Ann Carpenter and Jim Cooper share a promising vision for the 22nd century. It’s a vision informed by the ever-growing advancement in science and technology that is leading humanity towards longer lifespans, cures for diseases, and a healthier, more sustainable planet. It’s a vision that sees a growth in aqua culture, a cleaner environment, and a more diverse working harbor filled with various smart technology, science entrepreneurs, and companies creating innovative products. And they strongly believe such innovation can be cultivated here in San Pedro.
Carpenter and Cooper are co-founders of Braid Theory, Inc., a strategic advisory firm that brings together entrepreneurs, corporate partners, and industry influencers to nurture the growth and implementation of transformative technologies and help tech start-ups develop strong business and growth strategies that can move their technology to market.
“We’re problem solvers,” says Carpenter.
Each year, the company puts on a series of pitch competitions for tech start-ups, culminating with their annual IGNITE22 Summit and Showcase, which will be held this year in Downtown San Pedro on Nov. 13.
The firm focuses on six specific industry sectors: energy/utilities, marine tech (blue tech), transportation/goods movement, biotech, agriculture tech (agtech), construction/infrastructure, “and any kind of special manufacturing or digital tech that helps support these sectors,” she adds.
“What these sectors have in common is they’re heavy engineering or science-based, and led by engineers and PhD scientists, so they tend to be very deep tech,” explains Carpenter, a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in mathematics. “Secondly, they’re primarily a business-to-business sector. Our business model doesn’t really work on anything that’s direct-to-consumer.”
Braid Theory was born out of the former PortTechLA, a cooperative tech incubator formed in 2010 by the City of Los Angeles, the Port of Los Angeles, and the business communities of Wilmington and San Pedro, which sought clean technology companies to help develop products for port-related environmental, clean energy, logistics and security challenges.
“Companies who might have been funded by PortTechLA grant funding would become clients. We would help support their efforts, we would help them do outreach, find pilot projects, things like that,” explains Carpenter, who was hired by PortTechLA to work on their branding and marketing strategies. “But as a nonprofit, it was tricky to really do the kind of efforts to get these deep tech companies into the market.”
According to Carpenter, after PortTechLA lost its funding a few years ago, “There was some merging going on, there were a couple of nonprofit incubators funded, but that model never really got the entrepreneurs the traction that they needed.”
Believing that San Pedro and the Harbor Area were still ripe for these new industry tech start-ups, Carpenter and Cooper (and a third co-founder no longer with the company) decided to form Braid Theory, Inc. in 2016.
“We knew that we couldn’t be effective within that nonprofit environment,” explains Carpenter. “I kept asking, how can we solve these problems? What are the missing pieces? What wasn’t working? And can we figure out a profitable business model where we can fill those gaps? Forming Braid Theory was just a natural progression.”
Braid Theory helps tech start-ups that are in their infancy, or that are just getting their feet wet operating within one (or a few) of the industry sectors they focus on, develop strategies, seek investors, raise capital, and connect with other complimentary companies, in order to help these companies grow and get their products and services out to market.
“I think, in general, people are confused by what we do sometimes,” says Cooper, a former marine biologist and economist from Sydney, Australia.
According to Carpenter, when they initially meet with a company, they make sure it’s a good match first. “If somebody comes to us in an area that we’re not experts in, or we don’t have the connections, then there’s no real benefit for either of us,” she says.
If they’re a good fit, Braid Theory takes a hands-on role with the company, sometimes putting together and managing projects themselves.
“If it’s a match, they become a portfolio company and we work very carefully with them on specific things they’re trying to achieve to improve their ability to get out into the commercial market,” explains Carpenter. “Then, we look at how it fits the markets they’re going into with the resources we have. Finally, we create opportunities for these different groups to get together through events like our pitch competitions.”
Cooper adds, “While Ann does things like business development, I’ll do things like market development for companies. I’ll help investigate what the market dynamics are, look to validate the market on behalf of the company, help them understand the competitive landscape, maybe guide them through some regulations and some regulatory environment. Make them look more attractive to investors.”
Braid Theory’s current portfolio includes companies like ECOncrete, an eco-friendly concrete company specializing in urban and coastal infrastructure; Effenco, an electric hybrid technology company from Canada; and ComFreight, a shipping software service and mobile freight matching marketplace. Each of these companies, and others in their portfolio, has the potential to help solve specific problems in one or more of the six industry sectors Braid Theory focuses on, which can ultimately result in cleaner air, more efficient port traffic, and stronger coastal infrastructure, among other solutions.
LOCATION, SPACE & AFFORDABILITY
Since the late 2000s, there has been an active push to bring tech companies to San Pedro. With the largest port industrial complex in the United States in its backyard, direct access to the ocean, and, most importantly, the affordability of office space and real estate (for now), this port town has become a hotbed for start-ups looking to relocate to be closer to the action.
“The reason we’re here in San Pedro is because the customer sector for a lot of our deep tech companies is here,” says Carpenter. “They’re looking at the whole port environment, the trucking companies, the logistics companies, the port itself, the terminal operators, the recycling companies. These are all potential clients [for them]. We’ve got the aerospace companies just up the street. Even though SpaceX didn’t deeply move here, they’re still here.”
Braid Theory operates out of two campuses, Space455 in Downtown San Pedro, and Braid Space at AltaSea. Space455 is a coworking space marketed as “a dynamic mix of start-ups, technology entrepreneurs, industry professionals and small business teams.” It’s a joint venture between Braid Theory and Jerico Development, the owner of the space and also part of the development team behind the upcoming San Pedro Public Market, to be used as a hub to draw tech companies to the Harbor Area.
“Space455 is not only for our kind of tech start-ups, but it’s for anybody in this whole ecosystem,” says Carpenter. “We have an architect, a lawyer, a programmer, and a nonprofit coming in here to work. We’re not getting your corporate or traditional small businesses. We’re getting the consultants and the millennials that are doing start-ups. This is where we can connect with the rest of the start-up community in Los Angeles.”
Braid Space at AltaSea is geared more towards blue tech, which includes everything from artificial intelligence, water, and energy to biotech, life sciences, aerospace, and logistics. Companies in blue tech can access co-working facilities at AltaSea, as well as have direct access to the waterfront for trials and experimentation.
As Carpenter points out, even though San Pedro is the perfect spot for these start-ups to plant roots – with location, affordability, and opportunities being ideal – the one challenge San Pedro faces is space. There just isn’t enough industrial real estate available.
“One of the biggest problems for us is, where are we going to put these companies?” she says. “We don’t have industrial space here in San Pedro for start-ups. The corridor along N. Gaffey that was supposed to be industrial, now has a Home Depot, a Target, and a new housing development. So, what do I do with a company that’s incubated at AltaSea and Space455 and says they want to grow? Where do we put them? Where can I find that 50,000 square foot warehouse for their light manufacturing? Right now, they’re going to places like Torrance.”
On the flipside, both Carpenter and Cooper agree, what San Pedro lacks in space, it makes up for in access. Access to local politicians, community leaders, and business owners, all within a few block radius. According to Carpenter, not many towns have this unique community luxury.
“Let’s say when investors come down from San Francisco to learn a little bit more about AltaSea, they’ll come by Braid Space and Space455, and I’ll take them on walking tours,” she explains. “I’ll show them where the new hotel is going to be, and the new restaurants, and then we’ll see somebody from Councilman Buscaino’s staff, or Congresswoman Barragán’s staff, or Supervisor Hahn’s staff, and these investors will say, ‘You mean, you can just walk around the neighborhood and get access to all these government folks?’ Yeah.”
“Ann’s got really good connections here in the community,” says Cooper. “By operating out of here, we get a lot of ability to use that and leverage those relationships well.”
Her connections and passion to transform San Pedro into this industrial tech hub inspired Councilman Joe Buscaino to appoint Carpenter as Chief Innovation Officer earlier this year, a newly created role in his administration.
“Ann has been proactively promoting the harbor as an innovation district since I met her,” says Buscaino. “Her work is invaluable to creating the jobs and tech sector that will expand economic development for the future harbor workforce, which is why I chose to multiply her efforts by bringing her expertise and work into the City. She is perfect for this position.”
Braid Theory caps their year with the IGNITE22 Summit and Showcase on Nov. 13 in Downtown San Pedro.
“We named it IGNITE22 for a reason,” explains Cooper. “One, we want to ignite people’s ideas and passions. And the 22 part comes from the fact that Ann and I both have teenagers, and they’ll probably live long enough to see the 22nd century. That’s frightening, and at the same time it’s kind of wonderful and fun, right? The fact is that the science we deploy today will probably keep [people] alive for more than a hundred years, and we have that capability now. Which means the technologies we deploy now, whether it’s something that’s going to reduce or mitigate greenhouse emissions, or a cure for a deadly disease, these are going to be legacy products that are going to be around for the remainder of the century.”
The summit and showcase are Braid Theory’s way of bringing different companies together from various scientific and technological industries and have them network in a festival-like atmosphere. The event attracts start-ups from all over the world, looking for opportunities along our waterfront.
“You have entrepreneurs, investors, government reps, industry folks, and small businesses that might want to be partners, like a civil engineering firm that might see some new technology that they want to bring in. We want everybody to come in and hang out. It’s the antithesis to a trade show.”
The IGNITE22 Summit will feature panel conversations centered on solutions for the 22nd century. Panels are based around the three themes from Braid Theory’s IGNITE22 Challenge series of pitch competitions held throughout the year: blue tech, future food, and smart industry. Down the street at the Arches on 6th, the IGNITE22 Showcase will feature tabletop displays, demos, and access to founders from startups of all stages. The day ends with the IGNITE22 Challenge Finals, where the winners of each challenge series pitch their companies to judges and the audience, with the winning company receiving mentorship, legal, HR, and financial services from Braid Theory’s partners.
“We’ll continue to mentor them through a year, and we actively help them scale their company to the next level,” says Carpenter. “We help them get the visibility and the exposure, because even things like adding Braid Theory as an advisor is starting to have clout. We’re getting a reputation for being thought leaders and being very rigorous in how we do what we do, really helping entrepreneurs in this deep tech space.”
She adds, “[San Pedro] has this sense that we’re at the end of the world. Well, it’s only if you think from an L.A. perspective. If you think from a global perspective, we can see ourselves as the center of the universe.” spt
For more info on Braid Theory and IGNITE22, visit braidtheory.com.