It was described by director Brandon Cardwell as going from the desktop to the cloud and is designed to meet entrepreneurs where they are in building their companies. The venture is funded by the cities of Livermore, Danville, Pleasanton and Dublin as well as Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national labs. They’ve been working together for almost a decade on the I-Gate and Daybreak Labs incubator.
During that time, assets available locally for start-ups have increased significantly and networks have grown stronger, particularly in the life sciences. The Startup Tri-Valley website contains reports from Mirador Capital Partners Executive Vice President Lauren Moone that show device companies, medical devices and biotechnology devices, are attracting 90% of the investment. Those include the very successful 10x Genomics and Unchained Labs, that are newer to the valley that for years has had stalwart companies such as Thermo Fisher, Abbott and Roche Molecular.
The presence of such companies plus the highly educated workers at the two national labs make for a rich local talent pool. The ah-ha moment, Cardwell explained, was when they realized they also had many senior executives who had built scalable startups in the Silicon Valley, but lived here because of the quality of life. Unchained Labs CEO Tim Harkness is the poster guy for that—he built, scaled and then sold two start-ups while commuting south and then started his third in Pleasanton because the key metric was riding his bike to work. Cardwell explained that the Silicon Valley has an abundance of people who share the unique skill of how to scale a start-up—and some of them live here.
Cardwell, thinking back to the early days of the I-Gate incubator, recalled that AEye, which makes Lidar systems for self-driving cars, was one of the first five companies. It had just two employees and he introduced CEO Luis Dussan to Greg Hitchan who wrote the first check investing in the company. Cardwell had met Hitchan through Stephanie Beasly at Sandia labs. Beasly currently chairs the Startup Tri-Valley board.
Those networks and connections have widened and solidified over the years. Hitchan, along with Don Garman of Mirador Partners, is the managing partner with Tri-Valley Ventures, the local venture fund that they launched in 2017.
Cardwell explained one difference that the new approach will make: an entrepreneur in life sciences emailed him and needed 200 feet of lab space. Cardwell did not have that available in the incubator, but connected him with a commercial real estate broker who knew other potential subleases. Startup Tri-Valley is designed to span across the Tri-Valley as opposed to be focused on the incubator.
Beasly explained that the goal is to meet the entrepreneurs wherever they are and with whatever they need and connect them in the Tri-Valley. She also said that the pandemic shutdown has caused people to re-evaluate their priorities and consider different opportunities. They want to make it easy for them to pursue them here.
Currently venture capital in the Tri-Valley is spread across the funding stages for companies. Success, according to Cardwell, likely will look like many more funding deals early in company’s life span—demonstrating how many start-ups have been launched here.
Time will tell, but the parts are in place and there’s growing momentum for the life sciences and deep tech start-up ecosystem here.