By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Rob McClinton believes every new opportunity comes with a set of opportunities in which to indulge.
As the new president of Innovate Pasadena, he’s looking forward to tackling those, and keeping the nonprofit heading in the right direction.
McClinton was recently elected president by a unanimous vote of Innovate Pasadena’s board of directors. The volunteer-led organization’s mission is to connect and grow Pasadena’s thriving innovation communities.
“Our goal is to attract people, companies and capital to our region and to connect those that already call Pasadena home,” McClinton said.
McClinton will be supported by Immediate Past President Beth Kuchar, who remains on the board as newly elected chairperson, and continues to lead the public event series, “Ask Me Anything;” and newly elected board officers Vice President and Secretary Aaron B. Wheeler and Treasurer Erick Herring, among others.
McClinton joined the Innovate Pasadena board in 2018 and was elected vice president in 2019.
“I was delighted to join it several years ago,” McClinton said. “The city was part of its original founding and it still has members on the board. We’ve been working deeply with its economic development departments.”
In addition to his role as president, McClinton is the founder and CEO of Designing Nation Holdings, a hosting and online marketing company focused on small and local businesses, which includes Small World Communications. He is a veteran of the Southern California tech scene with roots in several Idealab startups like GoTo.com and X1 Technologies. He provides leadership mentoring through his consulting practice, Artistic Leader.
Innovate Pasadena was founded in 2012 by community and business leaders from Caltech, Art Center, Pasadena City College, the city, and local established and emerging tech companies.
“At the time, the ecosystem was very quiet,” said McClinton, who studied economics at Loyola University Chicago. “Pasadena has a deep history when it comes to technology and innovation. But it’s always been very quiet.
“The role of the organization was to bring more attention to it so those businesses can gain more employees and be aware of the opportunities here.”
With more capital investment, the “whole ecosystem can get stronger,” he added.
Under McClinton’s leadership, Innovate Pasadena will expand programming and engagement with local businesses, underrepresented founders and the legacy technology industries such as aerospace that help define Pasadena as an innovation hub.
Like most organizations, Innovate Pasadena was forced to host virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that COVID-19 vaccines have been introduced, events may become hybrid outings.
“My hope is to strengthen our connections with the technology and design companies that are core to our original founding,” he said.
His goal is to expand Innovate Pasadena’s reach to companies that aren’t normally associated with technology firms. For example, the restaurants that surround the technology incubator Idealab are suffering.
“When the technology folks started working at home, the lunch business just collapsed,” McClinton said. “The lunch crowd was a huge part of their business. It was such a blow when they stopped going into the office. The ecosystem includes everyone, not just our companies.
“We have to take a broader look at supporting companies. It’s a more holistic view of building a strong, healthy and resilient ecosystem.”
Once the pandemic eases, McClinton is looking forward to partnering with Pasadena City College so its staff can help place its interns.
“We have a relationship with businesses,” he said. “Every year, businesses want to bring on interns and don’t know how. They have a lot of stuff on their plate, and where on your to-do list is learning how to bring on interns?
“(At) the school, they want to make sure their students are placed. We’re going to serve an intermediatory role. We want to turn something that’s too long and unnecessarily complex for a business to understand to something that’s communicated in a way that’s simple, clean and easy to understand.”