Category Archives: Investing

Episode 41: The Death of Innovation

Over the course of my career in both fortune 500 companies and start-ups, I’ve had the privilege of working on a few special, innovative teams that disrupted markets. I’ll talk about some of my favorite innovations and their origin stories. In each of these stories, I hope to highlight how fragile a new great idea can be and how in each case they almost didn’t happen. That way we are all better equipped recognize them and come to the rescue.


Rob Kent is CEO of First Wave Partners, where he actively invests in, manages, and consults tech and med-tech start-ups. Rob considers himself an “inventor’s best friend,” bringing significant development, finance, supply-chain, and distribution expertise to a business plan. He is the first to admit that he rarely has a good idea, but loves to help make good ideas great. He is currently shepherding two companies to market, a stem cell harvesting company Synova Life Sciences, and a clean-energy company Power Hero.

Previously Rob was CEO of O2 Concepts, a start-up medical device manufacturer of portable oxygen equipment. Rob and his team disrupted the industry by launching the first connected portable oxygen devices in a partnership with Verizon. This allowed caregivers to monitor equipment location and patient compliance, and propelled O2 Concepts to 5X growth in three years.

Prior to that he’s led sales and operations teams of over 200 people and operating budgets of over $40M, launched over 10 complex Medical Devices through FDA and European approval, and building out sales and operations teams in start-up and high growth environments.

Episode 40: Building Companies While Running Startup Accelerators on Three Continents

From Hong Kong, to Los Angeles, to the Vatican. How running three very different startup accelerators over five years changed the way I think about entrepreneurship. Multiple program formats, 100+ companies, tens of millions in funding, lots of customers, exits, all across three continents. The talk will focus on:

• Commonalities growing companies face across locations.

• Getting results: How I try to trick people into learning.

• Next steps in thinking about the future of company growth.


Paul Orlando enables companies to grow. He is Incubator Director and Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at USC. Paul has founded and operated successful startup accelerator programs in Hong Kong (focused on mobile development), Los Angeles (focused on growing a wide range of companies with founders affiliated with USC), and Rome (the Laudato Si accelerator, partnered with the Vatican and focused on environmental technology). Companies Paul has worked with have raised tens of millions in capital, served millions of customers, and have been acquired. He has authored several related academic case studies available on Harvard Business Publishing. Paul also helps larger institutions innovate, develop, and grow, especially in lowering the risk of innovation projects, speeding up learning cycles, and transitioning past legacy business models and products.

Paul has been featured in media including Forbes, TechCrunch, Fast Company, and the Wall Street Journal. He was a winner at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. Paul has a BA from Cornell, an MBA from Columbia, and speaks Mandarin.

Twitter handle: @porlando

Speaker email:

Episode 39: Pasadena Startups: Past, Present and Future

Talk a walk down memory lane with Gene as he tells stories of Pasadena Startups Past, Present and Future.

I am the Forrest Gump of Internet – I have worked in the worked with some of the pioneers and innovators all with origin stories to Pasadena: GoTo, Overture, Yahoo, YP, Chegg, WhatsApp, Tinder, Google Adword/AdSense/Photos, Sellbrite. So come take a seat on the bench and listen to my story. Pasadena tech is like a box of chocolates – you’ll never know what you’re gonna get.


Gene is a software veteran and Internet executive known for his expertise in mobile, social, cloud, Big Data, search marketing and eCommerce. He is currently VP of Engineering at a eCommerce SaaS startup in Pasadena. Before that he was CTO of a Ruby/Node and DevOps-as-a-Service boutique development shop. He was the CTO of a $100M Consumer Mobile and Domain Monetization company. Before that he was Director of Engineering at Chegg, an online network for college students that offers assistance with homework, course selection and textbook rentals. He was also Executive Director of AT&T Interactive, building and leading teams for YP Mobile, Data Systems and He also served as Director of Engineering at Yahoo Search Marketing/Overture where he built large-scale search marketing platforms. Gene is currently a on Board of Directors for Innovate Pasadena, a mentor for Mucker Labs, as well as advisor to mobile startups. Gene is a frequent speaker at tech industry events and has received numerous industry awards. He graduated Magna cum Laude with a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles and lives in San Marino with a very supportive wife Jacki and 3 kids.

Episode 38: Where the future demands will be for jobs and what skills will be most needed

Some of the topics addressed will be why technical skills and programming are necessary for all majors. The importance of including goal achievement in higher education. Creating the right environment for learning and moving education toward a solution based model as opposed to subject based.


Dr. Tao founded the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development and was Director of the school of Computing and Design at California State University, Monterey Bay. Under his leadership, the school grew to have over a thousand students, 50 faculty, staff and researchers, receiving multi-million dollars of funding annually from public and private sources, including a $43 million dollars funding to construct the Gambord/BIT building on campus.

Supported by Economic Development Administration of United States, the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development serves the Greater Monterey Bay region by providing a venue for innovative ideas, the commercial transfer of research and technology, and a support network for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Many companies that supported by the Institute grow to be successful ventures.

Dr. Tao teaches and conducts research in computer engineering, innovation, e-learning and globalization. He has published numerous papers and articles in innovation, high-tech entrepreneurship, educational technology, globalization, medical image processing and higher education. He often speaks at international conferences on global technology, innovation and education issues. He also serves as judges at many business plan competitions.

Episode 37: How to Ask for It

Learn 2 simple + effective ways to get more of what you want for your business. (As learned the hard way by one social entrepreneur).

After 10 years starting, running, and growing a national organization I learned two critical things.

First, I learned the difference between “pitching” people an idea and enrolling them in making an idea thrive. Second, I learned that if I wasn’t hearing NO, I wasn’t asking for enough.

I’ll share my painfully awkward stories (don’t judge!) and the simple tools I was forced to master in order to raise the 10 million I needed to scale my idea.


Niko Everett ( is a coach + strategist to leaders and entrepreneurs, supporting them to achieve audacious dreams and undo habits of exhaustion, overwhelm, and doubt. She’s a social entrepreneur and change agent who started and grew her first venture, Girls For A Change, from her kitchen table to serve 20,000 girls globally. She raised millions in growth capital along the way.

She’s a TEDx ( presenter and diplomatic speaker for the US State Department. She was named by The Silicon Valley Business Journal as a “40 Under 40” social innovator and acknowledged by Fast Company magazine’s Social Capitalist Award. Her accomplishments have been featured in Newsweek, The San Jose Mercury News, NPR, and Fast Company Magazine and her blog is published in Mindbodygreen ( + Elephant Journal ( You can connect with Niko on Facebook ( and Instagram ( and LinkedIn (

Instagram: @nikoeverett15

Speaker email:

Episode 36: SBA Loans: The Alternative to Venture Capital

Want to grow your business or create start-up? Well you are going to need capital – it’s the key to your success.

Whether you are a start-up or an existing business looking to grow and expand, there are a multitude of options available for consideration. One such option is a Small Business Administration Loan (SBA). It’s a great alternative to venture capital and you won’t have to give up any ownership in your company or start-up. In a collaborative presentation by representatives from the Small Business Administration and E-Central Credit Union, you will hear how a SBA loan works, how to get started, and why an SBA loan may be an excellent financing option.


Andrew Ten, Lender Relations Specialist

U.S. Small Business Administration

Andrew Ten is a financial and business development professional with extensive front line experience in building and managing successful financial service teams. Mr. Ten started his career in the business and commercial banking industry with institutions such as Wells Fargo Bank, Citizens Business Bank, and US Bank. In 2008 Mr. Ten transitioned to the public sector, which included work at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Disaster Office and 7(a) Loan Guaranty Processing Center. In addition, Mr. Ten has worked as a Federal Examiner for the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and also worked with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as a financial analyst. Mr. Ten’s background is complemented with a BS degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Riverside.

Jennifer Gin, Member Business Loan Officer

E-Central Credit Union

Jennifer Gin specializes in commercial and SBA lending. Ms. Gin has over 15 years of business lending experience having worked as a credit analyst and commercial loan officer for a number of community banks. In 2015, she joined E-Central Credit Union as a member business loan officer. She is responsible for strengthening and enhancing the Credit Union’s small business lending and SBA programs. Ms. Gin is a graduate of California Bankers Association’s Commercial Lending School and University of California, Riverside with a degree in Business Administration and Political Science.

About E-Central Credit Union

E-Central Credit Union is a Pasadena-based credit union celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary. As a local, financial institution and SBA lender, E-Central offers a multitude of affordable services tailored to meet the needs for just about anyone or any business.

Episode 33: From Student to Entrepreneur: Jumping in Head First…

What is it like to be a first-time entrepreneur? In some ways, I imagine it is like mountain biking. There are parts that are uphill and parts that are fast moving and exhilarating…Also probably a good idea to keep an eye out for the steep drop-offs.

In my case, I had spent much of my life in academia. I heard a few exciting stories from colleagues about people they knew in start-ups, and perhaps I saw the Social Network one too many times. I read news about start-ups who seemed to quickly raise massive amounts of money for ideas that didn’t seem that groundbreaking to me. If they could do it, why can’t I?

The reality is, of course, a little different than the mythology. I’m looking forward to discussing what I learned, some common misconceptions, and provide some more clarity as to what it is like to be a first-time entrepreneur. Ultimately, it is a great endeavor, but a little different than most expect.


Prior to founding EvoRx, Dr. Fiacco earned his PhD in the lab of Prof. Rich Roberts at the University of Southern California. He is an inventor on 5 patents and an author in 5 related publications.

Dr. Stephen Fiacco is a founding member of a local biotech company, EvoRx Technologies. There he serves as CEO where he oversees its general operations and business development. In this role, Dr. Fiacco has advanced the business through multiple negotiations of collaboration and license agreements with large and small pharmaceutical and biotech companies. During one of these deals, intellectual property was created and sold to AstraZeneca. Other deals are ongoing and not able to be publicly disclosed, but have resulted in licensing arrangements. Additionally, he and his team had applied for and received a phase I SBIR contract from the National Cancer Institute. That work was successful, and Stephen and his team applied for and received a phase II SBIR grant. Work on the grant is currently ongoing. A major pharmaceutical company has expressed interest in partnering around and eventually acquiring the technology generated by those grants.

Dr. Fiacco is actively involved in the Los Angeles biotech community serving on the advisory board of Biocom LA and had previously served on the board of directors at Innovate Pasadena. In March of 2017, Dr. Fiacco was invited to travel to Washington DC to as a representative of the Los Angeles biotech community to discuss this growing industry in southern California as well as the social and economic importance of National Institute of Health funding.


Episode 27: Chick-Fil-A: “How I became the owner of an $8m business with only $10k to start”

Adaobi shares her story of she became the Owner/Operator of the Chick-fil-A in Pasadena. She was 1 of 30,000 applicants, and had only $10,000 to start… but she managed to build a successful branch through an effective culture that lead to the acquisition – and retention – of great talent.


Adaobi was born in Nigeria and was introduced to Chick-fil-A in 2004 when she started working at the Chino Hills location. She quickly rose into leadership positions and began to pursue Chick-fil-A as a life-long career. After receiving her Business Management degree from California Baptist University, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to work at the Chick-fil-A home office. This led to her involvement in the opening of more than 100 new Restaurants nationwide. Adaobi’s ultimate goal was to become a Chick-fil-A Operator in California and that dream came to fruition in 2014 when she was selected to be the Owner/Operator of the Pasadena location.

Episode 21: The Roller Coaster Ride to 40 Million Monthly Users

An honest discussion of the realities of a journey of a of a 5 time successful entrepreneur whose company – Ranker – now reaches 40 million people monthly and is solidly profitable with over 60 employees. Benson will take us through his self-funded beginnings to early angel rounds (partly secured in Pasadena), and funding from “name” VCs like Lowercase, Draper, and Wavemaker, and will discuss not just the success but also the many pitfalls even an experienced entrepreneur faced.

With all his prior success, Benson still did plenty of things wrong in the process of starting Ranker and had to work with less than ideal resources to survive, and eventually thrive. Benson will discuss the challenges of the tech world where massive changes are happening year-over-year and how even disruptive businesses can find themselves quickly disrupted. He will explain how to navigate hype vs reality with investors, and the Silicon Valley investor mentality vs everywhere else, among other topics.



Clark Benson is the founder and CEO of Ranker, the leading digital media company for opinion-based, crowd-sourced rankings on just about everything. Launched in 2009, Ranker is Benson’s fifth startup. Ranker creates editorial lists to vote on about virtually every topic, and the 40 million+ monthly audience’s opinions shape the rankings. Prior to Ranker, Benson’s company, eCrush, an early social network for teens, was bought by Hearst Corporation in 2006. Benson lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife and young twins.

Episode18: Doing Business in the Face of Growing Uncertainty

Our technology, business models, geo-politics and a not too distant inter-planetary (inter-reality) life are all growing in complexity and uncertainty. The age old profit-wage correlation is one of the many lagging indicators that most of our ways of economically and socially operating no longer hold as they did. Volatility creeps up in most facets of our lives at whiplash pace. And there’s no going back. In this talk we will cover what we think are the require tools to thrive in uncertainty and what we think is a new form of worldwide literacy that must be developed: Computational Literacy.

Computational Literacy is a new set of skills that combines data science, algorithmic thinking, AI/Machine Learning enhanced pattern recognition and probability assessments. The ingredients are all there for every person on earth to become literate in a computational perception. The complexity of data sets and the relationships between time, people, resources and economics have grown beyond any Newtonian model of the world or our most basic sensory apparatus. That is, no single human using only their common 5 senses and little elbow grease has the capacity to assess many important decisions on a daily basis – everyone, and especially businesses, need to develop a new literacy that unlocks much larger data sets and much more robust probability assessments of possible outcomes.

This talk will cover the functional definition of Computational Literacy, make a case for its relevance through examples and showcase the already available tools and devices to make anyone, particularly a business person, fully computer literate. There will be live interactive examples using real world phenomena and real world data.


Russ is a co-founder of Case Zero (, a machine-learning data platform that automates market and product development for startups and SMB companies. He is a 17 year veteran of consumer internet and large scale data intelligence platforms. He has started several companies. He has been part of a successful IPO as well as a handful of private acquisitions. He has led several large distributed technical, product and marketing teams.

– Currently a mentor for TechStars Austin, providing strategic guidance to start-ups and TechStars managing director

– Serving as advisor and technical strategist for Thisway Global and Smarter Sorting Inc.

– In 2013, Russell and his wife founded Acton Academy Venice Beach,  a k-12 alternative education school focused learner driven education

– Named “Top 100 IT Executive” by ComputerWorld Magazine for his work at where he led the creation of and managed the team and tech for the world’s largest, most sophisticated automotive industry data platform

– Deep relationships with executives at Facebook, Experian, Neustar, Hortonworks, Wolfram Research and many other large data and media firms

– Has given several talks at conferences like LeadsCon, Hadoop World and Semantic Web World as a recognized expert in large scale data platforms

– Past presentation videos: Data is the Only Marketplace  |  Behind The TrueCar Data Platform

– 2016 included talks at Google HQ and Hadoop World Business Track

– Has held business, technical, product management and BI leadership positions at Wolfram|Alpha, TrueCar, IAC/Citysearch, Grind Networks and several large internet content companies. He has a track record of intense business intelligence driven decision drive by the enthusiasm of an entrepreneur and the patience of an investor

– Previous strategy and execution engagements include Hachette Filipacchi Media, Alpha Media Group, Vizio,, Carney Inc, Sony DADC and more

– In late 2015 Russell Retired from TrueCar and launched a successful visual and fine arts career. In his first year he held 3 exhibitions, wrote a book, sold 74 paintings and continues to produce art on a daily basis. His upcoming work will be seen in Portland, OR in association with Vertigo Productions in April 2017. His art and philosophy can be found at . Additional writing and essays on technology and culture can be found at  (a bit of an older blog)

Russell has run all aspects of a media and awareness strategy and execution – both as a first party operator and as a third party consultant. Additionally he has helped create several large scale search engines, social media platforms and analytics platforms currently in use by hundreds of millions of people.

Twitter: @un1crom