Author: Mike Kilroy

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Space, the Final Frontier for Women in Tech

May 10, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

We picked an opportune time to write about the burgeoning commercial space industry:  Jeff Bezos of Amazon just announced yesterday that his Blue Origin space company hopes to be shuttling astronauts to the moon and back by 2024.

Bezos is part of an exclusive club of business titans involved in the space industry that includes Elon Musk of SpaceX and Richard Branson leading Virgin Galactic.

But space is no longer the exclusive domain of government or the well-capitalized.  Cost efficiencies in rocketry and communications enabled by emerging technology is making it possible for an ecosystem of startups to arise, much of it based in the Los Angeles area where the aerospace industry has long thrived.

Companies such as Relativity and Rocket Lab are currently leading the way while the recent formation of two space industry incubator funds – the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator and Space Ventures Coalition (SVC), a partner of the Alliance for SoCal Innovation – ensure continuing growth.

With all the exciting possibilities of the space industry, I was looking forward to attending the Women in Space Tech event in Manhattan Beach this week.  Three pioneering women from local companies joined a panel to share their experiences.

While the panelists offered inspiring personal histories and fascinating details about their everyday jobs, it was a bit disheartening to hear about their struggles with gaining respect in the still male-dominated field of aerospace engineering. Fortunately, none of the women were defeated by it and continue to persevere and succeed.

Below are brief highlights from each panelist’s discussion.

Jacqueline Ryan
Payload Uplink/Downlink Specialist for Mars Science Laboratory
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Ryan introduced herself as someone who “wakes to an alarm, goes to work and explores another planet every day.”  She is part of the team that processes images from the Mars Curiosity Rover and said the awe she feels as the first human to view the latest images of the Mars landscape “never really goes away.”

She says the Curiosity is seven-years old and tens of millions of miles away, so issues come up regularly that she and the team must figure out.  Often, Ryan said, they will model potential solutions digitally first before sending instructions to the Curiosity robotic rover.

Ryan was attracted to liberal arts most of her life but decided she might have a more rewarding career in engineering.  She focused on electrical engineering and said she was often the only woman in her classes at New York University Polytechnic.  By chance, her grandmother had visited JPL and told her that she should apply for an internship.  While only halfway through her first programming course, she was accepted.

Ryan said JPL seeks a general set of skills that can help engineers anticipate and solve a variety of unforeseen challenges.  She also said her emotional intelligence as a woman has played a key role in narrowing the focus of discussions among male engineers to expedite solutions.

Khali Cannad
Aerospace Systems Engineer
Northrop Grumman Corporation

With more than 20 years of experience in the aerospace industry, Cannad is involved in satellite operations, orbit determination, software development and verification and validation of ground systems.

Growing up, she was inspired by Space Shuttle missions and by astronaut Mae Jamison in particular, the first black woman in space. Cannad decided she wasn’t cut out to be an astronaut but wanted to be the person who has the “big picture view” and help ensure their safety at mission control.

Cannad said her ability to work well with others has been key to her success in the industry.  While initially shy in her career as the rare woman among male engineers, she learned how to gather the resources and people required to complete a project.  “Being quiet in this industry doesn’t get you anywhere,” she said.

She said as more women graduate from engineering schools, the newer crop of male engineers are generally more accepting of women in the aerospace industry.

Jacqueline Sotradis
Propulsion Design & Analysis Engineer
Virgin Orbit

Sotraidis focuses on structural design and analysis for Virgin Orbit, the satellite counterpart to Virgin Galactic’s human-based space travel plans.  She is part of the team developing LauncherOne, a service that will launch commercial and government satellites from the wings of a dedicated 747-400 carrier aircraft (Yes, you read that right). The first launch is expected sometime this year.

Sotraidis said she is still amazed when her designs are selected to go into space, often leveraging a ‘generative design’ technique that perfects a structure through many iterations via 3D printing.

Sotraidis agreed that good communications skills are critical in her field.  She said her ‘fabulous’ experience as a camp counselor has helped her effectively control and direct some of the more raucous meetings with male engineers.

While at times she has felt ‘imposter syndrome’ in her career, Sotraidis has come to realize that is a common feeling among women entering a male-dominated field.


All three panelists said they like to serve as role models to younger women wanting to enter the engineering field, participating in STEM events whenever possible.

The comment from a high school junior in the audience may serve as an example of the attitude of the next generation of women in the space industry.  She told the panel she wants to be a space pilot and described her career path involving the Air Force, engineering school and commercial aviation experience.

All the panelists agreed there will be a need for commercial space pilots in the coming years and her path – and confidence – was right on target.



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A Quantum Leap in Computing Is Coming

May 3, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

Trying to write a brief introduction to the field of quantum computing feels like something a quantum computer should probably tackle.  Instead, we only have my brain power to access, so my apologies in advance.

I have long been fascinated by quantum mechanics, an area of physics describing the behaviors of atoms and subatomic particles such as electrons and photons.  This is the strange, subterranean realm of nature where the laws of Newtonian physics break down.

What I hadn’t understood until I met recently with Doug Finke, editor and publisher of the Quantum Computing Report, is that we built our digital world on what’s known as ‘classical computing.’  Our entire computing infrastructure is founded upon the basic principles of physics and math discovered in the 19th century, such as electromagnetism and Boolean logic, from the lowliest bargain-priced desktop PC, to the snazziest new smartphone, to a supercomputer.

To learn more about this amazing field, I encourage you to join Doug at the next Southern California Quantum Computing Meetup in Pasadena this Oct. 15 from 6-8 p.m.  For more information, visit:

Quantum computing, on the other hand, leverages the insights of quantum physicists from the 1920s and ‘30s, including Einstein, Erwin SchrödingerWerner HeisenbergMax Born and others, to create an entirely new kind of computing.

Why go to all that trouble? The simplistic answer is to number-crunch at mind-numbing scale and speed.

Doug gave me this analogy:  Imagine you’re a traveling salesperson and you need to drive the shortest route between four cities.  Seems easy enough.  But let’s say your boss says you need to add a dozen more cities.  Then it gets more complicated and you may need to access a classical computing device to get your answer.

But what if the number of cities is a 100 or more?  Well, the variables are so great that even our best supercomputers can’t figure out the optimal solution, at least not in any amount of time that would be useful.  That’s where quantum computing comes in.

The goal of quantum computing is to leverage phenomena found at the subatomic particle level to deliver mathematical answers millions of times faster than today’s highest-performing computing systems.

One example of quantum phenomena being leveraged is known as ‘superposition.’  Classical binary computing relies upon manipulating ‘bits’ that exist in one of two states: a 0 or a 1, essentially like a switch that’s either off or on. (For example, the binary code to instruct a computer to create this single letter to appear – A – is 01000001.) In quantum computing on the other hand, information is encoded as quantum bits, or ‘qubits.’ In superposition, qubits can exist simultaneously in both states of 0 and 1 or in gradations of the two states, enabling computational “instructions” to be processed exponentially faster than binary code.

Other quantum phenomena used includes ‘entanglement’ where a pair or larger group of subatomic particles will simultaneously mimic what happens to a single entangled particle, no matter how far they are separated by distance.  Imagine two entangled photons with one located in Los Angeles and the other in New York.  In entanglement, if you measure the state of the photon in L.A., the photon in New York will instantaneously follow suit and enter the same state. (Einstein called this phenomenon “spooky action at a distance.”)  Massive numbers of entangled qubits can enable computations to be completed more rapidly.

In some ways, the quantum computing industry looks a lot like the early days of the computer industry in the 1950s. Doug said researchers are trying different ways to extract incredibly fast and accurate calculations through designs using photons, trapped ions, superconductors and other methods.  IBM is one of the furthest along with its IBM Q System One which can be accessed publicly in the cloud.  Their most advanced current system is a 20-qubit 9-cubic foot quantum computer that must be housed at a smidgen above absolute zero, or just around minus-460 degrees Fahrenheit.

Doug told me that the first quantum computer that surpasses our fastest supercomputers for certain applications (they call this reaching the “quantum advantage”) is expected within the next few years.  In addition to IBM, Google, Intel, Microsoft and a variety of other tech companies, top academic and government labs, and startups are all pursuing the quantum dream in one form or another.

Industries performing early research into quantum computing include the chemical and pharmaceutical industries where advanced computational chemistry enabled by quantum computing algorithms can help discover new materials or drugs. Other early interest includes the finance industry where quantum computing can provide new approaches to portfolio management and other functions, while the automotive industry is working on a few different use cases, including calculating the best traffic routes and finding better battery chemistry for electric vehicles.

An Orange County resident, Doug started his publication to serve as the leading source of information and analysis on the quantum computing industry for venture capitalists, startups and established companies in their efforts toward commercialization of the technology.  Doug has a long history of being at the ground floor of developing and marketing game-changing, complex technology innovations with positions at IBM and Intel during their glory days as well as with several successful startups.

While the bulk of quantum computing startups are located in several different clusters in the Bay Area, Canada, Europe and Australia, there are a few firms located here in Southern California as well, including Qulab in Los Angeles and Qubitekk near San Diego.

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5G… 5G… Anyone Seen 5G?

April 26, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

5G… 5G… Anyone Seen 5G?

If I had a dollar for every time a company claimed that the advanced telecommunications network known as 5G is coming soon, my financial advisor would be doing back flips.

5G has become one of those ‘evergreen’ stories in tech where everybody wants it to be here but it never seems to arrive. Companies have over-promised on timelines for years. The fact is implementing 5G is not an easy thing.

First, what is 5G and why should you care?

5G stands for the ‘fifth generation’ upgrade to cellular networks based upon new industry standards and specifications.  5G takes advantage of previously unused radio millimeter bands in the 30 GHz to 300 GHz range. Current 4G networks operate on frequencies below 6GHz which are getting more crowded every day.  The higher frequencies of 5G have shorter wavelengths and can move more information more quickly, and there is currently very little data traffic in these new telecommunications lanes.

Designed to enhance current 4G networks rather than replace them, 5G promises to accelerate cellular data transfer speeds from 100 Mbps (megabits per second) to 20 Gbps (gigabits per second) or more.  This massive increase in bandwidth will make 5G faster than even the fastest fiber-optic cable technology, providing serious competition to cable- and telephone-based Internet service providers.

With those kinds of data speeds available, the possibilities for innovation are endless. Autonomous and connected vehicles, smart cities, smart energy grids, smart factories, robotic drones, streaming virtual and augmented reality experiences, and remote health monitoring are just a few of the areas that could be transformed by 5G.

It all sounds like a technological nirvana.  But the problem is 5G is unlike previous cellular network upgrades.  First, it’s not a widespread “coverage spectrum,” meaning 5G’s millimeter waves don’t travel far from the cell site or penetrate materials very well.  Because of these limitations, telecom companies have admitted 5G will likely never scale beyond dense urban environments.

Another issue little understood by the public is that to attain the seamless data world of 5G requires a lot of real-world infrastructure. 5G requires thousands of small antennas deployed onto cell towers, utility poles, lampposts, buildings and other public and private hardscape.  Already Los Angeles and other cities are balking at the prices the federal government has mandated they accept from the telecom industry, while some residents are protesting the intrusion of the antennas in their neighborhoods.

These challenges have slowed an already delayed rollout of 5G services across the country.  Verizon initially announced 5G capabilities in Chicago and Minneapolis (though the media had a difficult time finding the 5G data stream) and promises to expand to 20 additional cities this year.  (San Diego and Los Angeles are included but somehow Orange County has been squeezed out thus far.)

On the mobile phone front, Samsung and Verizon have partnered to market 5G-enabled smartphones in the first half of 2019.  Interestingly, Apple is moving more cautiously and says it won’t roll out its 5G phone until 2020.

Even with all these issues, the Southern California emerging tech community is moving forward to take advantage of the opportunities that will be afforded by the 5G network.  EvoNexus, a startup incubator based in Irvine, has announced a partnership with Qualcomm seeking new companies looking to deliver services via the 5G network.  Newport Beach-based startup Mondavi recently announced a system to extend the range of the 5G coverage area, while Irvine-based CellOnyx is offering a software solution that expands the cellular capacity of 5G networks.

I will avoid joining the long list of failed prognosticators regarding when 5G will finally arrive in our daily lives.  For all its potential benefits, however, I do count myself among its well-wishers.

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The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this week was a heartbreaking tragedy for the entire world.  Our hopes and best wishes go to the people of France (and around the world) that somehow this beloved, historic landmark can be successfully restored.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, my thoughts have been on prevention. How could a fire take down such a major historic site today and not in the 800 years since Notre Dame was built?  Where was the modern technology to ensure this didn’t happen?

The answers to these questions likely won’t be clear for some time.  However, they do bring up a prescient point about our own homes and technology.  We’re now on an unstoppable growth path for smart homes because consumers have seen real value in the security, safety and convenience enabled by home automation technology.

In the early days of the industry, from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, smart home technology was mostly relegated to dedicated early adopters and do-it-yourselfers who were willing to put up with kludgy gadgets and an unreliable network technology called X10. The joy was in the challenge of connecting and remotely controlling lights, locks, cameras and more around the home.  These brave souls created a solid consumer base for a company called Smarthome in Irvine, California.  Smarthome started the first e-commerce site dedicated to home automation products in 1995.

One of the first smart home products to capture the imagination of consumers was the Roomba, the vacuum cleaning robot, first released in 2002.  But home automation was still mostly for hobbyists for the next 10 years until the advent of the Nest.  Introduced to the market by two former Apple engineers, the Nest Learning Thermostat was a sleek, programmable, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat that leveraged ubiquitous smart phones to control and optimize the heating and cooling of homes.

While the Nest helped educate the public on the efficiencies to be gained from home automation, there was controversy in its early days regarding claims that it reduced energy costs.  These doubts weren’t helped by recalls of the company’s next product, the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, when it was found the alarm feature could be easily disabled.  (Don’t worry, Nest Labs recovered and was purchased by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014.)

After the advent of the Nest products, most smart home industry observers believed the “killer app” needed for mass adoption still hadn’t arrived.  A consensus has now formed that the Ring video doorbell deserves that recognition.

There had been ‘smart’ doorbells offered by home automation providers before, but Ring creator Jamie Siminoff benefited from a convergence of several trends for his success: 1) the price of compact HD cameras had become affordable, 2) viewing HD video on smartphones had become commonplace and, 3) consumers had become concerned over the growing number of Amazon deliveries being stolen from doorsteps.

It also didn’t hurt that Ring could serve as a deterrent to burglars from trying to enter homes, while parents enjoyed receiving a video confirmation their children had returned home from school safely.

The Ring video doorbell has now become the gateway for homeowner interest in smart home products.  Many have integrated a smart thermostat like the one first marketed by Nest, as well as installed connected smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for the protection of their homes and families.  The popularity of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home’s AI voice assistants has also led to consumers considering new ways to automate devices in the home through voice commands.

The appliance, home improvement and medical device industries are all looking to take advantage of this long sought-after consumer interest in home automation.

In some ways, Ring was the right product at the right time.  But it was the ability of a smart home product to deliver critical, real-world value of safety and security that made the difference.  All future home automation product makers should take heed.




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How to Be a Tech Hero and Not the Villain

April 12, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

For me, the best movie villains make you hate that character for the rest of your life.

The top film villain on my list would have to be Hans Gruber from the original “Die Hard.”  For the rest of his career, I couldn’t watch Alan Rickman in anything else without connecting the actor to Hans in my mind.

A close second in movie villainhood for me is Caledon Hockley, the forever smug, privileged, murderous rich kid from “Titanic” played by actor Billy Zane.

Having appeared in his share of successful movies, Zane obviously knows how to tell a story.  That’s why I looked forward to attending his keynote titled “The Art and Science of Storytelling” at EurekaFEST in Irvine on April 6.  Afterall, he’s only villainous in character, not in person.

Zane currently runs The Convergence Lab, a technology research incubator and fund operated in partnership with Caltech’s office of Tech Transfer. The mission of his company is to build a bridge between the best scientific minds and Hollywood storytellers to help secure R&D funding and IP licensing for innovations in the fields of AI/machine learning, AR/VR, autonomous systems and more.

The actor provided a lot of sound advice to the crowd of tech entrepreneurs on navigating their way through the startup minefield.  However, the advice that resonated most for me as a professional communicator was:  In the age of the tech backlash or ‘techlash,’ it’s best to communicate the human side of your company’s story as early as possible to as many audiences as possible.

As Zane said, there is a growing apprehension in the general public regarding the tech industry these days.  People are much more wary of tech giants such as Facebook and Google in having their best interests, much less the broader interests of society, at heart.  Politicians have taken notice, and many are calling for legislation to restrict their power and influence.

Zane explained that he keeps his kids away from most current technology and content, instead having them focus on entertainment that validates common human values and bolsters the social contract.  He pointed to older Hollywood movies such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang” that championed kindness, generosity and silliness as examples.

“The goal of our age shouldn’t be to simply build better technology,” Zane said.  “The goal should be to build better people and a better world.”

As Group Director for Technology at HKA, I couldn’t agree more.

Having represented tech companies large and small for more than two decades, I’ve seen too many tech firms, enabled by their all-too-accommodating PR agencies, get far into the weeds of their “solutions” without ever providing the all-important why.  Too often, marketers focus on telling their stories to themselves, or to a very limited number of potential early adopters, rather than the larger business community, media and society-at-large.

The key, as Zane correctly pointed out, is to “anthropomorphize” your company by being clear from the start about your motivations and aspirations.  Build a wellspring of early supporters who are cheering for your success, have them understand the people behind the technology, and show them how you will change the future for the better.

Zane said that building this goodwill early will also help your company through any “single point of failure,” and investors, partners and customers will stay with you through to the end.

To do this, you need storytellers who understand the broader human aspects of your company’s journey and how to tell a story simply.  That’s where HKA can help.  While we know tech, HKA is a generalist agency that also works with nonprofits, professional services firms and other people-focused industries.  With each client, we dig deep to find the compelling human side of their stories, and we build a narrative over time among influential audiences that leads to impactful results.

The moral of this story?  HKA can show you how to be a tech hero.

And in that vein, we should mention that Zane’s company is conducting pro bono work for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and its Innovation Studio at the Gamifying Pediatrics Hackathon today through April 14.  The goal is to “transform pediatric healthcare through mobile games, virtual reality, augmented reality and immersive digital experiences.”

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As many companies have discovered, digital transformation (DX) isn’t easy.

In remaking their organizations to compete in the digital age, many executives have noted the challenges of implementing DX, such as changing corporate culture attitudes and preconceptions; ideating effective new business models, services and customer experiences; dealing with complex IT overhauls; meeting cybersecurity and privacy requirements, and more.

But a critical component to DX success that hasn’t been addressed is devising a strategic communications program to support these dramatic business changes.  That is a major oversight if companies want to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them in the age of DX.

It’s common PR wisdom with major company transitions such as mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring or IPOs that educating your organization’s stakeholders is key to success, ensuring audiences understand the why, the how, the when and the expected results of your efforts.  To do this correctly, you must communicate early and often.

The communications strategy to support your DX plans will be different depending on where your company dwells in the ecosystem.  The audiences identified below will need to receive your messaging wherever they get their news and information on their favorite media and mediums via a consistent PR and marketing program.

DX Enablers

We define this category as companies leveraging advanced technologies to make DX easier for traditional enterprises in solving key issues, enhancing core processes or enabling new services.

Examples of this DX category in Orange County include Veritone, Inc. which helps companies leverage the power of AI to enhance operational efficiencies and effectiveness, and NextVR, enabling media companies to broadcast live sports and entertainment in virtual reality.

The targets for this category’s communications efforts are B2B customers, which in DX can be across industries. For example, large enterprises of any stripe could benefit from a company leveraging AI, IoT and cloud technologies to reduce their energy costs by 15-20%, whether it’s a manufacturer, retailer, restaurant franchise or healthcare provider.  These disparate enterprises likely won’t have the in-house expertise to implement such a valuable solution.

Messaging in this category must be carefully tailored to communicate the benefits of a DX solution to specific buyers and their influencers. The best move is to identify the top 3-5 most promising industries and focus your communications efforts on companies in those sectors initially.

Other stakeholders require communications include potential investors, whether venture capitalists or retail and institutional traders, as well as potential channel, marketing and technology channel partners that can speed growth and enhance services.

DX Disruptors

A growing number of startups are offering new types of services directly to the market.  These services are disrupting business models before the wider industry can catch up.

Examples in this category include Uber and Lyft for the taxi and shuttle industry; Air BnB in the hospitality industry; and more recent arrivals like Turo in the rental car industry.

The audiences in this category may include investors throughout the disruptor’s funding journey, early adopters who will accept and tout pilot programs, government agencies when revised regulations are required, and a broad base of potential customers when the company is ready to scale.   Industry analysts are also important, as building credibility through third-party endorsements will be key to growth.

DX Ventures

Larger companies across industries are keenly aware of the dangers DX presents to their business if they don’t stay alert and flexible.  That’s why so many are not only integrating better internal processes enabled by the array of DX technologies but are also looking to offer new types of services and radically enhanced customer experiences to the market.

Many of these firms are forming ‘intrapreneurial’ business units – akin to having an independent startup inside the company – to create pilot programs like Amazon’s cashier-less stores and FedEx’s drone deliveries.  Others, like McDonalds recently, are acquiring the most promising DX startups to help them remain competitive.

The stakes are high for established brands implementing DX because of the market interest and focus.  Failed projects or confusing signals must be avoided.  A detailed communications plan and timeline is required that addresses all stakeholders.  This includes internal audiences who need to stay informed and motivated as DX implementation is underway, as well as external audiences as companies introduce new services such as drone deliveries to their doorstep or offer VR replicas of their favorite brick & mortar store.

A DX implementation presents a massively difficult challenge to any enterprise, requiring careful analysis and foresight to achieve optimum results.  A strategic communications plan and PR program targeting all audiences must be considered as well for a smooth rollout and transition.


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Like the wildflowers springing up everywhere, the emerging tech community is blooming here in Orange County.

Companies are moving to the OC, like Cognize, an AI startup which recently relocated to Irvine from the Bay Area.  Startup funding continues, like NotifAi, an Internet of Things (IoT) firm based in Aliso Viejo which recently closed a Series A round of $1.2 million, as well as a recent $4.7 million funding round for Costa Mesa-based LoanSnap and its AI-infused mortgage app.

More established OC emerging tech firms continue introducing industry-changing products, like Syntiant’s AI-enabled processors for voice applications. While still others are seeing wildly successful exits, such as Parcel Pending and its smart locker systems being acquired for more than $100 million – with the added benefit that the company’s operations are staying in Irvine!

But like our local wildflowers, emerging tech startups don’t just bloom automatically. They need the right conditions to germinate, grow and display their magnificent colors to the world.

The good news is the OC emerging tech community has worked long and hard to create the conditions favorable to this emerging tech spring.  Check out a few of these below:

  • The Center for Digital Transformation at the Paul Merage School of Business at UCI was formed several years ago to help businesses leverage the changes being wrought by AI, the IoT, the cloud and other disruptive technologies. Its recent Road to Reinvention conference was a sold out event with executives flying  in from all over the country to attend.


  • The Cove, home to UCI Applied Innovation’s incubator program and gathering place, will be moving to new offices that will double the size of the facility to meet its growing popularity.


  • Journalist Deirdre Newman had the foresight to start OC Startups Now a year ago, focusing on news, opinions, Q&As and features entirely about the OC startup ecosystem.


  • The organizations that have supported the local tech scene for many years are gearing up for digital transformation as well. OCTANe’s annual Technology Innovation Forum is set for May 13-14 and will feature Lori Torres, CEO of the aforementioned Parcel Pending. The event will focus on the impacts of data and technology on the future of work, retail, Smart Cities, sports, fintech, transportation and health.  And nominations for the organization’s annual High Tech Awards are closing April 5.



  • Watch for Eureka FEST 2019 starting this Tuesday at the Eureka Building in Irvine. The event celebrates entrepreneurship with a week of programs leading up to a day-long festival filled with a lineup of successful and influential entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and industry experts.


We would be remiss in not also mentioning Startup Grind OC, sponsored by Google for Startups; EvoNexus, a technology incubator in Irvine, and PeopleSpace, a tech hub and startup incubator based in Irvine as well.

With all these flowers blooming, there should be plenty to keep the OC emerging tech scene buzzing for some time to come.

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My grandmother was born in Ireland in 1892 and lived a full, healthy life until her passing 100 years later.

When she was a kid living in the hills of County Mayo, there were no cars, electricity or airplanes. And if anyone had predicted that her and her siblings would live to see rockets in space with humans onboard someday, the proprietor of the local pub would have cut him off and sent him on his way.

I used to believe I would never see the magnitude of technological change that she saw in her lifetime.  Now I’m not so sure.

Just this month there was this headline: Flying Taxis Draw Some Consumer Support.  The story is about the results of a recent study about the consumer comfort level with autonomous flying taxis.  The reason for the study is because companies like Uber are already testing the technology with a target implementation as early as 2023.

There are of course an endless number of futuristic technologies already here – like virtual assistants, autonomous vehicles and AR/VR – as well as many on the horizon that will likely change society forever.

This rising tide of innovation is being driven by businesses leveraging advanced technologies and new processes to better compete, meet customer expectations and increase profits in a phenomenon collectively known as “digital transformation.”

What exactly is digital transformation?  There are almost as many definitions as there are pundits who are discussing it but here are several we found that may help nail it down:

“Digital transformation involves using digital technologies to remake a process to become more efficient or effective. The idea is to use technology not just to replicate an existing service in a digital form, but to use technology to transform that service into something significantly better.”

 Mark Samuels, ZDNet

“As digital technology evolved, people started generating ideas for using business technology in new ways, and not just to do the old things faster. This is when the idea of digital transformation began to take shape. With new technologies, new things — and new ways of doing them — were suddenly possible.  Digital transformation is changing the way business gets done and, in some cases, creating entirely new classes of businesses. Now we’re firmly entrenched in the digital age, and businesses of all sorts are creating clever, effective and disruptive ways of leveraging technology.”

Mark Edmead, CIO Contributor


“There’s a technological tsunami on the horizon and it’s about to shake every business to its core. This digital transformation will be bigger than any before it and will be on a global scale, transforming customer experiences along with their relationships with those they do business with. This transformation is being driven by seven major elements of the Internet of Things: artificial intelligence (AI), digital voice assistants, smart homes, drones and robots, connected cars, sensors, and virtual and augmented reality.”

                                                                                                                Chuck Martin, Net Future Institute


“Digital technologies enable the development of new or enhanced products and services along with new and better ways to deliver them to customers, along with vastly higher levels of efficiency. More importantly perhaps, they enable fundamentally new ways to organize business. What has emerged is digital transformation, the reinvention of a company – its vision and strategy, organization structure, processes, capabilities, and culture, to match the evolving digital business context.  This transformation, through digital technologies, is not only changing companies but redefining markets and entire industries.”

Vijay Gurbaxani, Director of the Center for Digital Transformation

UCI Paul Merage School of Business


“Love it or hate it, digital transformation is at the center of industry-leading organizations. Digital transformation is not simply a list of IT projects, it involves completely rethinking how an organization uses technology to pursue new revenue streams, products, services, and business models.”

Shawn Fitzgerald, Research Director, Digital Transformation Strategies, IDC

Read more on the topic here Why Communications Is Key to Digital Transformation or contact HKA to learn how we can help.

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The entire team at HKA Marketing Communications is excited to announce the revitalization of our technology practice to serve a new generation of emerging tech entrepreneurs in the Digital Transformation era.

HKA has a proud legacy in the technology industry that dates back 20 years. Our clients from that time anticipated many of today’s hottest tech trends, such as commercial satellites, smart manufacturing, bio sensors and advanced medical imaging. Several of our clients saw highly successful investor exits through IPOs and acquisitions by major firms.

Today, innovative startups are offering solutions that are taking advantage of new paradigms enabled by artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, 5G wireless networks and other advancements.  These technologies are being used to dramatically enhance the customer experience, maximize efficiencies, reduce costs and improve sustainability for organizations across industries.  Many of these young companies are looking to be heard to secure the right customers, partners, influencers and investors necessary to compete and win.

To that end, HKA appointed Mike Kilroy as Group Director, Technology. Kilroy was an integral part of HKA’s previous technology era and is now leading a team that serves the technology companies that are transforming business and society as we know it.

Why should an emerging tech startup, or larger firms exploring new ventures, consider HKA for its PR and digital marketing needs?

In addition to our technology industry experience, HKA is a well-established and respected agency with 35 years of award-winning business and acclaimed client service.  During its long history, HKA has maintained a diverse client mix, enabling the opportunity to take successful strategies from one industry and applying them in refreshing and innovative ways to new industries.

With offices in Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area, HKA is a highly collaborative agency that ensures senior-level management is directly leading and serving accounts.  The agency culture is also steeped in journalistic best practices and perspectives, with the majority of our staff experienced in the news industry.  HKA knows how to tell a story that resonates with our extensive business/financial, tech and trade media contacts as well as customers and their influencers via social media, blogs, email and other digital marketing mediums.

HKA is fully committed to meeting the communications needs of today’s emerging tech firms throughout their journey.  Please check out us out at or call us at (714) 426-0444 and let us know how we can help.

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It was a nice surprise this past month when it was announced that Tesla, Elon Musk’s premium electric car brand, had acquired Maxwell Technologies, the former defense contractor based in San Diego and makers of an energy storage device called an “ultracapacitor.”

Why the interest?  Because Maxwell Technologies was a key client in HKA’s emerging technology practice back in its early days – somewhere around the turn of the 21st century.

During that time, Maxwell had begun moving away from serving the defense industry and commercializing its various technologies.  If memory serves, its ultracapacitor technology was initially developed to help the Pentagon determine what would happen to electro-magnetic fields in the advent of a nuclear attack.  Yes, you read that right.  During the height of the Cold War, the U.S. military needed to know if its communications equipment would continue to work after a nuclear strike.

Good news for America and the world, the military never had to find out what would happen in a real-world scenario and Maxwell could apply its robust R&D innovations to the market.

And take it to the market we did.  HKA worked closely with Maxwell CEO wunderkind Ken Potashner and his team to promote the company near and far, securing numerous national broadcast and business media coverage, including a three-page spread in Forbes.  We also conducted a highly successful trade media program that helped Maxwell win new customers in the private sector.

Even then, Ken would tout Maxwell’s ultracapacitors as a perfect device for storing energy from braking in electric vehicles and then releasing it quickly during acceleration.  At the time, the EV industry was in its nascent stages and wouldn’t really take off for another 10 years.  But Ken was a visionary and with HKA’s help he was able to get investors to support his dream and set Maxwell Technologies on a successful path in the commercial space.

Through the years, Maxwell sold off its other business units but kept hold of its ultracapacitor tech, likely because it was the financial mainstay of the company.  For a good take on the reasons why Elon and Tesla bought the company, read this article from InsideEVs.

What is the PR lesson to be learned from the Maxwell story?  Some emerging tech, especially categories involving hardware as opposed to software, can take years to reach full maturity.  However, without establishing a solid foundation of brand awareness and credibility early on, a technology’s day might never arrive.  The aggressive PR program HKA and Maxwell conducted set the stage for success.

Congratulations to everyone at Maxwell Technologies!

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