Interior of the La Kretz Innovation Campus; photo by Gary Leonard
Interior of the La Kretz Innovation Campus; photo by Gary Leonard
The Arts District has yet another beautiful new destination. A brick building that could be a housing complex, restaurant or even a museum except for the one key detail that betrays its intentions: a large parking lot shaded by a huge grove of solar panels.

The La Kretz Innovation Campus, which began low-key operations about three months ago, is the newest home of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), which had been operating in a small temporary space a few blocks away since 2013. La Kretz is one of the few incubator hubs in the country dedicated to developing cutting-edge clean technology businesses, said LACI President and CEO Fred Walti.

The goal at La Kretz is threefold: to support budding clean technology companies with equipment, infrastructure and mentorship; to help companies partner with the DWP in an effort to benefit the utility and its customers; and to give the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power its own research and development space. The campus holds companies that work in fields from solar energy to water conservation to electric bikes and beyond. Nancy Sutley, LADWP’s chief sustainability and economic development officer, said the project gives the utility access to all sorts of cutting-edge technology.

Occupants include Pick My Solar, a business founded in 2013 that connects solar panel buyers to the most affordable local sellers and installers. Max Aram, the co-founder and CEO, has been part of LACI since the start of the company, and its staff has grown to nearly 20 people. The sales team will be moving to a new office space this summer, but Aram is choosing to keep company leadership at La Kretz for the near future.

“It’s such a strong ecosystem. We have mentors, advisors, great guests coming all the time, and DWP is right here,” Aram observed. “We have meetings with other founders and CEOs each month. We share our challenges, and if we’ve gone through a similar problem, we can share our experience.”

The LACI space is currently only about one-third full, Walti said, with the ability to house 25-40 companies depending on the size of each group.

Much of the airy, 60,000-square-foot building is flexible office space, with a number of cubicles and workstations clustered in bunches near glassed-in conference rooms and offices. Start-ups that hope to get space in La Kretz as LACI “portfolio companies” are rigorously vetted, with checks on finances, the business model and the principals.

“This is the first facility of its kind in the county, maybe the world, where a major utility’s new research and development center is in the same space as an incubator,” Walti said. “We’re going to see what collaboration happens when the research arm of a utility meets entrepreneurs and inventors.”
11 April 2016

excerpts from "Inside a New Tech Incubator" by Eddie Kim, Staff Writer for LA Downtown News