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Innovation in the Tri-Valley

October 2, 2014 - Technology - , , , , , , , , , , ,
By: Chris Riley

You live in or near Silicon Valley. You are driven and ready to build your own startup. But there is a weird thing that happens when you cross the 580 Dublin grade. It is harder to find that startup mojo.

The tri-valley (Dublin/Livermore/Pleasanton) is packed with talented techies, bio-chemists, and life sciences individuals. They have great ideas, but need a place to connect, hang out and get the resources to execute on their ideas.

I am in the middle of building my own startup, focused on B2D and the DevOps space.  Previously, I was crossing the bay every day to San Mateo and San Francisco for full-time roles at various startups. My old commute was fine at first: I got to brush up on my Audible books and had plenty of windshield time for calls, but it eventually caught up with me and impacted all my other work. They say entrepreneurs make horrible employees.

When my work situation changed I was ready to be my own boss, but still wanted to participate in the fast-paced startup space I love. The problem was I knew when I go out on my own I was going to miss the social element. It would not be feasible to travel to the incubators in the Silicon Valley like Plug-and-Play that I love.

“I need to be around like minded techies to keep my energy going”

Thus I was stuck at home, missing one critical element to success. And it quickly became a drain on my creativity and progress.

It was not the new baby, three dogs, and home chores that were so distracting. Although they did pose some challenges. My real problem was engagement with like-minded startup techies. In order to keep my spark I needed to have random conversations, and see the activity of others.

In my hunt for office space I really struggled. I found many, very corporate, spaces that would give me the desk and Internet I needed, but not the culture. I ended up giving up, until one day on a trip to the Livermore Post office I noticed a sign “i-GATE” across the street at the old AT&T building, and I was immediately compelled.

Once I realized that this was a comprehensive startup incubator for local startups, I was thrilled. To the point of being annoying to the operators, because I wanted, no needed a space now! I emailed and tweeted at them twice in the same day, demanding answers of how to join.

i-GATE has been around for a while. When they were founded they were initially located off Vasco, and only open to Clean Tech startups. What is very unique about it is that it was co-founded by the City of Livermore, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National Labs, and grew to include other local cities in the Tri-Valley. This creates a unique partnership that opens the doors to the worlds most advanced knowledge with a community focus, not fiscal one.

Since their move to the new location they are now embracing general hardware, and software startups. Which is perfect for me. Anyone who has a great idea, in “tech”, and needs to execute can find a home here.

“I was sold just from the community aspect, but then I heard about the perks!”

Besides the basics: Internet, cubes, coffee, and comfy chairs! The space offers a printer, work supplies, meeting rooms, and 3D printer maker space! Oh and startup education.

There are ongoing events, great mentors, and links to support businesses such as legal and accounting. The mentors are people who have been through successful startups, raised money, and know what it takes to get your business off the ground and sustainable. Success is contagious.

Once your idea or prototype is fully backed, there are connections galore that can help you possibly get to your first round faster. It’s still up to you to sell your idea. There is even a regular presentation from local angels like Jack Porter of Forward Accelerator, who helps companies get to their seed, and A Rounds.

In my one month here I’ve met a mobile startup for restaurant delivery platform and services, a hardware company making an awesome new way to play your guitar, a B2B connection sharing mobile app, and a consumer product company who has painstakingly and iteratively 3D printed himself into a near polished prototype of a really cool product.

“I promise, I’m only a member”

For me the culture is key, and so is surrounding myself with talent. I learn and get motivated from interesting, sometimes challenging conversations.

Even if you do not have a startup but are a small business owner, or telecommuting for a full-time job. Hanging out in this space for a nominal fee will spark ideas, and help you get educated on things you would never expect.

For the small business you can learn about things like leveraging mobile payment systems, cutting edge marketing tools or even 3D printing new ideas for your existing business. For the telecommuter you can get tool ideas to help you with your job, and your startup when you are ready

Any small business or idea factory can benefit from the culture and tools in this environment.

If you are a startup, telecommuter, just have a cool idea, or a small business in the Tri-Valley, this place is for you. And I expect to see you at i-GATE soon, just stop in randomly and say “hi.”


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Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.