The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the San Diego Tech Scene

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the San Diego Tech Scene

Photo courtesy of CommNexus

The EvoNexus startup incubator opened a downtown branch in 2012 in space donated by the Irvine Company.

Does San Diego have a tech startup community? Do local businesses use any new products actually built in San Diego, by San Diego developers? Can you name any San Diego tech companies other than Qualcomm? How would you find them and why would you want to work with one? Well, the answer is: There are hundreds of them and they are building amazing products.

And that is why I’m excited to be moving my column on startups from U-T San Diego to Voice of San Diego. Let me explain. Startups, by nature, are scrappy, adaptive creatures. They want to change whole industries. That means covering them from the most old-school, established news organization in town didn’t make a great fit.

Blair-GiesenThere are a lot of reasons to examine today’s tech scene.

I love what is going on in technology today. When we look back at what’s happening now, we’ll see we were in the midst of a tech revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Every industry is being reinvented. Some companies will keep up, others will not. I have started several companies and worked in big media. I can code – some. My 9-year-old son, Cooper, has learned to code through Codecademy and MIT Scratch. I have met some of the most amazing programmers in the world, and they are here in San Diego building products and platforms that make life easier.

So now that we know each other a little, let’s get back to technology in San Diego.  I plan to write about the gaps in the ecosystem and help connect some of them.

Here are some of the things I know about why the San Diego tech startup community struggles:

• Local companies don’t work together that often. From established companies to startups, local companies want to work with larger, out-of-town companies. Let’s face it: They pay more, they have more traction and are well-known. I tried many times to work with Clear Channel, CBS, Jack FM, 91X and Z90 with my audio platform, PopChatr. A radio company with a broadcast tower couldn’t figure out why it should use a local startup over Instagram or Facebook. Companies need to think of a partnership as their own low-cost tech lab.

Tell me, how are these companies making any money from Facebook? (Hint: They don’t.)

• The investment dollars just aren’t here. Investors look more often to L.A. or Silicon Valley. There is a real understanding of how the ecosystem works in those areas, investors figure. It’s already built.

• Many startup entrepreneurs don’t realize how hard it truly is to start a company. This is San Diego, and there are way too many distractions.

• There are no real mentorship programs.

And not all of the mentors who are here are willing to roll their sleeves up and say, “Let’s help make this happen. Here’s my Rolodex, let’s call some CEOs and get some deals done.” Nobody needs an armchair mentor. But I’ve heard countless people say, “Give me your elevator pitch, here’s my advice.” What does that get? Real mentorship goes beyond basic advice – mentors should insert themselves into the businesses they’re helping to test their assumptions.

• Where’s the tech hub in San Diego? The place where entrepreneurs, programmers and investors can talk about the amazing things they are building? Is it Sorrento Valley? UTC? Downtown? North County? If you figure it out, let me know.

We know from the lively discussion sparked by the blog post known as Brant’s Rant that there are some serious old-school people running some of the startup institutes in town. Since that discussion kicked off, some of the best tech companies’ founders have stepped up to help. The founder of Embarke, Al Bsharah, is now helping the downtown Evonexus bring some of the Techstars methods to the startup incubator. Techstars is one of the most successful startup accelerators in the country, and it puts a premium on mentorship.

What are you doing with your startup, or with technology in San Diego? Let me know. Let’s celebrate the wins, examine the struggles and follow your roadmap. We all know that San Diego is an amazing place to live. But it’s not yet competitive with Silicon Valley or other startup communities around the world. This tech community won’t work without companies working together. Reach out to each other, use each other’s platforms and technology and promote them.

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Blair Giesen

Blair Giesen

Blair Giesen is a VOSD contributor, serial entrepreneur and Zambig.com founder. Join the conversation by following him on Twitter or emailing him at blair@zambig.com.

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