Appetite for risk makes California the innovation pioneer

November 21, 2014

Californians’ appetite for risk and change helps keep the state at the forefront of technology innovation even as increasing competition and the high cost of living make running a business difficult.

The success of companies such as Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley stars still fosters a climate that encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to push new ideas forward. That attitude, according to the “California the Pioneer” panel, leads to disruptive innovations by companies like Uber, the do-it-yourself ride service, and Airbnb, an online exchange that allows anyone with a spare bedroom to compete with hotels.

Those upstarts lead the list of new California companies that are changing the way people live and work, said Gil Elbaz, founder and CEO of the information-sharing company Factual.

Customers “want people to know where they go, what they’re going to do,” he said. “It’s all about people being delighted with the service and being willing to share” information.

Challenges to California’s dominance include the relatively high cost of living, a factor that can impose barriers to recruitment, said Bret Johnsen, chief financial officer of SpaceX. The company, a NASA partner founded by Elon Musk, designs, manufactures and launches rockets and spacecraft. A recent study indicates that most graduates of Southern California engineering schools leave the area. “We really need to put a focus, not only in Los Angeles but all of California, on attracting top talent,” he said.

Even so, the state remains the place others look to for pioneering technologies, emphasized Peter Marx, chief innovation technology officer for the city of Los Angeles. “California,” he said, “is the place everyone competes with.”