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Walton to lead new CONNECT program

Basketball legend and San Diego native Bill Walton has a new gig: heading up a fledgling organization aimed at helping young San Diego-area companies in the sports and entertainment industry flourish.

He’s taken on the title of executive chairman of CONNECT’s Sports and Entertainment Innovators organization, following the model applied by the nonprofit “dedicated to creating and sustaining the growth of innovative technology and life science businesses in San Diego.”

He’s been joined by a high-powered group of executives whose aim is to help young companies in the industry to find funding, source innovation or understand business basics, according to a news release.

“We plan to play at the highest levels in the biggest of games. We intend to win. We are going to make a difference,” Walton stated in the release.

With more than 600 companies in the sports and entertainment business already in San Diego, Walton said in an interview on Jan. 15 that the goal is to “build a powerful and effective organization” to build industry even further.

He said he approached CONNECT and its chief executive officer, Duane Roth — whom he calls a “visionary leader” — about getting involved in the effort.

Roth, in the news release announcing the program, returned the tribute: “Walton and a dynamic team of successful sports and entertainment leaders have mobilized behind this effort. Thanks to their leadership and vision, young companies will now get real expert assistance with the many challenges of the sports and entertainment business economy like financing, consumer buying trends, patent protection, innovation or outsourcing.”

Walton, an NBA Hall of Famer who starred at UCLA, said, “There is no greater source for new ideas than San Diego,” adding that the examples set by Biocom, CommNexus and CleanTECH and their leaders will guide him and the new group. “I’m learning from Joe Panetta, Rory Moore and Jim Waring. ... They are the new coach Woodens in my life.”

Walton, who had back surgery nearly a year ago, said he is doing well and is excited about the new opportunity.

“My experience is that once you’re part of a special team, your life is never the same. I’ve been fortunate to be part of many special teams, and this is the newest one.”

At a Feb. 10 retreat, the board will focus its energy and begin to set parameters for programs and presentations. A Web site soon will offer details about the organization’s plans, Walton said.

“We will be incredibly and extensively active throughout the community in building the economy and helping small companies become large ones,” he said.

Following his playing days, Walton enjoyed a broadcasting and media career that lasted nearly two decades.

CONNECT has recruited a line-up of industry luminaries as advisers to help tailor CONNECT programs such as Most Innovative New Product Awards, Springboard, CEO Strategy Forum, Venture Roundtable and Frameworks Entrepreneurial Workshops to the industry’s specialized needs.

Co-chairs of the group include: Ludo Boinnard, founder and former CEO of ONE Industries and an off-road motocross racer; Dana Shertz, former president/chief operating officer of MacGregor Golf and former vice president of sales at Callaway Golf; and Marco Thompson, managing director of Express Ventures, who originally conceived of the effort.

“The sports and entertainment industries are increasingly about innovation and also clean technology — wet suits made of limestone, surfboards out of green foam, golf clubs from composite materials are just a few examples. It’s time we brought together our expertise in high tech with our success in sports and entertainment innovation,” said Thompson, who is also vice chairman of CONNECT.