As a new $47 million tech incubator officially opens its doors this week near the Los Angeles River, backers hope it will finally turn downtown into a long-promised hub for green technology companies.

The La Kretz Innovation Campus, which had a soft opening earlier this year but has its official opening on Friday, is one of a few business incubators nationwide specifically for solar, electric vehicle, and other green technology companies. The 60,000-square-foot converted furniture warehouse features space for dozens of companies as well as lab space, rooms for prototyping manufactured products, and training space.

It’s the major piece of a “green technology corridor” through downtown originally envisioned by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to come to fruition. It’s also one of the largest – if not the largest – technology incubators in the L.A. region, both in terms of square footage and number of full-time tenant businesses.

“This is a major step in our mission of building a world-class clean technology innovation hub in Los Angeles,” said Fred Walti, chief executive of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, which runs the facility.

This venture differs from other technology incubators in three crucial ways: It focuses exclusively on companies that do business in renewable energy or environmental mitigation, it has lab space and a special room with machine tools for prototyping, and its companies often take longer to cycle through.

“Unlike the typical technology incubators, which inhabit the fast-moving world of online business, alternative energy and clean tech companies often spend years developing and prototyping their products,” Walti said.

Participants range from battery technology and solar companies to pollution-monitoring businesses. Each pays about $500 a month in rent, but that covers less than 10 percent of the incubator program’s $3.5 million annual operating budget. The rest of the operating budget comes from government grants. The incubator program itself has a staff of 22.

DWP ratepayer funds

The clean technology incubator actually began five years ago with $1 million in seed money from the now-defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. The incubator housed a handful of startup tenants, including electric vehicle-charging companies and a solar power firm, in temporary space in a converted bus garage a couple of blocks away.

But even then, plans were in the works for a much larger facility dedicated to shepherding clean tech companies from the idea stage to viability.

After receiving a $3 million donation from real estate developer and property manager Morton La Kretz, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power in 2010 spent $8 million to acquire an old furniture and fabric warehouse and contributed an additional $11 million to convert much of the common area to a lab and space for the agency to demonstrate alternative energy technologies. About $18 million of the $19.7 million in direct DWP funding came from ratepayer funds.

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