By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – When he went before Council back in June, Tim Keller invited them to tour the facility. On Thursday, Keller and Inventopia hosted the community in an open house attended by among others Mayor Gloria Partida and Councilmember Josh Chapman.
“We don’t have long-term leases here,” Keller explained during brief comments in the heat outside of the space. “We’re not interesting in keeping them here. We want them just to hurry up and fail – which is good because then you don’t lay in bed wondering what could have happened if I had chased that dream.
“Either hurry up and fail or hurry up and succeed,” he said. “Hurry up and succeed, you’re going to grow out of here very soon. We really do need you to be successful so that the companies that are here have a home to stay in, and then the city will be successful because we have native homegrown tech companies that are here.”
Keller’s operation is filled other than two spaces in the lab. The Inventopia operation has done its job – attracting startups and a tremendous amount of talent.
Keller said, “Davis is calling for and really needs it’s own early stage venture capital. Whether we form that ourselves or whether we can find a venture capital firm that is willing to set up a satellite office here or whatever, I want to have those conversations, because there is enough quality deal flow for Davis to have early stage venture capital. And right now there is none.”
He said when he analyzes the Davis ecosystem and looks at strengths and weaknesses, he believes, “really capital is our biggest blind spot right now as a developing ecosystem.”
Keller added, “I hate to use the word small by the way, because Davis is the number five top public funded and public research university, it’s an R&D powerhouse.”
He said, “A lot of people in this town think it’s a small college town and that’s just not true.”
Ryan Sharp from UC Davis said, “this type of facility is critically important to the innovation ecosystem and a number of UC Davis innovation entrepreneurs and innovators and startup companies have really benefited from this type of facility.”
Mayor Gloria Partida said, “We have a wonderful team at the city trying to support our businesses and innovation in the city because we really believe that innovation is cool.”
“Innovation is all about having your idea,” she said. “You need these spaces.”
She noted that she spent 30 years on campus in a lab, “It’s amazing how limiting that piece is. I wish that we could really get our entire community to understand just how important this is for us to bring new business into the community and for helping us to keep our quality of life.”
Tim Keller explained the importance of landlords. He explained that real estate has to take on the risks for startups as well. When a start up fails, he explained, “the landlord gets left holding the bag. And when the startup succeeds, the landlord doesn’t make any extra money. It’s not a good deal.”
Dan Ramos, the landlord for the spot called Inventopia “the spirit of what we’re all trying to do here in Davis – to get these great ideas at the university and get them out into the commercial applications that are going to change the world.”
He noted that the whole building, with a big move in recently from Dark Heart, “this whole building now it’s much much all bio or mechanical oriented.”
“We hope that we continue this thing,” he said. “We have a project that we’re going to be putting on the ballot here again next June.”
He added, “We want to keep this thing going to have opportunities for these companies that come and do this, that can have a place to keep going and keep them here in Davis. That’s what, that’s what our whole dream is about.”
Joe DiNunzio wears a lot of hats these days, here speaking as someone working in this space at the university, he noted, “Inventopia is a great example of the need to have many different paths for our early stage companies to move forward.”
“Some of them need some of the resources that inventory provides some don’t, but at the end of the day, um, and we think about the whole ecosystem of new companies and new ideas. We need to take multiple approaches. It’s not going to be just one thing. That’s going to get it done,” he explained.
Tim Keller closed by saying, “There are people who’ve already heard me say this a billion times, but agricultural robotics specifically for the survival of our species is something we need to be making a lot of investments in. And there was no reason why Davis shouldn’t be ground zero for that industry. Agricultural robotics is our industry to lose.”