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‘The Octane Guy’ Plans Big

Bill Carpou occasionally will be sitting in a restaurant when someone comes by and says, “Hey, you’re the Octane guy.”

While Octane goes all out for OC tech and medtech businesses, people who pitch to Carpou while he’s dining out are generally disappointed.

“It’s unfortunate because you can’t help everybody,” Carpou told the Business Journal.
Carpou often receives pitches, including would-be entrepreneurs just walking in the door at Octane’s office in Newport Beach, seeking support for their ventures.

“At our events, I have so many people coming at me all at once it is difficult to move from one person to another,” Carpou said. “I don’t mean that in a negative sense. It’s just that I’m trying to move from one part of the event to someone else I want to talk to. And I got two people actually pulling on my coat saying, ‘I want to pitch you on something.’”

Carpou, who grew up in the village of Garden City on Long Island, came West for a key post at Ikon Office Solutions in 1998 and eventually became an operating partner at investment firm Blackstone Inc. before joining Octane about nine years ago.

Octane was founded in 2002 by five well-known local executives—Jim Mazzo, Dwight Decker, Mike Mussallem and Matthew Massengill, as well as Tom Moebus, then the vice chancellor at University of California, Irvine. Its board of directors and advisers total almost 90 people, including many well known in business circles such as Alteryx co-founder Dean Stoecker, FivePoint founder Emile Haddad and Medtronic Executive Vice President Brett Wall.

Giving Back

Carpou emphasized that the organization is helping develop tech and medtech companies in Orange County and the rest of Southern California.

Octane can attract successful entrepreneurs to its events. Last month, it hosted a Tech Innovation Forum that featured talks by Palmer Luckey of Anduril Industries, which is aiming for a $12.5 billion valuation, and William Wang of TV and media company Vizio Holding Corp., which is being bought for $2.3 billion by Walmart. The tech forum attracted more than 500 people.

The forum was expanded into a full OC Innovation Week this year, with about 1,100 people attending.

“We had 31 companies presenting in panels at Tech Innovation Forum, 11 companies presenting for capital on stage, we also had another 32 companies that presented for capital on the day prior as a part of Innovation Week,” Carpou said.

He said it’s still too early to say if any business deals were cut during the event, though there are several possibilities.

“The intent here is to build something that’s a little bit similar to South by Southwest in Austin or Denver Startup Week or any of a number of other things that are going on comparable to that in innovation cities around the country.”

Carpou likes to say Octane’s goal is to make Orange County a “hub of innovation” in Southern California, including in artificial intelligence.

“We think there is an opportunity to do a defense and aerospace vertical,” Carpou said.

“We’re embarking on an evaluation to see if that makes sense for us in 2025.”

No Elevator Pitch

“People will say, what’s your elevator pitch? Unless you’re in a 200-story building with a slow elevator, we can’t give you an elevator pitch,” he quipped.

Instead, the organization has several different segments to help aspiring entrepreneurs:
• Its six signature events, including the Aesthetics Tech Forum, the Opthalmology Tech Forum and a general Medical Innovation Forum, draw industry leaders, innovators and investors. “We’re adding neurovascular and neuroscience in 2025,” Carpou said.

• While Octane is a nonprofit, it has a capital and growth platform that is a separate LLC that “sits outside the nonprofit.” Octane is the general partner and founder of two venture funds.
• Philanthropic foundation.
• It developed Haystax, which is an artificial intelligence application that can predict a startup’s fundability with 90% accuracy.
• Women leaders empowerment events.
• Next wave leadership development.
• Octane’s Healthsocal.ai has developed Mindex, a credit-like score for mental health. This initiative was made possible with a $1 million gift and close partnership with the Samueli Foundation.

Octane Capital

Octane Capital has helped companies raise cash at the start faster than usual and usually at a better rate, he said.

“Whatever fee we may charge is generally made up, in some multiple, in terms of a better valuation and the speed of doing that,” Carpou said.

Since 2010, Octane has assisted 1,964 companies.

Octane has helped to raise $8.3 billion using its LaunchPad SBDC accelerator program, with $972 million of capital raised in 2023 alone, according to the 2024 Impact Report.

Octane says it’s helped to create more than 33,000 jobs since 2010, using its LaunchPad SBDC tool.

Nowadays, it analyzes hundreds of companies.

“We see about 500 companies a year. We end up working with about 65 or so,” Carpou said.

Among Octane’s many OC successes are support for software firm Mavenlink, which eventually became Kantata; eyecare company Tarsus Pharmaceuticals Inc., which boasts a $1.3 billion market cap after going public in September (Nasdaq: TARS); and medical device startup Telesair Inc., which raised $46.2 million in a Series A funding round.

“I feel it is my time to give back as I have been fortunate in my career and find leading Octane invigorating, stimulating, and it energizes me because of the incredible people I get to work with each day across the community,” said the 70-year-old. “Running hard and loving it. Age is just a state of mind.”

Keeping Young Talent in OC a Problem: Carpou

Last month, Anduril Industries founder Palmer Luckey told Octane’s Tech Innovation Forum there’s a problem retaining young talent in Orange County. Octane’s Chief Executive Bill Carpou echoed those sentiments.

“How do you retain a young workforce here in Orange County? How do you take somebody that’s graduating from UCI and say ‘OK you could live here,’” Carpou told the Business Journal. “That’s a problem. I don’t know who’s going to solve that.”

Much of the problem is the housing cost.

“I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the Irvine Company—they could probably solve it if they wanted to. At the same time, they’re a business. Why should they give things away for much less than the market commands. That’s a relatively big problem,” Carpou said.

Still, living costs aren’t all negative in OC, where expensive coastal areas elevate the median housing cost.

“We’re less expensive than the Bay Area. We’re less expensive than Boston. We’re less expensive than New York,” he emphasized.

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