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Ten Questions: Entrepreneur has deep roots in La Jolla

Nicolas (Nico) Nierenberg has been a technology entrepreneur for 30 years. He currently serves as chairman of Actuate Corp. (NASDAQ) as well as two private companies,

AwarePoint and Aptana. He has been a member of the board of trustees of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research for the last six years and served as chairman for two years.

Nierenberg is also president of the Nierenberg Foundation, which each year provides the funds for the Nierenberg Prize awarded by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO).

Nierenberg began his career as a software developer.

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In 1993, he founded Actuate Corp. and was chairman and chief executive officer for seven years. He has consulted for Accel Partners, a Bay Area venture capital firm, since 1993. In 2003, he became a lead investor and chairman of AwarePoint and Aptana. AwarePoint produces an industry leading solution for tracking assets, personnel and patients in hospitals. Aptana provides the most popular open source development environment for Web applications.

In 2000, Nierenberg and his wife, Caroline, donated funds to build the new science building at La Jolla High School. They have two children, Anna and William, who are graduates of La Jolla High School. Anna is in graduate school at UC Santa Barbara studying physics, and William is an economics major at UC Santa Cruz.

What brought you to La Jolla?

I originally moved to La Jolla with my family at age 10 when my father became the director at SIO. I attended Scripps Elementary, Muirlands Middle School, La Jolla High School and UCSD. My career took me to Sacramento and the Bay Area, but once you have lived in La Jolla, I think part of you always wants to come back. In 2000, my father was diagnosed with cancer, so Caroline and I decided to move down here to spend time with him.

Unfortunately, my father passed away that year, but we are very happy to be here near my mother.

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What keeps you in La Jolla?

Of course it is great to be so close to my mother, but what I love the most about La Jolla is the climate and the ocean. There is really nowhere we travel that is as spectacular as the view from our home.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in La Jolla over the last several decades?

There are a lot more people here now, and the area that is called La Jolla has gotten a lot larger. I used to fly model airplanes in the vacant lots in La Jolla Farms - you sure can’t do that any more. But in many ways, the town still has the same feel to me as when I grew up here.

Who or what inspires you?

I once read a science fiction book where, in a fictional culture, the question wasn’t “What do you do?” but rather “What is your contribution?” I’ve always really liked that idea. People who focus on their ability to do something positive inspire me. That can be anything from a commercial enterprise to charity to raising a family. It may sound like a cliche, but I find inspiration all around me.

What philanthropic efforts are you currently involved in?

I have a long connection with UCSD and SIO, starting with my father. The Nierenberg Prize was something my father thought of before he died, and it has been a great experience working with the folks at SIO. We are also contributors to the new forum, which is being built on the SIO campus.

Over the last few years, I have been working with the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. I really believe that where information technology had a tremendous boom at the end of the last century, we are now entering an era where biological research is going to fundamentally and positively change the human experience.

Finally, La Jolla High School is very important to me. In a perfect world, the public schools would serve to bring everyone in our community together. I think LJHS is one of the best things about our town.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

My father, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar, Albert Einstein and Gwyneth Paltrow (leave Chris Martin at home).

Mac or PC?

Mac.
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If you could only run one program on your computer, what would it be?

Firefox.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Professionally, my greatest accomplishment is the positive impact from the companies I have been involved with. Personally, I am very proud to be the father of my two wonderful children.

What is your motto?

You never know what’s coming next.