than 10,000 or even 1,000.  Many companies will send executives half-way across the world to address a target audience of a few dozen in their space.  Podcasts can be an easier and more affordable way to reach those early adopters, and they often grow a “long tail” of audience over many months from social media sharing and Google searches.

Listen to the episodes of your chosen podcasts to get a feel for how the podcaster interacts with his or her guests.  See what angles you might be able to offer that would interest the podcaster.  Don’t shy away from the controversial if it makes sense for your business.

Remember the cardinal rule for the podcast guest – BE INTERESTING.  The focus of your interview should be about solving an industry issue, or how you persevered through a business challenge, not a commercial about your company’s offerings.

The good news about podcasts is that they are generally long-form interviews, so you can really get into the details of your topic.  The caution is that podcasts are often live or recorded live, meaning there is rarely any editing before they are posted.  Make sure you are well-prepared for an audio medium that will be heard by an audience just the way you presented it.

To hear podcasts produced by the two pros interviewed for this story and to learn some valuable communications tips, visit SmartDrivingCar.com by Fred Fishkin and StoryHow.com by Ron Ploof.

 

 

 

 

OCTANe Fuels Local Tech Sector

June 7, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

Q&A with Bill Carpou of OCTANe

We recently checked in with Bill Carpou, CEO of OCTANe, to get his take on the local emerging tech scene.  Not surprisingly, Bill had a lot of interesting and informative things to say.

Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Aliso Viejo, OCTANe is dedicated to driving innovation and economic growth in Southern California by helping connect companies and people to resources and capital.  The organization offers entrepreneurs an award-winning accelerator called LaunchPad; Growth Services, a platform to help companies scale; regular educational and networking events; and capital access.  It focuses on technology and life science companies seeking Late Seed, Series A and Series B funding ($500K-$25M).

(The following Q&A has been edited for clarity.)

What is the current health of the OC tech startup ecosystem?

While there’s still an enormous amount of opportunity to make it a whole lot better, I think it’s improved significantly in the past four years. When I arrived, everyone was saying there wasn’t an ecosystem in Orange County.  But the more I started to peel it back, I found we had a marvelous ecosystem. It just wasn’t intuitive.  It was siloed and anything but collaborative – it was competitive.

One of the key things OCTANe does is help companies raise capital. As I spoke to people in New York or Boston and they asked where OCTANe is located and you say Orange County, their response was a blank stare. Their perception is, ‘I’ve driven through on my way from L.A. to San Diego. I’ve gone to Pelican Hill. I’ve stayed at the Montage and maybe been to Disneyland.’ And that’s about it.

We decided that it was important to change our thinking and elevate the entire Southern California ecosystem.  The reason is that if you look at just about any other ecosystem, it’s a metro area. The New York ecosystem – it’s not New York City alone. It includes North Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island. We were ignoring the SoCal ecosystem of L.A., Orange County and San Diego which set up barriers and competition that really didn’t need to exist.

So we created the Innovation Network of Southern California (InSoCal), a group of like-minded organizations that wanted to pull together the entire ecosystem. We are now much more engaged with San Diego and L.A.  And frankly, the thought was that if we focus on Southern California, it will be an easier lift and Orange County would likely be disproportionately elevated because of our location in the middle of the region.

Why is an integrated SoCal ecosystem beneficial to entrepreneurs and investors?

There’s enormous innovation that goes on here. When you look at Southern California in its totality and you pull in Caltech and USC, UCLA, and UCSD along with UCI, Chapman and others in OC, this is the best university ecosystem in the country. It graduates more engineers and computer scientists than any other ecosystem in the country — Southern California is No. 1, the Bay Area is No. 2.

There are roughly 66,000 undergraduate engineering students in Southern California.  There’s about 64,000 in Northern California.  The next largest ecosystems in Boston and New York graduate about 20,000. After that, the numbers drop to 7,000 and 4,000.

That’s what I think is explosive because it feeds the front end of innovation.

Who is the typical Southern California entrepreneur?

We have a different kind of entrepreneur here.  Everyone knows about the entrepreneur that comes out of college and succeeds but a very small percentage of innovation created inside a university ever makes it to commercialization.  What we often seen here are more middle-aged entrepreneurs who leave companies to start their own.

As compared to somebody that’s younger and never really had practical business experience, the more valuable entrepreneur is the one that leaves an Allergan or a Medtronic or a Broadcom who has had 20 years of practical business experience and leaves with a little bit of wealth to bootstrap a company for a year or so.  That’s an entrepreneur that’s really in our wheelhouse. If you look at our LaunchPad accelerator, I’d say probably 75% of the people that come through have spent several years working someplace first.

The older entrepreneur offers a much higher degree of credibility to investors. At the end of the day, you’re going to have confidence and trust in somebody that’s been out in the world than someone who just graduated from college. And the odds of the company’s long-term success are much higher.

What are the hottest technology sectors in the region?

The state of the technology in Southern California is in a very good place. Each area has its key competencies. There’s not a lot of crossover or competition. If you were looking to move your business to Southern California, and you are involved in deep machine learning, or biotech, you should go to San Diego. If you’re looking at ad tech media apps, you should go to L.A.  If you’re looking at medical devices, cybersecurity, FinTech, data analytics or gaming, you should be in Orange County.

Any specific industry in Orange County that OCTANe is focusing on?

At OCTANe, we’ve built a community around ophthalmology. Orange County is the epicenter of ophthalmology innovation in the world.

One reason is that a lot of the big pharma and device companies have their eyecare unit here such as Johnson & Johnson, ZEISS, Alcon, and Bausch + Lomb.  Then you have Allergan where founder Gavin Herbert created an industry for Southern California. There’s somewhere between 70 and 80 companies that have been created in the eyecare space by people who worked at Allergan. The company has been progressive in promoting this. Not that they want to lose talented individuals, but in their opinion, if somebody’s going to leave, let them start a company. Allergan can then consider investing in them for much less than it would cost doing their own R&D.  Small ‘r,’ big ‘D.’

What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

At OCTANe, we’ve built a vibrant innovation community. However, people still don’t quite understand all the things that are available to them. People ask us which incubator or accelerator they should work with.  Our answer is – use everyone. Because most of these platforms are available on a pro bono basis, at least initially. So, if you have the opportunity to use three different entities, why not use them whether it’s us, or Eureka or UCI Applied Innovation? Draw whatever you can from each.  Chances are you’re going to find something a little bit helpful.

At the Launchpad accelerator we are staffed to work with about 40 companies a year. We start by interviewing between 350 and 400 companies. We review them very thoroughly via a predictive analytics model.  Out of those 40 startups, 86% of them end up getting funded within 15 months. We ensure a very high-quality deal for investors.