When top executives from dozens of Tri-Valley organizations gathered earlier this month to discuss the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation soon turned to innovation and entrepreneurship.

“This is a time when people collaborate at high levels, build new companies, and pivot to reinvent success in ways never imagined before," said John Sensiba, managing partner of the Pleasanton-based accounting firm Sensiba San Filippo and former chair of the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group.

Innovation Tri-Valley, a collaboration of business leaders, educational institutions, research labs and government leaders, organized the meeting to share ideas as the region fends off impacts of the pandemic and business closures caused by the statewide shelter-at-home orders.

Rick Shumway, CEO of Stanford Health Care - ValleyCare, noted that the hospital system has developed "strong new collaborations with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Sandia National Laboratories working on coronavirus testing and treatment.”

Stanford Health Care - ValleyCare was among the hospitals chosen by the National Institutes of Health to participate in clinical trials on Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral drug that has shown early promise in combating COVID-19. Stanford Health Care - ValleyCare also increased its overall capacity by 70% in response to the pandemic.

Rich Rankin, director of the Innovation and Partnership Office at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said LLNL is now part of the Department of Energy’s Virtual National Biotech Laboratory. LLNL is using its supercomputers to advance research into treatments and a potential vaccine for COVID-19 through a public-private consortium spearheaded by the White House, the DOE and IBM.

Jonas Moe, senior vice president at Ellie Mae, the Pleasanton-based software company that processes about 35% of all U.S. mortgage applications, said companies are rethinking the idea of work-from-home.

"Success with people working from home means that the tech sector is now thinking differently about the need for corporate travel, major conferences and big events,” Moe said. “In the future, if people can work from anywhere, it makes it even more attractive to live in a region with great schools, safety, and quality of life. Every company is rethinking what it takes to attract and retain key talent and this region will maintain strategic advantage by continuing to invest in our infrastructure, especially our schools."

Brandon Cardwell, executive director of iGATE, a Livermore nonprofit that partners with Tri-Valley businesses to encourage entrepreneurs, stressed that economy recovery needs to be broad based.

"We must work now to create upward mobility for everyone," Cardwell said. “Businesses and employees that are directly serving customers have been hugely impacted. While economic downturns are often when people take the time to create and build new companies, we need to be sure we have all it takes to support everyone equally in our Tri-Valley communities - entrepreneurs and employees alike.”

Les Schmidt, founder of BRIIA, an “accelerator” program for new businesses, expressed the opinion that "for every start-up that stumbles in this crisis, I believe there will be another new company that emerges even stronger.”

“The life blood of entrepreneurs is solving problems,” Schmidt added. “Our innovators have many problems to solve right now, including how to be most successful in this dynamic environment. BRIIA continues to be a big believer and investor in artificial intelligence, technology and innovation."

Greg Hitchan, co-founder and managing partner of Tri-Valley Ventures, the region's first venture capital fund, reported an increase in entrepreneurs moving to the Tri-Valley in the first quarter of 2020.

"In an environment like this, we see that people are largely going to invest with people whom they already have a relationship with,” Hitchan said. “That means it is a great benefit to be integrally connected with our Tri-Valley innovation network."

Mark Triska, executive vice president of the real estate firm Colliers International, said he believes that bringing the public and private sectors together in innovative ways is creating long-term optimism in the real estate industry.

"Helping lenders who are working with businesses to keep them going, supporting key sectors like manufacturing and distribution operations that are doing well, and crafting regional approaches to economic development are all helpful strategies right now," Triska said.