Stephen Hargett – LA Cleantech Incubator
It’s the story of a green campus forced to go virtual and experiencing growth in multiple ways as a result.
The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator manages the La Kretz Innovation Campus in partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. A showcase of cutting-edge environmental tech, the campus is WELL Gold- and LEED Platinum-certified and is the first LADWP property to receive both certifications.
The 60,000-square-foot campus is situated on 3.2 acres and includes a nonprofit where cleantech businesses share workspace and rub elbows with the environmental tech community. Currently closed due to COVID-19, the campus features exhibits on everything from cleantech to how water and electricity flow into and around LA. It’s also a popular venue for events.
Then coronavirus happened.
While the pandemic has given Senior Director of Facilities and Operations Stephen Hargett plenty of challenges, it’s also allowed him to take facility management and community building to a wider audience through things like virtual tours and remote attractions.
“When I came here from WeWork, the idea was to bring facilities management and community engagement together,” Hargett says. “It’s not just about the buildings and the utilities; it’s about how it feels when someone first walks onto campus.”
The former University of Maryland football player started working at LACI in January 2020 and had only a couple of months of normal operation before being thrown the curveball of the century in the form of the pandemic.
His first goal: Make the space user-friendly and safe for the 300 entrepreneurs and employees who use it. Suddenly, cutting-edge features like the solar tube that uses mirrors to channel natural sunlight into windowless rooms don’t seem as important—at least for the moment. Suddenly, enacting new CDC guidelines and the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value counts of HVAC filters became a primary concern. But that was just a start.
“It’s been an interesting dynamic,” Hargett says. “COVID put a mirror to facility management and maintenance. Processes, policies and ideas can’t be stagnant. Sometimes, they need to turn on a dime.”
Other on-site features include a campus microgrid to deliver power from solar panels and a water collection and recycling system used for irrigation. The goal is a to create a “circular experience” that leaves the campus as net neutral as possible, while allowing the involved parties to take steps to make LA more sustainable and apply concepts to reality.
That goal hasn’t changed because of COVID-19. It’s just gone digital.
Design changes ranged from creating more open areas, spacing desks further apart, installing phone booths and new HVAC filters. The office space is used by staff and startups working at LACI, so adaptation was nothing new; it’s part of LACI’s mission. When COVID-19 hit, the goal was to take human comfort into account both physically and psychologically while creating a better work/life balance.
“The difference between now and then is that changing business practices was a luxury, whereas now it’s a matter of survival,” Hargett says. “I find it’s important to be more human than ever by communicating with my team and our members, being understanding and flexible.”
A PPE pivot
LACI’s Advanced Prototyping Center was sitting unused in March until a manager approached Hargett with an idea to re-engineer and produce face shields for frontline workers at local hospitals in LA during the pandemic.
The APC team re-engineered some of the more popular face shields and improved on the designs, expanding the protected area to include the top of the head and more coverage under the chin. The program has donated 15,000 face shields so far and is now producing around 2,500 per week.
They are also looking at different manufacturing methods, as well as ways to reduce or recycle scrap materials. If that’s not possible, the leftovers will be donated to organizations that can use them in other ways.
Idle equipment turned to pandemic response; problem-solving that spurs innovation forward; making better decisions thanks to hard-earned knowledge and sharing it with their community and the world: This is what LACI is all about.
“Our efforts here are significantly bigger than any one of us that make up the ecosystem here at Laci,” Hargett says. “Once that is understood, it’s much easier to make good decisions to build a more sustainable future for this city. What we do affects people in a lot of ways, whether directly involved with us, or not.”
It’s fair to say that COVID-19 has created a revolution in business communications, changing the way employees and partners interact to accomplish goals and connect with customers—and LKIC is no exception.
Since the campus isn’t currently open to the public, LACI and Hargett are now taking their assets directly to the people using tools like Remo, a large-scale virtual event platform through which the school can host networking and sponsorship events and Zoom. Hargett is also working on a member platform for the entire school community to create a virtual ecosystem for the college online.
Matterport software, a 3-D modeling platform typically used in the construction industry to scan buildings, is part of that plan. Footage is gathered, then exhibit-style content is added to describe elements of the space during what becomes a virtual tour of the on-campus experience.
“What I did was go to work on how to bring the campus life into the home through multiple routes: virtual happy hours and tours, online educational resources,” Hargett says. “We started out with a lot of Zoom meetings, but then everyone got Zoomed out. My job is to keep members engaged, able to come together and keep campus alive.”
Once fully in place, the new system will supply an integrated experience between video calls, research materials and many other functions.
The innovations underway at LACI don’t stop there, however. Here, ideas aren’t just welcomed; they’re acted upon.
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