2013 Grants Challenge

Jobs for LA’s Cleantech Future: the FLoW Multiplier Program

We propose the creation of the First Look West (FLoW) multiplier program, to harness the boundless energy of the entrepreneurial university youth who care passionately about the environment and the city they live in to anchor an apprentice type of job creation program. This program would reach across the cultural and economic divide, and target their young and ambitious counterparts in the underserved communities.

First Look West (FLoW, http://flow.caltech.edu) is a program for developing college students into the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. As such we actively support the formation of cleantech companies in Southern California, particularly LA County. This business plan competition reaches out to students throughout the region, asking them to identify the biggest challenges in clean energy or the environment, and to create innovative solutions that will grow fast and disrupt the marketplace. We provide these teams with mentorship and training to define the technical and business aspects of their ideas, and so form viable companies. We also connect these companies with entrepreneurial and apprenticeship programs, as well as potential investors, partners and customers. All entrants receive this mentorship and education, but the winning teams receive up to $100,000.00 in cash as well.

The FLoW multiplier program will be run as a pilot involving start-up companies in two sectors: sustainable environmental products and solar energy, two target areas that have a good mixture of engineering/manufacturing and marketing needs that can provide a foundation for the apprenticeship program. This consists of two parts: providing job opportunities in fast growing new start-ups, and supporting education and mentorship/training for these young people.

The Job Opportunities element will involve competitive grants (potentially with matching grants from local, state or federal government agencies) to support one apprentice per company enrolled in the program as a part-time employee. They will join the team as an intern, but could graduate to becoming a full time employee over time, perhaps eventually receiving an equity share in the company.

The Mentorship/training component focuses on imparting practical entrepreneurial skills to both the university innovators and the apprentice employees. The FLoW multiplier program will provide access to boot camp training run by our partners, and will host training events at local colleges and universities. For the first, we will offer entry to excellent boot camps such as the UC Davis Green Technology Entrepreneurship Program or Draper University, and access to the well-established Cleantech Open program and award fellowships for individuals to travel and attend. FLoW’s own program of mentorship and training will feature a series of practical workshops, given by experienced experts on topics such as company formation, marketing, team building, and product development.

This program will have a direct impact on the LA 2050 income and employment indicator by creating new companies in the region, and a framework for placing cleantech jobs that impact multiple points of the LA economy, including manufacturing. Therefore, it will also have a significant impact on the education and environmental quality indicators, perhaps as important as the effects on income and employment.

The First Look West program began as a partnership between USC, UCLA, and Caltech, and has expanded to include colleges and universities throughout the Southern California region and the west coast. The FLoW Multiplier program will significantly strengthen FLoW’s capability to help new companies form. By anchoring this initiative in the Los Angeles region, we are creating a hub for cleantech entrepreneurship that will lead bright young entrepreneurs from many backgrounds to remain in the area.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

FLoW was created in October of 2011, and the first mentorship program and competition took place in the spring of 2012. As a result of that first operational cycle, we were able to leverage limited government support from the DOE into a vehicle that has attracted widespread stakeholder support and partnerships of benefit to young entrepreneurs, the cleantech workforce and ultimately the economy. Some numbers from the first year of the competition best illustrate our organization’s achivements:

- The competition drew 83 teams from 34 universities throughout the west coast, including more than 20 from Southern California

- Young entrepreneurs developing energy from waste water treatment, robots for cleaning solar panels and solar cell films with 20% more efficiency took the top prizes at the regional finals competition.

- Fifteen teams continued after the competition to form new companies

- Four raised additional money, as much as $250,000, directly from their connection to FLoW.

- Jobs created: based on the first year exit survey, 23 of these early stage ventures, intended to add 1-10 jobs over the following 18 months, according to a survey.

- Teams from Flow have proceeded to join in regional and national business development programs, including the LA Cleantech Incubator, the Cleantech Open, and the UC Davis Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy.

- The program established a dual track program embracing Business Ready and Transformational Idea Award tracks to ensure great student ideas don’t get lost for lack of support

- The program achieved a partnership with the Southern California utilities, who are looking for technologies and talent

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Existing and potential future partners include:

USC, UCLA, Caltech, the Cal State University system, PCC and other community colleges, among many other colleges and universities. We are also partnered with the United States Department. of Energy (DOE), the LA Cleantech Incubator, the LADWP, Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy, the Cleantech Open, the UC Davis Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy, and Draper University and the network of Angel investors throughout Southern California. The additional funding would allow us to expand this partnership network even further.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The ultimate long term metrics for success are the number of new companies formed and number of new jobs created in the Los Angeles region. We will also measure the number of new ventures “spun out” from these partnerships by young entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds. Along the way, we will also collect statistics on the number of participants that continue in training programs, amount of investment/financing raised, and technologies created/licensed. Success for us also means new partnerships among the educational institutions in the region and other city and county job creation efforts.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

The FLoW program will create new cleantech companies in Los Angeles. This will mean high-quality, better paying jobs for the underserved communities in Los Angeles. It will also help provide a skilled workforce and idea pipeline for the already growing cleantech community in the region. By basing these companies here in Los Angeles, LA will become the test bed for the next generation of clean, energy efficient technologies, which will meet the region’s ambitious clean energy goals, and will improve environmental quality.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

The best measurement of success regarding income and employment would be the creation of new companies formed in the Los Angeles region, providing high-quality cleantech/environment jobs for the local workforce, partnered with training programs to grow that workforce. It would mean attracting a consistent flow of investment into these companies, leading to the establishment of a true cleantech entrepreneurial ecosystem. Such an ecosystem builds on itself, luring bigger corporations to establish a manufacturing or R&D facility in the city. Success would also mean new initiatives between the universities and local community colleges and city and county programs to create leadership roles for energetic students regardless of background.