L.A.’s Milken Institute Global Conference Had Just One L.A.-Themed Panel


This year’s Milken Institute Global Conference spanned four days and included talks on topics ranging from the economic future of the Middle East to how to engage the curious mind (Brian Grazer’s, to be exact).

But only one discussion of the 170 sessions put on at the Beverly Hilton this week included Los Angeles in its title. Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Why L.A. is Working—moderated loosely by hedge fund advisor Steven Drobny and featuring business strategist Walter Delph, venture capitalist Kara Nortman, True Car CEO Scott Painter, tech entrepreneur Julie Schoenfeld, and banker Steven Sugarman—checked all the talking point boxes you’d expect from a group of people who make their money developing a tech industry in a city better known for making movies than inspiring innovations in engineering.

Between talk of “market disruptions” (the Big One is apparently headed this way) and a short primer on business loans, four important points were made about L.A.’s small businesses and start-ups. Here’s the deal:

Despite matching monikers, L.A.’s tech scene doesn’t behave like the Bay Area’s
That’s because it isn’t. Tech companies in Southern California don’t have as much street cred with investors as their neighbors to the north, which makes it harder for L.A. start-ups to make progress quickly but also gives local entrepreneurs a reason to approach business more creatively. Sugarman, who runs Banc of California, likened L.A.’s nascent Silicon Beach scene to the Wild West—in a good way.

Local innovation goes beyond the beach
Engineers don’t want to work in cold, dark spaces somewhere in the Inland Empire—or so says Painter, whose company has offices overlooking the Pacific. But Nortman was quick to point out that there are wonderful start-ups opening all over the city. She’s been working recently in the Arts District. “I feel like I’m in Brooklyn or the West Village—with good weather,” she quipped.

L.A.’s tech sector is going to succeed because of—not replace—the entertainment industry
As tech companies continue to focus on user experience, L.A.’s creative know-how will only increase in value. “Where do we draw our talent from? The studios,” said Painter, who pointed out how Angelenos have transformed retail environments. “If you look at L.A. companies,” he added, creating good experiences is “where their strength is.”

As they build it, money will come
The panelists conferred that L.A. is the most interesting market in the world right now—bar none. “It’s exciting to see genuine engineering talent at the recruiting level that just wasn’t here five years ago,” said Painter. Sugarman agreed, and then looked further down the road. His take? Real tech cred is going to draw real tech money. Really.