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I have not worn a necktie since I moved to California 6 years ago. My sense of punctuality, too, has been collecting dust on my tie rack. My social networking skills, on the other hand, are buffed, shined, and polished.

Thanks to a number of dense commercial centers known as "industrial clusters", California is a place where business opportunities grow from relationships as casual as the dress code. Clusters are dense commercial areas, usually dominated by a single industry and the relevant support services (law, marketing, finance, etc).

Silicon Valley set the fashion trend for the rest of California by trailblazing the idea of region-wide innovation. A constant cycle of startups and spinoffs would absorb and reabsorb local talent. Wilfred Corrigan, founder of LSI Logic, once remarked, "There are a lot of people who come to work in the morning believing that they work for Silicon Valley."

It was not long before Valley imitators sprung up all along the coast.

Practically speaking, the important thing to know for interested networkers is that local non-profits specializing in the creation of cluster culture are an excellent way to integrate oneself into the community. Here are 2 of my favorite non-profits in Southern California.

OCTANe – OCTANe is a full-service networking organization for Orange County. OCTANe has its own local job directory, it assists the formation of startups, it connects novice entrepreneurs to venture capitalists, and it hosts a few very large business conference yearly (always attended by business elite). New college graduates can even test out business presentations in front of veteran CEOs for criticism and (maybe) an offer for first-stage funding. I sat on OCTANe’s Generation Y outreach council and was continually impressed by the organization’s professionalism. (I should also note that Orange County is attempting to become the Silicon Valley of the medical industry.)

Connect – Connect is an older, more established version of OCTANe for the San Diego region. In addition to the usual cluster activities, Connect frequently holds an MIT-Enterprise forum. The Forum, among many things, is an open-invitation, round table discussion of how to keep San Diego innovation thriving, as well as a place for start-ups to get honest feedback on their business strategy. In true California style, Connect takes Forum members on a wine tour to chat business over some of the best Vino in the world.

So, come on over to my state. We’ll go surfing, found a start-up, go public, and down a bottle of wine all before the weekend is over,

Greg Ferenstein

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