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Member Spotlight: Innovate Pasadena

This month’s Member Spotlight highlights Pasadena member company Innovate Pasadena. a nonprofit organization that aims to create a vibrant ecosystem of technology and design innovation in the greater Pasadena area that supports sustainable economic growth.

Since its 2013 launch, Innovate Pasadena has organized and supported over 450 community events reaching nearly 38,000 people in the region. Throughout the year, Innovate Pasadena hosts regular meetups, programs and events that connect Pasadena’s great institutions, companies and people.

We spoke with Co-founder and President Mike Giardello to bring you the inside scoop on Innovate Pasadena.

The Q&A

Mike Giardello, Co-founder & President
‍Mike Giardello, Co-founder & President

Q: In one sentence, describe who your company is and what you do.

A: As a nonprofit organization, Innovate Pasadena is committed to advancing Pasadena as a center of technology and design innovation by enabling collaboration across business and education to attract companies, entrepreneurs, innovators, and capital to the broader community. 

Q: What is the problem you're solving?

A: So many people don’t realize it, but behind the scenes Pasadena has a strong technology and design sector. Our major employers include Caltech, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Huntington Memorial Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, Pasadena City College, Guidance Software, OpenX, Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering. We're also home to the Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative, the Alexandria Innovation Center, the Business Technology Center, the Small Business Development Center, and Pasadena Angels, AND we're a "college town," so we have quite a few resources here to support innovation!

But our educational institutions, companies, and people tend to be pretty humble and focused. We’re here to serve as a bridge between all these amazing resources and really bring people together to learn new things, to share their experiences with others, and to help them collaborate together on new ideas. Pasadena is poised to grow and thrive, and it’s our job to tout this amazing ecosystem.

Q: What brought your company to Los Angeles, and what do you like about the startup ecosystem here?

A: Our board members are all Los Angeles and Pasadena locals who have a true passion for this city. Los Angeles is a pretty unique place. It’s a sprawling mass of cities, each with a different feel and something interesting to offer. The great weather doesn't hurt, either! 

Q: How has being a part of the Cross Campus community helped you or your business grow?

A: Having a home base at Cross Campus has really brought us that extra connection with the entrepreneurs in our community-- small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs tend to be innovative just out of necessity. It makes sense that as a facilitator for the innovation community we should have a location that puts us right in the middle of so many interesting new ventures and small businesses.

We also love having Cross Campus as a venue for some of our community-organized events, like the IP Friday Morning Coffee Meetup. The members and the space itself really lend a great atmosphere to all our community events. 

Q: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

A: This June will be the third anniversary of our official launch party. We recently took a look back at how many events we've helped produce, Meetups and community groups we've helped get off the ground, and people who've participated in our various programs, and the results were impressive. It's humbling to be part of an organization that has achieved such impact in a relatively short amount of time.

Q: Tell me about a time you failed at a goal you needed to achieve

A: We’re always trying new things, and our community members come up with lots of great ideas. Sometimes new programs just don’t come together because we don’t have the bandwidth or new Meetup groups disband because they can’t find the right audience. It might sound like a negative, but failures happen all the time! We just have to keep exploring those new ideas and learning from mistakes, because the successes make it all worth it.

Last year we hosted a contest for local tech companies called the “Epic Failures Competition” where we asked entrepreneurs to share their stories of failure, and how those early failures ultimately helped them to succeed. Their stories were fascinating, and it serves as a great reminder that when you fail, you're in good company.

Q: What are some of the characteristics of people that have been successful at your company?

A: All of our board members are successful businesspeople who represent a variety of backgrounds and industries. They each have achieved something great in their respective fields and feel that they want to share that knowledge by being a part of Innovate Pasadena. I think we all have a desire to pass on what we know or give back in some way as well as keep on learning, and I think that's a trait that will take you far.

We also run a program called the Meetup Creators-- individuals who want to form a community group or meetup can apply to the program and receive monetary and back office support, as well as hands-on guidance, to get their organization started. All of our successful Meetup Creators are solid planners, they're very good at working out the details well in advance and I think that helps them handle any last minute challenges that come their way.  Also, they not only are great teachers, but great learners. That desire for new knowledge, and the drive to share what they know, helps them to keep producing great events.

Q: If your company were a Hogwarts house, which one would it be? Why?

A: I know everyone says Gryffindor, but I think Innovate Pasadena would definitely get sorted into Hufflepuff. Hufflepuffs are hardworking, friendly, helpful, and most importantly, inclusive of others. We’re here to give support and help others. Also, you don't see any Hufflepuff Death Eaters - we’re the good guys!

Q:  Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?

A: Innovate Pasadena wants to let the rest of the outside world know just how much talent we have here, how many great innovations have come out of Pasadena, and we’ll keep on working hard to build strong community connections that support economic growth. I'd love it if in 10 years Pasadena is recognized as a major center of innovation, with well-established inclusive design and technology education programs, and plenty of capital to support and attract new innovations that benefit us all.

To stay connected, sign up for the bi-weekly newsletter at goo.gl/LpJxBJ, visit innovatepasadena.org and follow us on Twitter at @innovatpasadena.