Over the past few years there has been a high level of entrepreneurial activity in the Tri-Valley, both in terms of investment and new business formation. As of early 2018, the startup scene has never been stronger for both Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley as a whole.
"The Tri-Valley, and Pleasanton specifically, has seen a tremendous rise in startup activity, with over $1 billion of venture capital being invested in Tri-Valley-based companies in the past five years," says Brandon Cardwell, Director of i-GATE, a Livermore-based nonprofit dedicated to building a thriving startup community in the Tri-Valley. "Pleasanton has an exciting concentration of early and late-stage life science companies that are taking advantage of the lower cost of real estate and the unique talent concentration the Tri-Valley provides."
A variety of factors make the Tri-Valley especially fertile ground for startups these days, and the concentration of local talent is clearly one of those factors. By any measure, Tri-Valley residents are among the most educated in the world. While it may surprise some, Tri-Valley residents hold more postgraduate degrees than residents of nearby Silicon Valley.
"We promote Pleasanton as the right address for the twenty-first century, and this has proven true for companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurs growing their ideas into innovative enterprises," says Pamela Ott, Pleasanton's Director of Economic Development. "In particular, our talent-rich employee base and high-value business centers have fostered robust information technology and biomedical industry clusters in our city. Additionally, our entrepreneurial environment has attracted investor groups and access to support for startups. With this, Pleasanton is an excellent place to achieve commercial success."
Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group (ITV) is a business-led organization that works with public partners to brand the Tri-Valley, help businesses move in, and scale up and create a career ready workforce. In 2010, ITV published a report called "Innovation Potential in the Tri-Valley," which identified additional success factors that US innovation hubs tend to have in common. According to the report, these factors include:
"The involvement and continued support of visionary public and private sector leaders who are dedicated to fostering the sustainable growth of the region's innovation economy.
"The development of well-planned, well-financed and well-executed public-private sector initiatives (e.g. incubators, seed funds, workforce development, networking events) to foster the growth of the region's existing and emerging high-tech industry clusters.
"The presence of at least one research-oriented university and/or several high-caliber research agencies or institutes that understand and support technology transfer to the private sector.
"A high quality of life that includes a reasonably affordable cost of housing, a decent transportation system, ample recreational opportunities, and active arts and culture communities."
Since the publication of the ITV report, each of the key success factors needed to make the Tri-Valley an innovation hub has been further developed. First, a host of public and private sector leaders, including ITV, have worked together to foster a local innovation economy.
Second, a variety of incubators and networking events-too many to mention-have become an established part of Tri-Valley business life. In Livermore, for example, i-GATE operates The Switch, a startup incubator, and organizes a variety of events and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs. Another group, Tri-Valley Tech Connect, held its inaugural Tri-Valley Tech Connect job fair in early February. The job fair attracted about 310 job-seekers, as well as 50 hiring managers and 15 companies eager to draw on local talent.
Third, the Tri-Valley benefits greatly from the public-private partnerships made possible by access to two world-class research laboratories: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia Labs. In service of creating competitive advantages for US industry, both labs encourage the development of public-private partnerships by providing access to national laboratory technologies, research capabilities, and expertise. A variety of programs support these partnerships including one called Open Campus, which offers a mechanism for research done by the labs to flow to the marketplace in the form of new products and companies.
Fourth, the Tri-Valley is recognized by residents and outsiders alike for its quality of life, which includes a highly educated workforce, excellent schools, and active arts and cultural opportunities.
In 2015, Veeva Systems built a 141,000-square-foot state-of-art corporate headquarters at Hacienda after nearly a decade of success. In 2007, Pleasanton resident and serial entrepreneur Peter Gassner cofounded Veeva Systems, which provides customer relationship management software for life sciences and pharmaceutical companies. In 2013, the Hacienda company raised $261 million in its initial public offering; currently it has a market capitalization of more than $8 billion.
The success of Veeva Systems is only one of the indicators that Tri-Valley entrepreneurs are thriving. In 2013, for example, Mirador Capital Partners was founded. The wealth-investment firm, which has an office in Pleasanton, developed the Tri-Valley Index, which compares the performance of local public companies with the stock market. Over the last several years, local companies have outperformed the stock market by a significant margin. In 2016, according to Mirador, the Tri-Valley Index would have outperformed the S&P 500 (equally weighted) by more than 26% over the last five years.
In another sign of business strength, Tri-Valley biotechnology and medical technology companies raised more than $200 million in venture funding in 2016. That was greater than the total amount raised in 2014 and 2015 combined. The startup scene is so hot that several local business leaders launched the Tri-Valley's first venture capital fund toward the end of 2017.
Tri-Valley Ventures aims to identify, invest in, and partner with the most promising early stage technologies and companies in the region. The founders told Palo Alto Online that they plan to invest in 15 to 20 firms over the first third of the 10-year fund. But stopping at 20 investments may be a challenge; Hacienda alone is home to a significant number of promising companies, as shown on the map created by i-GATE at http://www.igateihub.org/startuptrivalley .
Both living and working in Pleasanton has given Gassner, the Veeva Systems CEO and cofounder, what sounds like a wonderful life. As he said in the past, "On most days when I'm not traveling, I ride my bicycle to work. I eat great healthy food at our kitchen. I work around great people. I'm solving complex puzzles. This is what I want to do."
Gassner is not the only business executive to find a better work-life balance in Pleasanton and the larger Tri-Valley area. Dave Selinger, one of the cofounders of Tri-Valley Ventures and a busy entrepreneur, is able to take his two children to school each morning before his demanding day of work. For many entrepreneurs and business leaders in the Tri-Valley, the region simply feels like a friendlier, less stressful place to live and do business. That aspect of the Tri-Valley may not show up directly on spreadsheets, but locals say it is another important factor behind the boom in area startups.
For more information about i-GATE, please visit: http://www.igateihub.org .
For more information about the City of Pleasanton's Economic Development Department, please visit: https://www.cityofpleasantonca.gov/gov/depts/ed/default.asp .
For more information about Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group, please visit: https://innovationtrivalley.org .
For more information about Tri-Valley Tech Connect, please visit: https://www.trivalleytechconnect.org .
For more information about Veeva Systems, please visit: https://www.veeva.com .