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.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


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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33 comments
chrisstanchak
chrisstanchak

Great article, Blair. I moved to San Diego from Philadelphia this past summer. In Philly, I founded Ticketleap which now has ~30 employees. Years ago, Philadelphia struggled with the same issues of identity and startup scene. We were always philosophizing about why we couldn't be like New York or Boston. Eventually, Philly got comfortable in its own skin.

My opinion has always been that a startup scene (funding, culture, mentoring, etc.) happens when you have great startups. It took Philly a number of years to achieve that, but I can say that it's finally there - you need more than 2 hands to count the VC-backed startups.

After spending just a few months in San Diego, I think that the city has all the pieces to make that happen - in fact, I think it's in better shape than Philly was (that could be the sun talking). There are a number of great universities, huge technology companies, new startups launching every day, lots of enthusiasm AND no shortage of wealth.

The most important thing is the startups - as they succeed, so will the scene. The best thing that we can do as entrepreneurs is focus on making great businesses. That's what I'm working on with my wife Jenny as we get ready to launch Loveseat here in San Diego.Sell Tickets Online - Event Registration and Ticketing Solution - Ticketleaphttp://www.ticketleap.comSell tickets online to your events with TicketLeap, a free and easy to use event registration and complete box office software.Loveseat is the best way to find stylish, vintage furniture in your city.http://www.loveseatapp.comLoveseat is the best way to find stylish, vintage furniture in your city.

Olin Hyde
Olin Hyde subscribermember

Thriving startup communities are fantastically complex, highly adaptive systems. There is no magic formula to create them. Rather, great entrepreneurial ecosystems leverage the uniqueness of their region. Our's is the confluences of our Mexican neighbors, US national defense contractors, wireless technology, biotech and a few good universities.

San Diego is making great progress in finding its own unique voice as a startup community. We have fantastic yet underutilized assets -- which were accurately named in Brant's Rant.

My startup strives to work as much as possible with local companies and institutions. However, we often find that local groups are less collaborative than those we find in Europe, Canada and Asia. I would love to do all our prototyping, customer development and financing in San Diego -- but we won't wait. Startups, like biological evolution, favors the first -- not the best.

I applaud Startup San Diego, Connect and the many other organizations that are highly inclusive, collaborative and supportive of startups. And we still need need many more. Until San Diego is recognized as the hub for ENTREPRENEURIAL CAPITAL, we will always be a second-class place to start a business.

We must recognize our weaknesses to overcome them. The good news is that we are moving closer and closer to a model where San Diego can be competitive with the rest of the startup world.

Steve Bjorg
Steve Bjorg subscribermember

Happy and excited to see you join VOSD to cover the local startup/tech community. Kelly Bennet did some excellent pieces last summer, which I truly enjoyed. I'm looking forward learning more about what's going on and from the comments below, I seem to be in good company!

ogsean
ogsean

San Diego is so split up into these micro bubbles that people don't leave very often, I think that's why it's hard to say where is the real scene, downtown, sorrento, etc. There are tech people all over that don't want to go very far. We have to accept that the scene is going to be pretty spread out, but that there should be known places and events in all main corners of san diego.

Places like Sorrento are so overly industrial park and corporate park that it's hard to see hanging out anywhere around there, although karl strauss beer gardens are pretty awesome, I would definitely go to network there (and drink delicious beers). But, there's so many tech related jobs up there it would make sense for events that are after work like Thurs 6/7pm.

Network after work is OK but not tech scene focused, but the venues have been really great with how awesome downtown bars can be. The TechCrunch startup pitch-off was pretty cool, I'd like to see more of that, and another great venue at Block 16.

Meetups.com has some stuff going on but nothing major. Makes it easy to organize something though.

I agree with Aaron that asking where the scene is won't create a scene, but it did get this comments roll going. From here we just have to create the scene, and I think that means events.

I would host a meetup in PB at our offices in a couple weeks when I get back from travel if that would help? We have a rooftop location in the heart of PB on Garnet and some good restaurants and bars all around for a weekend event to start here.

And, we are a homegrown web based platform startup ourselves. I agree, we should be working with more companies in the area and we're not.

alan masarsky
alan masarsky

Congrats on the move to VOSD, Blair! I look forward to hearing more about how local technology co's are working to remedy those struggles you pointed out. Something that we've all talked about before is the need to educate community members and students about the risks and benefits for working for a startup. The rewards are often underreported and definitely underestimated.

cytrevino
cytrevino

We're building the Wireless Health Hub startup community in San Marcos: http://wirelesshealthhub.org/ Many San Diego startup and business leaders are supporting our efforts. MIT Enterprise Forum gave us a booth at recent Quantified Self event. Our mentors include Rick Strobridge, serial entrepreneur, CEO of Entra Health Systems, Brad Tipler of telmedex and others. We're forming partnerships with Palomar Health and other health organizations who can provide customer development support to our upcoming Accelerator program Founders.

I agree with Aaron Fulkerson, there's a lot happening in the San Diego tech community!Wireless Health Hub |http://wirelesshealthhub.org/Welcome to the new Wireless Health Hub, located in North San Diego County in the City of San Marcos. The Wireless Health Hub's Seed Accelerator Application is open! The Accelerator application closes soon so don't delay. Wireless Health Hub is new a ...

Gaby Dow
Gaby Dow subscriber

Great to see you here Blair! Hope that you are still working with Amy, I had a good conversation with her about the increasing funding channels for San Diego startups and look forward to your exploration of this topic. There is also a tremendous "San Diego advantage" with the resources available south of the border (look at 3D Robotics which just closed another $30 million of investment and are doubling in size with a new location in Otay....) This is just the beginning. Whether it is Silicon Valley, Chicago, NY or Mexican investment, along with mentorship in the form of local leaders or Plug and Play and others building bridges to us, there is a LOT happening in this region. Glad to have on the ride ;)

Aaron Fulkerson
Aaron Fulkerson

Blair, congrats on joining VOSD; great upgrade, seriously. :-)

There's a lot happening in tech in San Diego. There are loads of life and medical science businesses and startups. Obviously, there are also tons happening in the mobile space. Indeed, there's even a great deal of software. ServiceNow, LiveOps, StockTwits, RealTidBits/Livefyre, Embarke, Wicentric, TakeLessons, (cough) MindTouch and dozens of others.

UCSD and SDSU are great feeders for engineering talent. Also, I've never had a problem recruiting business talent from outside of San Diego. After all, it's San Diego...

I'm confused why some bemoan the lack of a "scene" in San Diego. The "scene" will really take off here when everyone stops asking where the "scene" is and questioning when it's going to take off. Let's all focus our energy on celebrating each other, and maybe grab a beer (or coffee) with each other whenever we can.

I've found that when one behaves "as if", this becomes the reality. It sure has worked here in San Diego over the last few years.

brantcooper
brantcooper

Thanks, Blair. But I don't agree there's no mentoring program. There are other things going on and I think significant progress from even a year ago. I look forward to your column focusing on some of things that are working!

http://startupsandiego.co/programsStartup Programs | StartUpSanDiego.cohttp://startupsandiego.co/programsMentorSD Have a scalable startup looking for traction? StartUp San Diego hosts Mentor Hours with technology experts and successful entrepreneurs. Companies meet with mentors in rapid-paced 30 minute sessions that focus on overcoming their biggest cur...

Arizona Bread
Arizona Bread subscriber

I’m glad to see this blog on this website. Dreck.com, aka the UT, is no place for readers or writers with positive energy and vision plus VoSD certainly has the potential to become a clearing house for news and commentary on this beat given its own origins in tech, relative newness, youthful energy and readership. Good luck.

Anthony Wagner
Anthony Wagner subscribermember

http://scoopsandiego.com/mission_times_courier/community_news/allied-gardens-community-council---october/article_d476174a-266b-11e3-945b-001a4bcf6878.html

Envision a place that’s pedestrian-oriented, job-rich and close to home, that also doubles down on a commitment and connection to our natural resources like the San Diego River. An attractant that celebrates and cherishes our unique identity as the rightful birthplace of innovation while subscribing to sustainable principles and promoting the revitalization of our existing community.

Enter the concept of the Grantville Innovation Zone(IZ), a multi-block healthcare, bio-tech, research -development, and finance oriented campus environment located in northern Grantville. An innovative economic infusion of 3,000 white collar workers to our region, capitalizing on existing anchor features already here like the River and nature, Kaiser Permanente, existing mass-transit corridors, and Allied Gardens future single-family housing stock.Allied Gardens Community Council - October 2013http://scoopsandiego.com/mission_times_courier/community_news/allied-gardens-community-council---october/article_d476174a-266b-11e3-945b-001a4bcf6878.htmlA sustainable community is more than a walkable destination close to home. It is an interconnected system that promotes job creation, economic vitality, responsible energy practices, housing opportunities, transportation choices, the best in educatio...

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

Thanks Chris,I downloaded and used Loveseat. It's really easy to use. Keep up the good work.

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

Good stuff Olin, I think you are right. Please stay connected. I think you are an important part of San Diego.

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

All valid Sean (or is it OG?). Where's your office in PB? Have you ever stopped by the Tech Coffee meetup on Thursdays at Purple Cafe - http://www.meetup.com/SanDiego-Tech-Coffee/events/162270332/ Pacific Beach & La Jolla gathering of tech entrepreneurs

Thursday, Feb 6, 2014, 9:30 AM

Javanican - The Purple Cafe
4338 Cass Street

4 Members Attending

The purpose of this is to build and encourage a vibrant tech scene in San Diego by bringing together smart people from Pacific Beach & La Jolla to share ideas, help each other or partner up. Informal gathering of entrepreneurs for co-working, sharing, brainstorming, mentoring, etc. RSVP or just drop by and introduce yourself. This is about co-worki...

Check out this Meetup →

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

Thanks for the comments. I have heard about this. I know Brad Tipler and would love to hear more.

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

All great point Gaby. It needs to be all of them.

Steve Bjorg
Steve Bjorg subscribermember

I second Aaron's point. The more we make an effort to participate in each other's events, the more a scene will emerge!

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

I agree Aaron, keep the comments coming. Beer or coffee is good (but not together). We could find some good taps with San Diego's Tap Hunter https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/taphunter-craft-beer-finder/id512023104?mt=8
CheersTapHunter - The Craft Beer Finderhttps://itunes.apple.com/us/app/taphunter-craft-beer-finder/id512023104?mt=8Opening the iTunes Store. If iTunes doesn't open, click the iTunes application icon in your Dock or on your Windows desktop. Progress Indicator iTunes is the world's easiest way to organize and add to your digital media collection. We are unable to f...

Zambig Digital
Zambig Digital

Great info. on San Diego. Curious how many/what percentage of those are Qualcomm.

randyapuzzo
randyapuzzo

Randy from http://www.gozesty.com here, I recently attended a 30 minute session and it was great to connect and listen to an outside perspective that had no connection to our startup. I'm looking forward to next week.

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

Thanks Brant. Definitely progress from a year ago. The 30 minute Mentor Hours are a good start as long as they lead to more hours of mentor-ship. If you have some success stories I want to hear about them and I'd be happy to focus on them. Please share.

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

Thanks. I agree VoSD is the place for me. Please continue to comment and follow.
-Blair

sdk
sdk

I grew up in the SF Bay Area and have lived in San Diego for close to 10 years. I work in software myself (for a startup, even, albeit one with no local office) so my comments are about that segment.

I agree that spending a lot of time lamenting the lack of "scene" is unproductive, and that we have a lot more tech/startup activity here than we usually get credit for. Another comment. I am not sure I agree that the lack of a geographic "tech hub" is that much of an impediment. Most of the Silicon Valley is pedestrian-unfriendly suburban sprawl, and the shift towards urban San Francisco as a focal point is relatively new. Compared to the Bay Area as a whole, San Diego is competitive on centralization and quality-of-life measures.

One big impediment I see is the lack of mid-size and enterprise tech-focused firms with a significant presence (or any presence) in the area. The big names here are Qualcomm, Intuit, and maybe Sony. That's it. The situation has actually been getting worse as firms like Adobe and Blackbaud have closed down their local offices. Sectors like finance that have a lot of technical work in support of their core business also have limited presence here. This might not sound immediately relevant-- after all we are talking about startups and not stodgy big companies, right?-- but this ties into the overall lack of mentorship, investment funding, and support infrastructure. Historically, many Valley startups have been founded by alumni of larger, established firms who can leverage the experience and personal networks they developed. Similar opportunities are difficult to come by here.

The other impediment, related to the above, is a local technical job market that has been neutral to unfavorable from an employee's perspective the entire time I have lived here. I recently went up to the Bay Area to visit friends and family, and when I inquired about the local job market the response was invariably something like "We are hiring a lot of people, would you like me to pass on your resume?" I know plenty of smart, motivated tech workers here too, but conversations like that have NEVER happened to me in San Diego. Companies have limited openings and know that they can afford to be picky here. Add in the famous "Paradise Tax", and it gets harder to justify staying here rather than moving to an area with a broader range of opportunities.

alan masarsky
alan masarsky

Congrats on the move to VOSD, Blair! I look forward to hearing more about how local technology co's are working to remedy those struggles you pointed out. Something that we've all talked about before is the need to educate community members and students about the risks and benefits for working for a startup. The rewards are often underreported and definitely underestimated.

TurnTwoLou
TurnTwoLou

I was just speaking to a few of my Allied Gardens neighbors about a similar concept for Grantville, but with also with a warehouse entertainment district similar to Denver or San Francisco included. Walk/bike to work, then to lunch/dinner/movie, etc., then home. Never touch you car. Area is well-suited to be a start-up hub with rent/lease space far lower than downtown.

reywood
reywood

Have you never tried Speedway Stout?

Blair Giesen
Blair Giesen

Yes, Randy, I want to hear more about where it leads.
And for Zesty, if your a developer you should try Zesty for your websites. Zesty is San Diego built and I use it.