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Tech leaders preview new incubator in Santa Barbara

By Stephen Nellis on March 19, 2012. Pacific Coast Business Times

Santa Barbara will soon have a new technology incubator space, and its organizers are giving technology insiders a sneak peak on March 21.

The Synergy Business & Technology Center at 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez is slated to open next month. Its organizers hope it will restore some of the cheap, flexible office space for startup companies that was lost last year when RightScale, a cloud computing firm, had grown so large that it signed a lease on the entire 26,000 feet of space at 402 E. Gutierrez St. that had served as launch pad for RightScale years before.

The Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum, a business and technology group, is giving a preview of the center at its monthly meeting on March 21. The keynote speaker will be Klaus Schauser, one of the founders of what is now Citrix Online, the maker of remote work force Web software that was sold to Citrix in 2003 for $225 million in cash and stock. It employs nearly 500 people in Goleta. And it all started in an incubator.

“That was just a phenomenal experience. When you’re small and you’re just a couple of people, you don’t want to worry much,” said Schauser, who is also a computer science professor at UC Santa Barbara. “The advantage was you could get a small office for $300 a month. You could cram two people in there, and it came with the Internet. Back then, it was so rare to find something that had Internet that came with it.”

Schauser liked the incubator experience so much that when he started his next firm, AppFolio, he tapped the Gutierrez Street incubator and then moved to another in Goleta. “Conference rooms and tables, coffee machines, a receptionist, someone to check the mailbox — you don’t have to worry about any of that,” he said.

Michael Crandell, the CEO of RightScale who will also speak at the event, agreed.

“An incubator provides the equivalent of ‘cloud offices’ — i.e. pay-as-you-go, on demand workspaces,” he said via email. “Need a new desk next week? Just ask, and it’s ready to go, with phone, Internet, everything you need. And you get that in a shared environment where others are tackling similar startup-problems, so you can share tips and tricks.”

Of course, things are different these days. Good Internet bandwidth comes standard with most commercial spaces. And Schauser himself invented some of the very software that business around the world use to share desktops, have meetings and host webinars so that a workforce doesn’t have to be in the same building. Why leave home to go to an incubator?

“That’s all true, some companies are completely virtual,” he said. “But ultimately, in the whole creative process of creating awesome software and interacting with customers, you do benefit from having all the developers as well as the sales people and the business people in the same room. You go up the learning curve much faster.”

Crandell said incubators aren’t so much for starting businesses as they are for sustaining them through their in-between phases.

“Aside from the socialization aspect, I would say stay in your garage as long as you can. But when you outgrow it and need true office space, or some new faces to interact with, then check out an incubator or self-service office,” he said via email.

The former office space on Gutierrez Street had a complicated history. It started as a for-profit venture that would provide space, funding and expertise to its tenants. The profit-making part never panned out, and eventually it was taken over by SIMA Management Corp., a property management firm. SIMA continued to offer the building to startups as flex space for several years. One of those was RightScale, the cloud computing firm. It outgrew the space and left. But when the firm was approaching 150 employees worldwide and needed more space, it reached a deal with SIMA to lease out the entire incubator.

The harsh side effect of RightScale’s growth was that 30-some businesses found themselves homeless in 30 days. Since then, the business community has been working to find a new space near downtown Santa Barbara, and the Synergy Business & Technology Center will fit the bill, said Michael Holliday, an architect who has been leading the effort.

“The intent was to offer flexible incubator and co-working space. In a lot of ways, this does replace the old incubator space on Gutierrez,” Holliday said. “There’s a lot of smaller entrepreneurial operations that were looking for a place to move into.”

Holliday said he hopes the center will give entrepreneurs a chance to hold conferences and conduct business in a uniquely Santa Barbara way. “We’ve got some great amenities to offer – stand-up paddle boards and bikes for our clients to take advantage of. We’re only two blocks from the beach,” Holliday said. “We’ve got showers and lockers and are right next to a training room next door.”

The center’s official grand opening is slated for April 3. The Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum’s sneak peak is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on March 21, costs $40 at the door and includes dinner. Click here for more information.

The center’s website,, has not launched yet. Holliday said businesses interested in leasing space in the incubator can contact him at (805) 452-9542 for more information.

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