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L.A. Launches Cleantech Incubator in the Arts District

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011, at 02:36PM
L.A. Cleantech Incubator L.A. Cleantech Incubator

Rendering of the L.A. Cleantech Incubator's future home in the La Kretz Innovation Campus.



In his 2009 State of the City speech, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proclaimed that efforts along a five-mile stretch of the L.A. River to be dubbed the "Cleantech Corridor" would "transform our industrial core into ground zero for green jobs."

Two-and-a-half years later, the corridor is finally getting its first major anchor. On Tuesday evening, Villaraigosa and other city officials will gather in the Arts District to formally launch the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, a non-profit aimed at helping small cleantech businesses develop their products and get them into the commercial market.

"The incubator is the business-equivalent of a baseball farm system relative to the green economy here in Los Angeles," explains Fred Walti, the Executive Director hired to get the organization up and running.

Walti, who has a long background in startup companies as a founder and then as a management consultant, is excited by the challenges the cleantech sector poses.

"I see it as a huge business opportunity, aside from all the good things it is going to do for the environment," he says.

Before industries like solar power and electric vehicles can really become solid businesses, though, they need dramatic reductions in cost when compared to traditional models.

They also need space, both offices and labs.

"An internet company demonstrates its ability in the marketplace by getting up and out and getting a response," Walti explains. "A cleantech company has to demonstrate its technology and ability in a real, live commercial environment for it to sell."

That is what the incubator, located next to the Barker Block and Urth Caffe, hopes to provide. Currently in temporary space converted from a bus repair depot, the organization will be a large part of the soon-to-be-developed La Kretz Innovation Campus, which will occupy an entire block at 5th and Hewitt. LADWP and the Community Redevelopment Agency have both put funding into the site and incubator.

The facility will be a "game-changer" for both L.A.'s cleantech sector and for the Arts District, Walti says.

"Very few people know that LA is probably the biggest clean market in the country," he says. "We're so geographically spread out that we don't have a center, and it's tough for us to work together and for us to collaborate and to build on that."

"That's our vision: to build that missing center for the cleantech sector."

For the Arts District, the city believes the incubator investment will create 1600 new jobs over the next five years. That's a lot for a facility that will house just 25 companies.

"It's going to be a magnet," Walti explains. "When you have companies like that, what do they do? They attract other companies."

Walti, who has been involved in advising the city on cleantech issues for the last three years, believes the time and momentum is right.

""There are a lot of people in city government that really care about this," he says.

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