Hollywood, Digital Media Players Unite to Launch L.A. Incubator

io LA Interior - H 2012
Chris Gartin

io LA Interior - H 2012

io/LA, a startup investor and co-working company, plans to invest $500,000 in entertainment and technology companies; mentors include Shepard Fairey, Terrence Howard and Ben Silverman.

A new digital incubator and co-working company is targeting the space where the entertainment business and technology converge.

It helps that Hollywood-based io/LA, which opened in April, was founded by a trio of businessmen with strong ties to the two fields: producer-actor Donovan Leitch, who is making a documentary about Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom; MySpace co-founder Aber Whitcomb; and actor Chris Gartin (True Blood, Shameless).

Io/LA plans to invest a total of $500,000 in as many as 25 startup companies that are concentrated in areas such as gaming, technology and digital content. The fledgling firms will be given offices at io/LA's 8,800-square-foot headquarters, which separately serves as a co-working facility where members pay a monthly fee for use of the space.

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Businesses and people with ties to Hollywood already have signed up to use the facility, including Black Swan co-writer Mark Heyman, actor Adrian Grenier's Reckless Productions and film finance and production company Big Beach Films (Safety Not Guaranteed, Our Idiot Brother). A standard membership costs $395 per month, and a "virtual" membership -- which offers limited access to the company's facility at 7083 Hollywood Blvd. but full access to io/LA's various networking events and panels -- is $195 per month. So far, the company has taken on 50 members.

Leitch and Gartin told The Hollywood Reporter that io/LA's location in the heart of Hollywood -- it is just down the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel -- sets the company apart from other incubators and co-working companies that have cropped up in and around Santa Monica, a burgeoning technology business hub. The founders say their personal networks and an eclectic membership will help the companies io/LA incubates and the members who use the facility forge business relationships and dream up new ideas.

"It is all about the convergence of tech and entertainment and aligning storytellers with technologists," said Leitch, the son of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Donovan. Leitch has produced several films, including the 1993 political documentary The Last Party

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Io/LA's facility, which soon will feature a cafe that will be open to the public, has an open floor plan with long communal tables and exposed ceiling ducting. There are private phone booths that include land lines and conference rooms that feature flat-screen televisions and sleek furniture.

Traditional incubators such as Mountain View, Calif.-based Y Combinator provide resources, guidance and often a small investment to pay the overhead of a startup in exchange for an equity stake in the new firm. Io/LA diverges from this model by not requiring the firms it incubates to hand over equity -- though the company's founders may negotiate stakes in the firms they help launch.

The startups will be given guidance by mentors who have offered their service to io/LA, including artist Shepard Fairey, actor Terrence Howard and Electus CEO Ben Silverman. The mentors will host panels at the facility; Fairey, for example, will speak at a Tuesday event on technology and art. Gartin said that the startups will be mentored for three months, and "through that mentoring process, we help them perfect their pitch and they get relevant help from mentors." The mentors will do this work free of charge.

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"[The mentors] can negotiate themselves into the companies," Gartin said. "It's a farm system for talent. There is a lot of payoff, but theoretically they are giving back."

The company is taking applications for admittance into the incubator program.

Io/LA members also have access to a post-production facility owned by WeWork Hollywood, a co-working company that is also based at 7083 Hollywood Blvd. and is an investor in io/LA.

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller