The Westside is in the midst of a “Venicesance.”
That was the term a couple observers used to describe the influx of technology companies to Venice and other nearby coastal communities in recent years.
Leading companies such as Google and numerous others in the technology and digital media industries that are involved in revolutionizing the exchange of information have been setting up base in Venice and surrounding communities – helping dub the area “Silicon Beach.”
The Venice Neighborhood chose to spotlight the emergence of these high-tech innovators locally with a town hall meeting April 12, where visitors had the chance to meet with representatives of 25 companies to learn more about the advancements they are making. According to the neighborhood council, the Venice Media District has listed 299 companies that are involved in producing creative content in Venice.
Hundreds of people lined the Westminster Elementary School auditorium for the first part of the town hall – a showcase in which the various companies discussed their products, work environment, job opportunities and answered questions. Neighborhood council member Matt Kline was pleasantly surprised to see so many visitors from the start but expected that the high-tech proliferation, which he said is currently a relevant topic, to make for a popular event.
“The community is interested in what’s going on (in the industry) and we thought it was important to highlight the work these companies are doing in the area,” Kline said. “We thought it would be a good time to put a human face on a lot of these companies and explain what they’re working on in an interactive way.”
Venice Chamber of Commerce President Alex Rosales said, “The companies here are making great strides in technology and great strides in bringing a better future for everyone.”
During the showcase, some company representatives were quick to attribute Venice’s attraction for tech and digital media organizations to its beachside location that is home to diverse and creative personalities.
“The weather, location and beach; the opportunity to create,” said Laura Bartlett of JibJab Media, citing some of the reasons the company founders chose to move to Venice in 2006. “You need the inspiration to create and Venice has a lot of inspiration to offer.” JibJab has been known for creating political satire videos but has recently worked on developing electronic greeting cards.
Kline believes the culture of creativity and openness has played a key role in influencing many technology and entertainment companies to choose to build their businesses in and around Venice.
“Venice is a welcoming place to people and ideas,” he said. “Living in Venice gives you a certain quality of life and if you can give that to your employees they’re going to be better for it.”
Theresa Sheldon of Santa Monica-based Neuro Syndicate, which works on Web and application design, agreed that the coastal location is a big draw for Silicon Beach and said the town hall showcase was beneficial for both the companies and visitors.
“I think it’s great. We’ve already met people that we could possibly be working with and collaborating with in the future,” she said.
Most of the standing-room-only crowd stayed for the second portion of the town hall, a panel moderated by Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl and including executives from Google, Mogreet, Viddy, Inc. and Amplify LA.
Rosendahl began the discussion by stating that his district is “in a Venicesance moment now” and noted how social media is connecting people around the world. The councilman told Thomas Williams, Google senior site and engineering director, how excited he was when the search engine giant decided to move its regional offices from Santa Monica to Venice last year. “When the mayor and I cut the ribbon that night we were thrilled you came to Venice,” Rosendahl said.
Since Google moved to Venice, the company has been involved in a variety of projects, including Google Plus, obtaining videos through Google Search and ad projects, Williams said.
“For us to be here is great because of all the diversity and eclectic nature of the people that are around,” he said. “We realized it was the right choice early on.”
James Citron, CEO and co-founder of Mogreet, which develops mobile video technology, said he felt Venice was the ideal spot to start up his company. The business has grown to 40 people, two-thirds of whom bike to work.
“There’s no place in the world where people don’t know Venice. Venice is this cultural icon,” he said.
The Venice community offers an environment for newer companies to grow, said Jeff Solomon, executive director and co-founder of Amplify, a hands-on startup accelerator.
“It’s a place where you could be yourself and I think that’s a lot of what running a startup is all about,” said Solomon, noting that his business encourages other companies to stay and hire locally. “We want to be a catalyst for the community in Venice and we’re super excited to be a part of this movement.”
J.J. Aguhob, president and co-founder of Viddy, which he described as a Twitter for video, said the companies that are emerging on the Westside are trying to turn the spotlight away from Silicon Valley and New York and center it on the Venice area. “This is probably one of the most fertile grounds for people to come up with new ideas,” said Aguhob, adding that Viddy has hired local residents.
Asked by Rosendahl about company employees’ use of alternative transportation, Williams said approximately 150 of Google’s 490 Venice employees opt out of parking with most biking to work. The company has been working with the city Department of Transportation to implement the city Bike Plan using Google maps, he said.
“Having an infrastructure like bike paths is incredibly important to creating the lifestyle people want to have,” he said.
In regards to concerns that the growth of successful tech companies could change the eclectic nature that Venice is known for, Solomon said he believes the community’s underlying culture will remain.
Kline said community leaders want to encourage the businesses to prosper, but at the same time, they hope companies will respect community values and guiding documents like the Specific Plan. “I think Silicon Beach growth is important. We want these companies to come here and grow but to grow in the Venice way,” he said.