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Burbank 'tech summit' attracts visitors near and far

Hoping to attract tech businesses and entrepreneurs to the "Media Capital of the World," Burbank hosted a "tech summit" last Thursday, drawing attendees from Santa Monica and Orange County, as well as closer neighboring communities such as Pasadena and Studio City to the Tower in Burbank's Media District.

The event, produced by Venice-based TechFire in partnership with the city, featured presentations from a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Burbank entrepreneurs and the director of the Disney Accelerator — a partnership between the Walt Disney Co. and Techstars, a company that helps startups with mentorship and seed-stage investment.

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TechFire founder David Murphy said the event had sold out its 250 tickets more than a week in advance. It was free to attend, but guests had to register in advance to save a spot. Though there were some empty seats the day of — "entrepreneurs are busy people," Murphy said — a bigger crowd showed up than for TechFire's last event in Santa Monica.

Speakers, including City Manager Mark Scott, touched on the advantages of setting up shop in Burbank, such as relatively light traffic.

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Like businesses, cities face competition, he said, and Burbank needs to be able to compete for firms that will provide good jobs and support a quality of life the city's residents prefer. Scott, who attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business alongside future Microsoft executive and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, said he knows not all ideas are good.

"You have to nurture great ideas," Scott said. "We can help create an environment for great ideas."

Venture capitalist Annie Kadavy, a general partner at Charles River Ventures, spoke about how she evaluates a startup idea. She looks at three things, the market, the product and the team — and the people are the most important. Her advice to entrepreneurs: "The most important thing you're selling is yourself."

Burbank business leaders Robin Richards, Steve Schklair, Tom Stillwell and Jeff Worthe discussed the pluses of the city as a business location, such as proximity to Bob Hope Airport and a less "hellish" commute than cities to the west.

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There are hidden advantages, said some executives. Employees commuting to the Westside often take more sick days than those going to work in Burbank. Media City employees also tend to be a bit older and more stable, they said, changing jobs less frequently.

Richards also said he's able to get class A office space at better prices, with market rents $1 to $1.25 more per-square-foot on the other side of L.A.

Worthe, who owns roughly 70% of the class A office space in Burbank, including the Tower, touted the fact that Burbank has no gross receipts tax.

Cody Simms, managing director for Techstars in Los Angeles, which together with Disney helps media and entertainment related tech startups with a $120,000 investment and executive mentorship, said support from government, financiers and others is good, but "what you really need is the entrepreneurs helping each other" and creating a startup ecosystem.

Girlie Salgueiro, who has been sleeping on friend's couches since moving to Los Angeles from Florida four months ago to move forward on her startup, said she came to the event because she's interested in locating the business in Burbank.

The website, called Oodon.com, is a "never-ending comic con," she said. It's an online community for geeks and nerds that could find its home in a city that boasts the headquarters of DC Entertainment, which owns the Batman and Superman brands, as well as Legendary, which owns the Nerdist and Geek & Sundry brands.

And Salgueiro said she came to the event looking for a way to get the mentorship and advice of media and entertainment veterans who are already based in the Media City.

"It's not necessarily about funding, it's about getting access to that expertise," she said.

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Inventor Wes Boudville came from Pasadena representing his "one-person startup," also hoping to network and discuss his ideas, including a patented method for selling movie tickets during the trailers for new films, the moment of "maximum persuasion" for potential movie-goers.

One of the key things Scott said he learned at the summit was that Burbank can be doing more to help entrepreneurs come together, such as hosting more frequent networking events. While creating a community that's attractive to businesses, however, the city has to preserve what makes it a good place to live and work.

"We've got to figure out how to be the fabric of life," Scott said.

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Chad Garland, chad.garland@latimes.com

Twitter: @chadgarland

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