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Obama touts tech innovation during visit to Cross Campus

Obama touts tech innovation during visit to Cross Campus
President Obama addresses a crowd of local tech entrepreneurs at an event Thursday at co-working space Cross Campus in Santa Monica. (Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times)

President Obama swung by tech co-working space Cross Campus during his latest visit to Southern California, stopping to chat with local entrepreneurs and joking about how the "sweatpants and a baseball cap" lifestyle seemed appealing.

In town primarily for a fundraising trip, Obama spent the first part of his Thursday visit to Cross Campus meeting with start-up founders and peppering them with questions about their ideas.

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"This guy looks like what you want a start-up guy to look like," Obama said to the crowd as he approached the team behind Santa Monica start-up Enervee. "He's too cool. He looks like he knows how to work technology."

About 100 local tech entrepreneurs, many of whom rent office space from Santa Monica-based Cross Campus, were invited to attend the hour-long event. Dana Settle of Greycroft Partners, Kevin Winston of Digital L.A. and Peter Pham of tech incubator Science Inc. were among those in attendance.

After the meet-and-greet with three start-ups -- newzcard, Enervee and thrdPlace -- Obama delivered a speech on the economy and the importance of millennials. He touted the innovative spirit among the country's young workers, saying the start-up mentality was "reflective of what is best for America."

"In some ways entrepreneurship is in the DNA of this generation, and a lot of that is taking place all across the country. Obviously California is the epicenter of it," he said, before making one small gaffe in front of the SoCal crowd: "Silicon Valley is the crown jewel of our innovation economy."

Obama also stressed the need to bring more women and minorities into the tech sector. Responding to a question on the issue by Kara Nortman, chief executive of start-up P.S.XO, Obama said his administration spends a lot of time thinking about how to encourage girls at an early age to embrace STEM fields -- or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"We're doing a lot of research and trying to apply that research to think about the best way to teach STEM to girls, because their learning patterns may be different," he said. "The classic tech nerd is this isolated person. That's the stereotype. Well, it may turn out that girls to a certain age want a more social environment, in which case if you have group learning and projects as a way of teaching math, science, then suddenly you may get more interest."

With so many entrepreneurs in attendance, it was only a matter of time before one tried his luck pitching the president. The last question of the afternoon came from Ariel Jalali, who offered Obama a job at his start-up Sensay.

"I'd have to check out your perks," Obama replied good-naturedly. "Do you have a sushi bar?"

Follow Andrea Chang on Twitter.

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