This is the second installment in a three-part interview with Dr. Gustavo Chamorro, Director of the Digital Media Center (DMC) in Rancho Santiago Community College District. We are discussing the Entrepreneurial Incubator housed at the DMC. If you missed the first part of the interview, you can find it here.
Digital Media Center in Santa Ana
Do you have a line around the block to get in?
GC: We are full. We have 19 companies right now. But we also have an affiliate program that offers the same benefits and services as the incubator but without the office space. However, I think one of the greatest advantages to the incubator is the opportunity to be in the same building with other entrepreneurs and grow relationships with these people, to share experiences and challenges and bounce things off each other. For example, if a company is developing an iPhone app, they can talk to someone there who has had this experience and learn what to avoid, what platform is best—Android or iPhone, for example—and what works.
Is everything at the DMC incubator related to technology?
GC: – Technology, energy efficiency, and medical devices. We do define technology very broadly, but we try to keep the companies related in some way that is beneficial to them. This is important to create synergy among incubator residents since they share something in common.
What is the process for the entrepreneur, from the initial pitch to incubation?
GC: Entrepreneurs find out about us by word of mouth; the entrepreneur community is very close-knit. When they come in, we ask them to submit an executive summary of their business plan, which goes to an application review committee composed of people in the digital and technology community. They let us know if they think it meets our initial criteria.
Once the company is here, we do a needs-assessment to find out what the company requires right away. That’s when we bring in the consulting services and begin nurturing and massaging the company to help it grow. We continue to coach them and monitor them, and when we think they are ready, we bring in the investors, often here at the incubator. We can then have an informal initial meeting where we talk to the investors about the company and the investment landscape here in Orange County. Through these interactions, the companies get to know the investors on a personal level and they can call them if they choose to. And the investors have a chance to talk with them about what they are looking to invest in and what their criteria are.
At what point do you kick them out of the nest?
GC: Companies can stay here for up to 3 years. If by then they aren’t ready to break out, they’re probably not going to succeed. Because of the economy, we can be flexible, and most companies do stay the full three years. But even when times are good, it’s always hard to find your first customer—it’s easier when there is someone out there who has bought your product and can say it works.
We do want to nurture these companies and watch them grow; jobs are created, the community benefits, and they are contributing to our economy.
Up next, the last installment of the interview with Dr. Chamorro – be sure to check back for Part 3: Success Stories.