California State University, Northridge hosted on Oct. 30 an informational hearing chaired by state Sen. Fran Pavley that featured a discussion between government and business leaders on how the San Fernando Valley can develop a workforce that is tech-ready and attractive to clean technology investment.
Among the participants were Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra, California Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister, Doug Ito of the California Air Resources Board, LACI@CSUN Executive Director Erik Steeb, Pick My Solar CEO Max Aram ’13 (M.S., Manufacturing Systems Engineering), CSUN engineering professor Bruno Osorno, Chatsworth Products Plant Manager Jose Blanco and Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation Co-Chair Jeff Joyner.
This gathering came on the heels of the September announcement of the launch of LACI@CSUN, the developing partnership between CSUN and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). The partnership is opening up new channels for startups from CSUN and throughout the San Fernando Valley to discover opportunities, create enterprises and connect with a global network of businesses and investors. This investment in young companies is important to this region, because of the vast resources available in California, Pavley said.
“We’re the state where we have the best and brightest people working for us,” she said. “With 38 million people in California, we can take the lead.”
McAllister came to Southern California from Sacramento to speak at this event. He emphasized the importance of having the state partner with local government on initiatives such as clean tech. While he focused on working to decrease carbon emissions, McAllister also echoed Pavley’s statement about California standing at the forefront of environmental issues and how they affect business.
“There’s a huge opportunity in California, particularly in sustainability,” McAllister said. “In clean energy, this is the place to be. There’s so much innovative spirit here, experience, knowledge, skills across the state. We have what it takes to make it bigger and better.”
Steeb and Aram spoke about clean tech’s power to make an impact locally. Steeb noted the importance of investing in start-up businesses and young companies, and his excitement in having LACI do so in conjunction with CSUN. He mentioned a White House study that found that during the past three decades, companies younger than 5 years old have created more than 44 million new jobs.
“We really want to change the focus of California State University, Northridge, and not just create a great workforce coming out of the university, but also help the students and faculty here craft their own destiny if they believe that’s an opportunity for them,” Steeb said. “We joke that the Cleantech Incubator downtown is equally inconvenient for all, so we’re really excited to bring the best practices of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator here to Cal State Northridge.”
Aram spoke of his own experiences with technology making a difference. While a graduate student at CSUN, he sought to help solve the parking issue on a campus with 40,000 students and 10,000 parking spaces. Aram developed a smartphone app to help students find available parking spaces.
Later, Aram launched Pick My Solar, which helps homeowners research and find solar solutions for their homes. Aram joined LACI, and Pick My Solar has thrived. When customers seek out the company’s services, the project goes up on the website and network installers place their bids. Pick My Solar analyzes the bids and puts them through 20 different factors — ultimately showing the homeowner the top three bids. If the client decides to go solar, Aram’s company helps them complete the project.
It’s partnerships like this that will serve as good examples for future clean tech initiatives coming through LACI@CSUN, which could mean a brighter future for the university — and the entire region.
“We are part of the CSUN family, and it’s exciting,” Aram said.