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Success and Failure — San Diego Startup Community

San Diego Skyline

(UPDATE BELOW 4/10/13)

With Brad Feld coming to town this week, I think it's a good time to evaluate the state of San Diego's Startup Community. If you don't know Brad, you should take a few minutes to learn more about him. He is an entrepreneur turned investor, a co-founder of the TechStars accelerator program, a prolific author and a community builder. Last year he published Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, which explores the ingredients necessary to have a thriving startup scene. The challenges Brad discusses are spot on and I highly recommend the book.

I first met Brad in the Fall of 2010, when he and TechStars co-founder David Cohen came to San Diego as part of their Do More Faster book tour. San Diego didn't represent; it was a pitiful showing. Brad told the audience San Diego was 10 years away from having a solid startup ecosystem and he challenged, "who in the audience is committed to leading the effort for 10 years?" A few hands raised up, some by those merely seeking affirmation and the chance to pitch Brad on their failing startup. (When Andrew Beinbrink and I pressed those after the meeting to join us in building San Diego Tech Founders, they evaporated faster than dollars in a freemium business model.)

Fast forward 2 1/2 years and San Diego has made progress. A lot of positive things are happening. Aside, however, from the entrepreneurs living the San Diego dream, I can't help but wonder: Does San Diego at large even know there is a Startup Ecosystem problem here?

***

In Startup Communities, Brad briefly describes traditional frameworks for evaluating startup ecosystems, including economic concentration, a cultural of openness and information exchange, and a prolific creative class (entrepreneurs, professors, artists, musicians, etc). These are not independent and in my opinion, all relate to geography. In other words, certain geographic conditions must exist before one sees a concentration of economic activity, which leads to a proliferation of the creative class, which leads the way toward openness.

The geographic conditions are necessary, but not sufficient. As Brad says,

There is a serious chicken and egg problem; although it is not difficult to see why innovation havens have an advantage, it is more challenging to explain how to get a startup community up and running. (Feld, Brad (2012-09-06). Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City (p. 25). John Wiley and Sons.)

Brad introduces an additional framework, based on his experience growing the Boulder, Colorado startup ecosystem:

  • Entrepreneurs must lead
  • The leaders must be committed long-term
  • The community must be inclusive
  • The community must have continual activities

Happily, San Diego has all these components, which I discuss below. (If you want to skip the griping, you can jump there now.)

Brad doesn't stop at describing what is needed, he also lists the challenges and common issues facing burgeoning startup ecosystems. Many of these apply to San Diego in spades.

Specifically, San Diego faces geography issues and what Brad calls the "patriarch problem."

Geography

Successful ecosystems have geography in their favor. San Diego is challenged by the fact that we have startups from Oceanside to Tijuana. We are spread thin. Yes, Silicon Valley has startups from San Francisco to San Jose, but there are concentrations all along the way: SOMA, Palo Alto, Mountain View, etc. Additionally, there are thousands of startups there compared to hundreds here.

As noted above, concentration leads to openness, collaboration and greater economic activity. When startups concentrate in an area, you not only have more planned events, but greater serendipity, too. Ask any founder what they love about SF's SOMA, it's the opportunity for casual conversations in a random coffee shop that leads to ideas, partnerships, investment and other possibilities. In a car culture like San Diego, where Startups are locked up in high-rises in the Golden Triangle and Founders in automobiles, you simply are not exposed to that level of opportunity.

Patriarchy

Brad describes The Patriarch problem:

In moments of frustration, I call this the old-white-guy problem. At its core, it’s one of the key challenges of a hierarchical organizational model, one in which the most powerful people are the ones at the top of the hierarchy.

Of course it isn't really the old-white-guy problem, any one can be old school, but San Diego is dominated by the old-school; by people who were instrumental in diversifying San Diego's economy 20 years ago, by former C-level executives of large, successful companies, and yes, even by some people who actually started and grew new businesses once upon a time. Great people, I'm sure. Many wish to 'give back', want to see San Diego grow economically, and would like to contribute their expertise.

Unfortunately, the legacy institutions that serve as the vehicles for their contributions are anachronistic, decidedly old-school, and arguably more harmful to San Diego than beneficial. Included in this list are the very institutions held up as being proof by some that San Diego startup ecosystem is thriving, including CONNECT, EvoNexus, Tech Coast Angels, SDVG, SDSIC and others. Painting with a broad brush, they don't get fundamental aspects of today's startup world, many of which Brad discusses:

  • Pay it forward
  • Openness and inclusiveness
  • Mentoring
  • Modern business models
  • Today's Investment practices

CONNECT has an incredible number of programs and has been serving the community since the 1980s. Their CONNECT w/ CONNECT is arguably the region's largest and most successful networking event and I always hear great things about it. Additionally, the Life Science mentors I've met are second to none and the Sports Innovation sector has the potential of being the country's leading support organization for that vertical. Their support for tech startups, however, leaves much to be desired.

The downtown EvoNexus 'incubator', is for the most part, a miserable failure. Featuring a great location generously donated by the Irvine Company, the space lacks any sense of startup companies moving with purpose. Their "Nations only No-Strings-Attached Incubator" tag line reflects not only profound ignorance of what's actually happening in the startup world, but also it's profound arrogance. (Ever heard of MassChallenge, for one?) Incredibly, despite what one can only believe are best intentions, the 'no strings' incubator offers no benefits other than free rent. It's motto is, essentially, 'figure it out one your own.'

Like most San Diego's legacy support institutions, CONNECT's Springboard program and EvoNexus rely on vanity metrics (here's how many startups have 'graduated' and here's the total amount of $ raised), but lacks transparency. (Here's what real transparency looks like.) This is not a trivial matter. Organizations that rely on vanity metrics tend to optimize for the wrong thing and lose their way.

While EvoNexus offers no mentoring to their early stage companies (exactly backwards thinking), Springboard struggles to find and keep relevant mentors. While, again, the mentors are mostly well-intentioned, many are looking for C-level gigs, board seats and consulting work. Many have never worked at startups, let alone founded one. CONNECT Springboard seemingly does not understand that as Steve Blank loves to say, "Startups are not small versions of big companies." Concepts such as viral coefficient, gamification, mobile monetization strategies, crowdsourcing/funding, and lean startup, to name a few, are foreign to most of those involved in San Diego's legacy institutions.

A recent conversation with a local entrepreneur stuck in the wrong ecosystem web, illustrates a repeated scenario.

  • He liked very much his Springboard mentor.
  • He's been in the program for a year.
  • His product has been in development for over 1 year.
  • He hasn't launched anything so has no customers.
  • He has talked to potential customers, but not shown them any product.
  • He's 'hoping to launch soon.'
  • He has no access to other entrepreneurs.
  • He will soon (hopefully) graduate from Springboard and so is finalizing his pitch deck.
  • If he successfully graduates, he'll pitch to investors.
  • He's been to CONNECT events (Frameworks, CONNECT w/ CONNECT), but no others.
  • He's struggling with paying for patent protection.

What's wrong with this picture? Plenty. A well-meaning mentor to be sure, but a program designed to get a first time tech entrepreneur with no customers in front of investors is a profound waste of time and energy on all fronts. This particular entrepreneur has been stuck inside a closed system for a year. He has not benefited from collaborating with other founders wrestling with similar issues. He has not been exposed to founders who have already figures out some of the issues he currently faces. He's getting bad advice on investing. His IP strategy is likely irrelevant for his particular product and he admits that he's mostly doing it to appease local investors. ("What's your IP strategy?") He has received no mentoring on how to go about (and the necessity of) validating his business model, but rather on how to put together a pitch deck. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Harmfully, these organizations compete for a limited supply of the sponsorship dollars that keep their doors open. The sponsors have become the customers, not the entrepreneurs. Go to any of their events and you're more likely to see glad-handing and plenty of backslapping for each other -- organizations and sponsors -- and very little attention paid to the entrepreneurs. They even give each other awards.

I must say, I don't get the economics. They charge sponsors a lot of money, they also charge members, and finally, they charge attendees to their events! Where does the money go? Their internal bureaucracies require increased external funding, resulting in less support for the very constituents they're meant to serve. Their very structure ensures the primary attendees of their events are service providers. The entrepreneurs are chased underground, running from endless attempts to monetize them by both the organizations and event sponsors and attendees!

The legacy organizations favor exclusivity. Their demo nights are closed events or are expensive in order to dissuade attendance by the community. Likely they do this in order to attract sponsorship dollars and old-school investors who need to be treated special. The irony is that the most active investors don't attend the events and have little to do with the legacy institutions. The organizations disrespect each other and actively block new organizations from seeking sponsorship dollars. Ironically, all these groups must go outside their own networks to find startups worthy of showcasing.

You get what you pay for, you might say. But the effects are more pernicious. The rest of the world looks to San Diego and sees the shining examples of our legacy institutions without knowing their severe shortcomings. CONNECT is actively out exporting their Springboard program to other communities, some of whom have more interesting ecosystem experiments that show promise. When Kauffman Foundation hires a consultant to evaluate regional ecosystems, where do they go? CONNECT, of course. That's not the real scene.

I hate to break it to you, but the real San Diego tech scene does not go through CONNECT. The entrepreneurs, the active investors, the mentors do not belong to CONNECT, EvoNexus or most of the other legacy support institutions.

The Good News

Geography

With The Irvine Company's Rachael Brown leading the charge in support of local startups, a concentration is emerging in downtown San Diego. Though, we're not yet at the level of 'serendipity' described above, we have co-working facilities like Co-Merge, a number of startups, EvoNexus itself, all downtown. This has led to a surge in downtown events, startup happy hours, and a cluster of founders actively seeking to improve the local ecosystem.

It's likely San Diego will require several such locations to bridge various locations in our large geographic region, including North County coastal and somewhere inland. Solana Beach's Design district is a great model, Ansir Innovation Center has embraced the community in Kearny Mesa, and Jim Butz is working tirelessly to open a wireless accelerator program in San Marcos. Further meetup events and local co-working venues are opening up throughout the county.

If the rumors are true and Howard Lindzon moves Stocktwits to downtown from Coronado, that will be another welcome boost.

Entrepreneurs Must Lead

The most heartening recent development in my mind is the emergence of entrepreneurs as community leaders. Make no mistake, San Diego has always had great entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who are also willing to lead and help shape the tech community, however, is more difficult. They are often compelled to head to Silicon Valley or are so dismayed with the local scene that they keep to themselves. Specifically, Melani Gordon of TapHunter, Austin Neudecker of Yealthy, Sean Callahan of SlimSurveys and Matt Wickstrand of Kareer.me have stepped up as local leaders.

Critical to the picture is entrepreneur turned investor and mentor, Jon Belmonte and several others, including Brian Mesic, and the shining example of service provider as entrepreneur advocate, Eric Otterson.

The leaders must be committed long-term

This, of course, remains to be seen. San Diego has had its ecosystem in the past, see Qualcomm and its startup satellites circa late 90s and early 2000s. The question is can it be built in a sustainable fashion.

I am optimistic when I see the successful startups continue to participate in the ecosystem. Jon Carder of MOGL as well as Steven Cox and Chris Waldron of TakeLessons are prime examples. Committed to growing their businesses in San Diego, they represent us well. They are hustling to scale their startups, are growing real, profitable organizations, yet also find time to give back to local founders and participate in the ecosystem. We need more like them.

While Qualcomm has been quiet for years, Liz Gasser's Qualcomm Labs organization is the lone true shining light on EvoNexus and represents San Diego's only true accelerator program. Additionally, Qualcomm Ventures recently made a local investment, which I find amazing given the open disdain for the local ecosystem held by some of their employees. It is worth asking, however, where are the Qualcomm millionaires when it comes to the nearly non-existent, local, angel-investing scene?

The community must be inclusive

Creating artificial 'velvet-ropes' at events is a desperate attempt to evoke relevance. The 'real' startup community welcomes all -- including the old school and service providers -- provided that all members participate respectfully, openly and with a spirit of providing value from the heart, expecting nothing in return. Neither wannabe nor self-described 'ballers' need apply.

While San Diego's "real" tech scene remains a bit skeptical and wary of the strategy consultants, marketing and PR agencies, life-coaches, and self-hype, trademark-happy entrepreneur gurus attempting to monetize them, there are many more who in it for the right reasons, yet still stand to benefit from the rising tide.

Inclusive means supporting diversity as well. The San Diego startup scene benefits from a strong presence of women founders and leadership organizations, including Felena Hanson's HeraHub and Leslie Fishlock's Geek Girl Camp. It's also represented by Olin Hyde, Merrick and Mario Lozano, Kelly Abbott, Alline Watkin's support of the startup scene in Tijuana.

The real question is can the old be bridged with the new? And can those who have been turned off by the local scene -- who invest and mentor in Canada and Silicon Valley -- be persuaded to participate here?

The community must have continual activities

The last couple of years have seen a surge in activities relevant to the startup ecosystem. A search on meetup.com reveals a wide range of free or low cost events designed to benefit tech entrepreneurs. Some have been meeting for years others are brand new, which demonstrates a healthy demand. Yes, there are still business card swapping events, magical, internet marketing ninja sessions, and huckster, self-promoters, but also numerous, open, collaborative, nurturing events designed to help and grow local entrepreneurs. A couple of my favorites are RefreshSD and (of course) San Diego Tech Founders.

Of all the legacy institutions, San Diego's chapter of the MIT Entreprise Forum has shown the most promise. Pamela Stambaugh, Susan Cornelius, and Audrey Veitas, among others, have reached out entrepreneurs to better serve them. They've experimented with pricing for their main monthly event, but also have institute a Lunch and Learn program and a breakfast series in the hope of benefiting their under-served entrepreneur constituency.

San Diego has their fair share of Startup Weekends and Lean Startup Machines. Tech Cocktail makes a regular and welcome stop here. San Diego Tech Scene and Phelan Riessen hosts both the best local tech calendar and best shindig of the year. And we're covered with our local edition of Startup Digest, we well. (I am the acting local curator.)

What's Next?

I've seen a steady increase in participation at these events, with a wider diversity of people. Which, I think, means we're doing something right, San Diego. One of the great things about San Diego is that it's big enough to home real innovation and yet small enough, that you really are only 1 connection away from just about everyone in the startup scene.

In the last year in particular, we've witnessed an increase in leadership from entrepreneurs, as well as the emergence of a group of people who have the willingness and ability to make change happen. This group is currently running an "MVP" of a mentoring program, which, if successful, may evolve into something more. They are planning additional mentoring programs; support for existing events, as well as new flavors; a "new to San Diego first stop" web site; and much more.

While I would welcome the legacy institutions opening up, becoming more relevant and inclusive, I'm not holding my breath. The best idea might be for them to do some serious soul-searching, decide who their core customer is and their primary mission for them, simplify their operations and reduce activities in order to focus on that mission.

My aim here is to improve the San Diego startup ecosystem. That requires an honest look. The ability to criticize is necessary to improve. This is the real trap of ecosystem vanity metrics, they lull you into thinking there's nothing of substance that needs improvement. My observations are not made from a distance, but from the inside. As long as the outside thinks things are fine, that San Diego is a top 10 startup ecosystem, how will we get better?

Comments, disagreements, etc., welcome in comments.

UPDATE (4/10/13)

I am not serving my intended purpose if my acerbic tongue and virulent tone distract from outing the truth. Alas, it's what makes me a crappy employee, too. Further, what good am I, if upon criticism, I can't reflect and admit errors, while offering up a heap of my own criticism?

So here goes:

1st) Calling downtown EvoNexus a 'miserable failure' is unnecessary hyperbole and inaccurate. I apologize for that. Not only is it soon to tell whether it's successful or not, some have pointed out specific successes in the comments. Clearly, that doesn't equal failure, let alone miserable failure. I stand by the belief that it is not in practice what it claims to be. I encourage the powers-that-be to speak with the resident entrepreneurs, past and present, in an open, no-repercussions, listen-first manner. Let it be entrepreneur-led, as much as possible.

2nd) The term "old-white-guy" is not mine, but rather a quote taken from Feld's book. It is a pejorative, however, unnecessary, and I would have been better off not using that part of the quote. I stand by my thoughts on the "patriarch" problem.

3rd) Also as pointed out in comments, I was remiss in not pointing to the San Diego chapter of Founder's Institute and the work of Jeanine Jacobson as a great benefit to San Diego entrepreneurs.

4th) TCA has picked up the pace of their tech investments, which is welcome. TCA has a long way to go to rehabilitate their reputation among entrepreneurs. I'm sorry if that's hurtful, and take it or leave it, but that's what I've heard from TCA members (as well as entrepreneurs). Step 1 might be not charging entrepreneurs money to teach them how to pitch to TCA. Step 2 might be increasing the transparency and decreasing the length of the process.

Speaking of transparency. In case you missed it, here once again is the link to the TechStars accelerator results. This is how you measure program effectiveness.

Brad Feld made an interesting point today about addressing the institutions, rather than the people in the institutions. That is my intent, though hard to do and even harder to hear.

111 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Success and Failure — San Diego Startup Community”

  1. Jason Fleming April 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Good breakdown, Brant.

    Could use a little more griping on what legacy institutions and what they charge (poor) entrepreneurs to attend their (ineffectual) events :)

    Rent-seeking behavior, FTL.

    • brantcooper April 8, 2013 at 5:59 pm

      More griping or more detail? :)

      • Dave Karlman April 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm

        Brant- Thanks for the cogent roll-up. One thing I’ve observed after being in San Diego for 18 years the SD start-up ecosystem has improved dramatically in the last seven years. And its on a great trajectory. Imagine what it’ll be like in 2 years….

        Only counter-point suggestion is throttle back the rhetoric labeling people as “old-white guys.” Evan casual reference in public domains demeans people of color and those of us who, after successful careers, don’t want to selfishly horde our time but rather chose to give back to the best of our ability and help SD maintain a positive trajectory for entrepreneurs. And as a well respected member of our community, I’m sure you agree.

        • brantcooper April 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm

          Thanks for the thoughts, Dave. I happen to agree with you, being an old(ish) white guy myself. I believe I only used it in the direct quote from Brad’s book, where he admits he uses the term in times of frustration.

  2. Adam Riggs-Zeigen April 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    I think with the legacy institutions, as most things in life, you get out what you put in. We have seen tremendous value from our CONNECT experience, but the key is you can’t stop there – the best entrepreneurs hustle and get input & feedback from a number of different sources.

    And then, to your point, they give back.

    The biggest challenge I see is that many entrepreneurs don’t feel like they can give back because they either a.) think they don’t have time or b.) don’t feel like they have anything they can offer.

    Perhaps one way to unite a community is to identify SME’s in the community and help them to connect with others without the guise of “consulting” being the motive.

    • brantcooper April 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Adam. I’m glad you had a good experience with CONNECT. I’m sure you are not the only one. However, I can’t agree on your assessment ‘you get out what you put in.’ Entrepreneurs are often impressionable and bad advice is, well, bad. I also laid a couple of other reasons why organizations with largely anachronistic behavior does more harm to an ecosystem than good. Also, I hope you read Feld’s book on Startup Communities, in which he addresses the ‘don’t have time’ excuse. No one ‘has time.’

      Regarding SME’s, I think it’s important to differentiate between ‘scalable startups’ and small businesses. There are lots of resources for them.

      Thanks for contributing!

      Brant

      • Adam Riggs-Zeigen April 9, 2013 at 9:50 am

        Totally agree with the no excuses mantra, it’s one I live by. When people say they ‘don’t have time’ they’re saying ‘its not important enough to me’.

        I think our job as leaders in the startup community is to help other entrepreneurs understand the value of giving back so they will make the time.

        Re: SME’s I was referring to subject matter experts not small-medium enterprises. That’s my Qualcomm acronym habit rearing its ugly head :)

        • brantcooper April 9, 2013 at 9:58 am

          Ha ha! That makes more sense! : )

  3. Chris Corrieau April 8, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks for the brutal truth and honesty at what is happening in the San Diego startup community. I agree 100% with your assessment of our start up community. I’m on the inside also and see things as you have written them.

    We must be honest with ourselves and admit where things are lacking and where the problems are. I agree we do have a patriarch problem. Great thing about laying things out like this and being honest with ourselves is that we can change and fix these things. It won’t happen over night but with the right people stepping up we can make things happen and make San Diego a great place to start and grow a company with talented and smart people. We need to be consistant and keep at it to make this happen.

    It is true StockTwits is working on a move to the East Village in a few months we feel that we need to lead by example and become even more a part of the startup scene. Also I feel even though the county is large, we should try to concentrate some of the companies in close proximity. We need to create those hubs where it’s easy for events and entrepreneurs and employees to meet a share and contribute.

    • brantcooper April 8, 2013 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Chris. Happy to hear Stocktwits is crossing the bridge. San Diego also benefits from and is thankful of yours and Francis’ participation in the ecoysystem, not to mention Lindzon’s tour de force personality and local investing. :)

      • Chris Corrieau April 9, 2013 at 9:29 am

        Francis has been here for a lot longer than Howard and I but overall we all committed to San Diego for over 10 years and will keep involving ourselves our companies, investments and resources into making this a successful community.

        • David Allison April 9, 2013 at 9:28 pm

          +1 to Chris/Howard/Stocktwits and your move to downtown :)

    • Steven Cox - TakeLessons.com May 7, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Chris – c’mon over the bridge! We’d love to have you close
      by. Beers at the Mission Brewery.

  4. Gk Parish-Philp April 9, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Brant, very good and thorough and thought-provoking analysis, but you probably know that I couldn’t disagree more.

    San Diego has a thriving and robust Entrepreneurial scene. It may not be a startup scene per se, and it sure isn’t the Bay Area, but those comparisons are always going to be false. Partly for the basic reasons of geography you describe, partly by reasons of history, culture, etc. we will never be the Bay Area and I frankly thing it is a bad aspiration.

    It’s exactly like Austin or Albuquerque complaining that they aren’t Hollywood. Trust me, compared to nearly any other similarly sized city like San Antonio TX or Phoenix AZ, we have NOTHING to complain about. Compared to San Jose CA, we are deluding ourselves.

    Every time I hear this line, it drives me nuts. It is hyperopia. We have our community. It is a good community. It is rich and diverse and interesting. We have startups (of the kind that valley folks like Paul Graham or Brad Feld would approve), we have lifestyle businesses (of the kind that the valley folks love to sneer at, but who generate more ROI than the vast majority of valley darlings ever will), we have a world-leading branded culture startups (surf, skate, golf, clothing, athletics, etc.), we obviously have mobile and bio-tech, etc. We have proximity to LA and all that represents.

    We should be working our butts off to move it forward, but make it our own. Not always be looking to the Valley for validation. As Larry Wall once famously said: There’s More Than One Way to Do It.

    BTW, I’m always available if anyone out there wants help of any kind on a local startup, non-profit, lifestyle business, moonlighting project, etc.

    • brantcooper April 9, 2013 at 9:02 am

      Thanks for the comment GK. It’s an interesting argument if I had actually made the comparison you claim I make.

      I have no desire to try and make San Diego like SV, but on the contrary have always fought that idea.

      • Gk Parish-Philp April 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

        Brant, very sorry if I mis-read you. Perhaps I got lost in the ‘griping’. May have definitely over-applied my own lens. ;-)

        Likely we are in alignment with minor deltas in emphasis. I like to accentuate the positive. My experience has definitely been that folks encountering these kinds of messages (which are intended to be and are in fact motivating) become demotivating and frustrating… “If I try to do a startup here I won’t be supported”, “the local scene sucks”, “there’s no funding here”, etc., etc. I know that’s not your intent and that you’re here to make it even better than it is, I’m just highlighting the fact that it is in fact pretty good on its own terms with admitted room to be much better.

        Regardless, I’m with you. Let’s stir the pot and get moving!

        • brantcooper April 9, 2013 at 10:02 am

          No worries, I appreciate your presence and heart. It’s not without serious consideration that I make such a post. Sometimes, however, things need a little shaking up.

    • Chris Corrieau April 9, 2013 at 9:26 am

      While I agree that we need to be our own identity, we still need to compete with the tech startups not only in the valley but beyond. This requires some of the basics that Brant has written about that currently as a community and ecosystem we are missing.

      I think most here in San Diego aren’t looking at this to be the valley and I think that those that want that here or expect it are delusional. I don’t believe Brant is making any such comparison. I believe we should strive to have our own identity where the lifestyle business as well as growing venture backed startup can thrive and work together by the beach, city, mountains and desert.

      I think the point which you might be missing is that we need to work on our mentorship, events, openness, investments like other successful communities have done. We have the resources.

      • Gk Parish-Philp April 9, 2013 at 9:29 am

        “I think the point which you might be missing is that we need to work on our mentorship, events, openness, investments like other successful communities have done. We have the resources.”

        I’m in – Let’s do it.

  5. Razvan Suprovici April 9, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Excellent description of the SD startup community. The startups that are making it are doing so by pure will and frequent trips to the Bay Area. Unfortunately, the institutionalized mentorship here is far behind today’s startup practices and can be detrimental when it leads entrepreneurs down dead end roads. Entrepreneurs in San Diego need to compete on a global scale and that means comparing their startups to their Silicon Valley counterparts. Free, open networking events where the brightest minds exchange ideas are the roots of a vibrant startup ecosystem. Outside of such events, we can fortunately turn to the Internet where there are no geographical barriers.

    • Chris Corrieau April 9, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Agree, we need to step things up.

  6. Michael Kenny April 9, 2013 at 9:12 am

    This is an important post Brant. Thanks for your honesty and for always moving the conversation forward. Downtown San Diego has a ton of potential and there are big improvements in the works to make living, working and playing more vibrant for people gearing up their careers and people who are winding their careers down. There is a lot going on south of the 52. It’s good to be part of it.

    • brantcooper April 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Thanks for helping lead the way by supporting groups and events. Also, congrats on your success!

  7. Ben Kuo April 9, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Brant, great thoughts and assessments; you throw out some great challenges for the community.

    • Eric Otterson April 9, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Hey, Ben, Come on down and join us tomorrow? I’ll forward you an invite.

      • Ben Kuo April 9, 2013 at 10:55 am

        Love to, though not sure if my schedule will allow (darn SoCal traffic!!!). But let me know if I can help with anything.

  8. Sam Rapheal April 9, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Spot on assessment and a mirror image of the PDX startup community (accelators & incubators) dominated by OWG’s

    Hint: OWG’s fallback when they do not ‘get it’…”It will be
    a challenge to market”. When you hear that phrase, RUN!

    Brad Feld see it as: “Want customers? Stop marketing, Start delighting[your future customers]!”

  9. Eric Otterson April 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Brant you taught me one thing that I now live by: Always ask: ‘How does this help the entrepreneur?”

    This should be the number one tenant of all organizations focused on helping entrepreneurs.

    As for our local orgs, each has some credit to their name. As you pointed out, CONNECT is exceptional in providing life science mentors, EvoNexus could be credited with starting the revolution by getting Irvine Company and Qualcomm to actively join the effort – a lot of inertia was broken here to start the momentum.

    I am also aware that many of the groups, CONNECT, EvoNexus, TCA, SDSIC, have taken (are taking) a deep look internally in response to feedback. CONNECT has revamped its Springboard process and is trying to make changes to the EIR (a title I believe they have dropped) program to pull in better matched mentors. EvoNexus is developing a new mentor and investor network program designed to meet the needs of the new batch of companies to soon be accepted into the program. SDSIC is evaluating it’s next step (merger?), and the TCA appears to have heard the need to revamp their perceived, laborious application and engagement process. But it all does feel slow and bureaucratic (You’ve been talking to them for a year or more, no?)

    One challenge that faces us all, is that San Diego happens to be rich in the “old-white-guy” mentor type. It’s just a fact. Consider that our ‘tech’ economy is strongest in the wireless, software-on-a-chip, analytics and hardware spaces. Think Linkabit and HNC.

    We have a more broken history with interactive software -lackluster term to try and include all software you interact with as opposed to something that runs in the background – include: apps, cloud, client-server, SaaS, space. While we had a boom of software companies in the late 90’s and 2K, we didn’t have enough success to keep momentum after the crash, AND, we do have a crisis of losing strong entrepreneurs to the Bay Area (hard to argue that it isn’t the right choice) – Alex Bard @ assistly, Jonny Simkin @ HubEdu, and folks like Chester Ng @ OpenCandy.

    On the other hand, folks like Carder @ MOGL and Cox @ TakeLessons are dedicated to staying here, and some entrepreneurs are like Mike Suprovici @ Explorance, and Andrew Beinbrink @ SportsForce are being smart – if not giving up sleep – by being part-timers, spending a great deal of time in The City to network, while keeping the company here.

    We have a few bright spots as alumni of former San Diego successes like WebSideStory are now starting new companies like Tealium and Anametrics. We are also seeing active angels come out of companies like WSS and Active.

    Then there are people like Chad Robly @ mindgruve and Johnny Chan /Micha Mikailian @ eboost and Chuck Longenecker @Digital Telepathy, who are investing in companies with space, money, and engineering bandwidth – ALL of this is DOWNTOWN!!!

    Point is, we can’t only rely on the Orgs alone to solve our issues. We collectively need to act, jump in, help, and be willing to give some time and money if we believe that San Diego can have resurgence in the software sector.

    I’ll put a call out to any and all executives from WebSide Story, MusicMatch, MP3, Slacker, Websense, SonyOnLine, Active, Intuit, or transplants from Google, Facebook, Zinga, and others too many to mention, who have experience to share, or are at a comfortable point in life that you want to help both mentally and financially, please reach out!

    As to the organizations, thank you for your hard work, but we can improve. I have an open offer for you – I’ll provide any of the organizations mentioned with 2 copies of Brad’s book (care of Cooley, Silicon Valley Bank, Microsoft BizSpark, and Softlayer – pardon the promo, but they did sponsor the books – and Brad’s visit tomorrow, not me!). READ IT. Better yet, I’ll extend two invites to the Brad Feld event I’m holding just prior to the San Diego Tech Founder’s event. Meet Brad, develop a relationship and follow up for best practices (or just read the book!) You know where to reach me for those who are interested in taking me up on these offers.

    Remember Rule#1: “How does this action help the entrepreneur?”

    • Eric Otterson April 9, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Forgot…DivX should be in the source company and ‘Reachout” list. Pardon.

    • David Allison April 9, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      I think Eric makes an important point here about another positive aspect of Evo: they did break a pretty huge logjam in beginning to centralize resources and energy around a physical space. In particular, getting huge buy in from the Irvine Company and Qualcomm has been invaluable.

      I think there is a further point to be made, as well:
      EvoNexus provides an *amazing* high pass filter for investors. We lack a robust community of angels here in San Diego, though many are coming out of the woodwork and I could name half a dozen that have invested in many of the Evo companies and are critical to the community.

      Evo’s filter (at least in the rounds that I’ve seen) is of enormous value to investors. Having that seal on one’s company means more diligence has been done on it than the average angel is capable of from a resource perspective.

      TCA and other organizations (which you’ve mentioned) don’t capitalize on this filter, but that is of course their loss. There are many angels who have picked up on Evo in particular as a great signal for companies to look very closely at.

      To add something here in response to one comment above in the original post: I definitely think that many of us at Evo are not in it for the free rent. I would also argue we’re part of the “real tech scene” here in SD – I’ve mentored at SD Startup Weekend, spoke on gamification at the SD MIT Enterprise Forum, and try whenever possible to involve myself in the community.

    • Micha Mikailian April 9, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      Eric – Thanks for the shot-out! I’d like to acknowledge you for all your work in being a advocate for the SD Start-up Scene, Aaaaaaaaoooooooowwww!!! I feel like we are making a lot of progress in SD and building momentum.

      • Eric Otterson April 10, 2013 at 9:28 am

        Thank you, Micha, I know it sounds hokey, but it is a team effort. Go Team San Diego!

  10. Ryan Kuder April 9, 2013 at 11:28 am

    My context: I work at ecoATM. Our company went through CONNECT a few years ago. We’ve raised quite a bit of money, created a lot of jobs (including mine) and by most measures are doing pretty well. I moved back to San Diego last August after 12 years in Silicon Valley (I grew up in Encinitas–San Dieguito High School, go Mustangs). None of my startups made it. I moved back because I want San Diego to be a great startup town.

    I haven’t been back long enough to have a strong opinion on the groups Brant talks about, but I think the key is figuring out how we can come together as a community such that there isn’t an “us” (new school lean startupers) and a “them” (the old school guys in Brant’s post) but that there’s only an “us” with one focus: creating a community where entrepreneurs can succeed.

    How do we take all of these things that exist (there’s a lot of them, which is good), and help entrepreneurs find the right help for whatever situation they’re in, whether it be a formal incubator, money, formal or informal mentoring, or just other entrepreneurs to hang out and drink beer with? Every entrepreneur needs something slightly different.

    Our community needs to make the tools accessible to our entrepreneurs to give them the best chance at being successful. This isn’t the role of any one organization, it’s the role of all of us.

    • Kim King April 9, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      Agree Ryan. All areas and groups need improvement. We also need some leaders in the tech space that are successful and have had good exits having more time and giving back. The key is helping the entrepreneur and the ecosystem. Not promoting oneself, ones book nor organization.

    • David Allison April 9, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Ryan – Couldn’t agree more.

      My wife and I also moved down to SD some time ago after I spent most of my life in the Bay Area (Marin, SF, Berkeley).

      I think this is perhaps the most critical point being made in the comments section: changes absolutely need to be made to continuously improve the ecosystem here (and that’s what we should always be after: continuous improvement) but any path forward I think needs to be inclusive of the legacy institutions (as Brant points out). That still might mean major changes, but better that than creating division between an “us” and a “them.”

      PS – Nulu is an Evo company, and I greatly value our experience in the incubator.

    • Micha Mikailian April 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm

      Great point Ryan, welcome back to San Diego!

  11. Lisa Chandler April 9, 2013 at 11:42 am

    This is an excellent assessment. It is reassuring to hear others have not given up on evolving the area’s ecosystem in spite of inadequate legacy programs (albeit useful in many ways). Hopefully the innovators within can be encouraged to continue to innovate and that new programs will emerge for community involvement.

    I couldn’t agree more that many individuals and programs within the ecosystem have often been unwelcoming to community involvement, at times hostile, often funding-grabbing, typically somewhat misleading, and without a win-win-win approach. This has shut out potential mentors, investors, connectors and strategies from those who need the support most.

    You’ve inspired me to purchase Brad’s book to reinvigorate my quest to make a difference. Thank you for your leadership in the region. I hope you will keep up the good work.

  12. Melani Gordon April 9, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for the additions Eric, I also wanted to point out Chuck and Chad, but you did it for me. Thanks Brant for noting those who are helping to move the needle. If anyone else is interested in hearing my “from the inside” feedback on SD’s local orgs we’ve had experience with as a founder, happy to do so one on one. In the spirit of moving things forward in MVP fashion, a group of us are holding ongoing speed dating mentor/founder office hours. Email me if you’re a kick ass mentor or founder looking to meet and get plugged into the community.

    mel [at] taphunter [dot] com

    Secondly, I’m calling attention to diversity. I’m tired of hearing this “old white guy” term and anyone who knows a kick ass female founder of a tech startup, whether in ideation stage, funded, exited, please get them looped in.

    • Gioia Messinger April 9, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      I’m a women entrepreneur, mentor and was founder and CEO of Avaak, a company that raised substantial amounts of capital from SV VCs and Qualcomm Ventures. In San Diego, that makes me one of less than handful of women tech founders that have raised venture capital and exited (way less than the national 3%-4% average which in it’s self is dismal)! I’m now a mentor at FI, Rady and some others.

      Couldn’t agree more with Brant’s comments. San Diego should have a more vibrant Tech, investor and support community that is representative of its diverse population – however, the problem of diversity in Tech is not only present in San Diego but across the country. No need for me to repeat the stats here about minority and women representation in Tech start-ups, but it sufices to say that it’s nothing that anybody should be proud of.

      I do however want to give a shout-out to Jeannine Jacobson of FI – over the last few years ~50% of FI grads in San Diego have been women and Jeannine should be recognized for that. She recognizes that diversity is important and is extremely supportive of all founders.

      • brantcooper April 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm

        Thanks Goia, I was definitely remiss in not mentioning San Diego’s FI chapter as a bright spot. While I don’t personally agree with all FI tactics, Jeanine is arguably the first individual in San Diego to harness the right mentors for today’s tech startups. She deserves kudos.

      • Chris J Snook April 11, 2013 at 9:14 am

        I agree with Gioia on her plug for what Jeanine has quietly
        done with sweat and blood for women founders and men in SD and LA
        the last four years which is why I have been so active with my
        mentor hours at FI. She has definitely added more glue to the SoCal
        ecosystem and has several grads kicking ass on the post accelerator
        metrics that actually matter.

    • David Allison April 9, 2013 at 9:54 pm

      Mel, what you guys are doing over at One America Plaza is amazing. Couldn’t be a better way to get off the ground for mentorship, etc. I’ve said it in person, but I should say it publicly: you guys have done amazing things over there!

    • Micha Mikailian April 9, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      Melanie – Would love to be a contribution with the speed dating mentor/founder office hours!

      • Eric Otterson April 10, 2013 at 9:33 am

        YES, that’s what we need! By the way, being inclusive, if we all want to improve the ecosystem, AND you have experience or connections in the software space that can help entrepreneurs, and you are fired up by this discussion, YOU should take action to be the change at EvoNexus/Connect. Volunteer. Mentor a company. Make a commitment.

      • Chris J Snook April 11, 2013 at 9:19 am

        Me too Mel as we discussed last night

  13. Pat Giblin April 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    lots being said in here but the truth is…the system is fragmented AT BEST. Every company and person seems to be focused on fixing their piece first and then looking around the room. There are a lot of good stories that have come out of San Diego but there is very little pay it forward that happens in my honest opinion.

    The players that have “made it” are rarely found in these rooms after liftoff and they are even less willing to pull others into the boat. It is a problem. One I wish I could control or influence in some way. It is sad in my opinion. I think there are also a lot of companies that are being forgotten that have had success. Recently TomNod being acquired. Plixy with Rodney Rumford? There are others. But when does everyone get together for a common event? How do we really get people to help the others in the room quickly?

    I do not have the answers to that but I know I will always try when I am asked to do so by anyone. The real thing that seems to be asked in San Diego is not “how does this help the entrepreneur” but rather “how does this help me…” Until THAT changes we will continue to struggle and not be in it “together”.

    People have to encourage and open doors and meeting tables for the good of the eco-system not only for themselves. Those that have success need to help pull others along in to rooms and relationships to allow for growth to happen around them.

    Sincerely,

    Sisyphus

    A Man with IP *pfft*

  14. Phelan Riessen April 9, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Challenge accepted. Looking forward to continuing to help build out our lil community.

    • Holly Kolman April 9, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      It was good to see Phelan mentioned by name. He is literally everywhere in the tech community and always willing to step in and be of assistance. I was also happy to see Felena Hanson of Hera Hub mentioned. If you look up collaboration and mentorship in the dictionary, you ought to see a picture of her there. Props, too, to Leslie Fishlock and Geek Girl Camp for her support of Women 2.0.

      • Chris J Snook April 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

        The best part about this groundswell is not necessarily
        whether all points laid out by Brant on the good bad and ugly are
        fair or accurate or widely agreable, but that they have caused this
        lively discourse and thread which shows just how engaged many of us
        as a collective are willing to be. This effort is a starfish not a
        spider and as more neighborhoods create dense hyperlocal
        entrepreneurial activity and support more evidence supporting the
        momentum will appear. In the effort of two more stories quietly
        left out this far (probably because they are too focused on driving
        their needles) I want to acknowledge the success od both Arnold and
        Chuck et al at digital telepathy who started here and even move up
        to SF after exiting their hellobar product only to then move back
        stronger than ever and recently move into the old HIVE downtown as
        they position for more product and tools exits and growth. Great
        story of well run and deeply cultured local success. Also I am
        beyond proud of the efforts of my friend and partner David Turner
        and his team at Parallel6 over the past three and a half years.
        They have proven that with a handful of us seeding an idea with
        small change back in 2010 and with experience (former SV leader in
        David) committed to build a meaningful business in San Diego
        despite any hurdles, that you can bootstrap using services into a
        full tech (digital sixth sense) focused pivot and positive cash
        flow into an A round closing back in Dec and now be positioned for
        a likely acquisition in 18mos at a high multiple. The P6 team has
        over 20 local employees with a nationwide sales team and two
        vibrant offshore (Ukraine and MX) dedicated developer teams working
        around the clock. This is an awesome local story and example of
        people whose heads are down and laser focused on being a proofpoint
        for the community in years to come.

  15. Merrick Lozano April 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I can say that in 2002 as a first time entrepreneur there wasn’t a support network to reach out to.

    In 2006 when Cameron Olthuis organized RefreshSD alongside Neil Patel and Hiten Shah it was awesome, those guys were building Crazy Egg and I finally felt there people I could relate to.

    In 2007 Chuck Longanecker of Digital Telepathy organized about 40 startups into a group called the Web Leaders Collective and Eric Otterson was there offering support from Cooley.

    Aside from being startups, the one thing most of the 40 startups shared in common was that we had bootstrapped. That was not a big coincidence, despite the organizations that existed we lacked support.

    When Brant brought Eric Ries to town, he kicked off a series of meetups that rallied the community and added tremendous value. Brants assessment is inline with my experience over the last 10 years. Thankfully I think the younger startups have a better today. Once again, thanks Brant for caring.

  16. Jon Belmonte April 9, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Interesting dialogue. Digging all the passion and engagement this post has drawn out, which I believe was a core part of Brant’s goal.

    In concept, all the local organizations described in the article exist to support local entrepreneurs/startups. No one is (should be) questioning that. That said, some do a better job than others in making sure the vast majority of their resources and efforts (and results) are focused on directly improving entrepreneurs’ chances succeeding; i.e. the proverbial “Tooth” to “Tail” ratio. And while there are some successes we should be proud of, too often the results fall way short of what we need (according to the 100+ entrepreneurs I have spent time with this past year).

    I won’t call out any groups in particular, but here are some questions every startup organization (and org board) in town should be asking themselves:

    1. What types of efforts can directly help increase the odds of a startup/entrepreneur succeeding?
    - Attentive and insightful mentoring, education and advising (1-1 and group)
    - Access to capital through introductions, demo days, etc
    - Ability to meet industry people that can/will help create a better company
    - Media and events that shine a spotlight on entrepreneurs and startups, so as to help attract staff, money, advisers and more media coverage
    - Resources that startups need to survive (e.g. space, hosting, professional services)
    - Etc. Etc. Etc.

    2. What’s our organization’s “Tooth to Tail” ratio when it comes to deploying our resources against value-add efforts?
    - What percentage of our resources go DIRECTLY toward value add activities like the ones cited above? (as opposed to supporting sponsors, partners, board members, executive directors)
    - How many of our staff members are here to DIRECTLY help the companies? (or are they mainly here to facilitate interaction amongst our board, sponsors and volunteers)
    - How do we deploy our volunteers’ time? Do our volunteers engage in activities on the above list as a result of our staff’s efforts? (as opposed to spending all their time helping us evaluate what companies to let into the program or to stay in the program?)
    - When we host events, do we spend 80-90% of our time shining a spotlight on the startups? (as opposed to spending a ton of time on our senior statesmen and corporate sponsors) Is our top priority to ensure entrepreneurs can find investors, advisers, and partners at our events? (or are we satisfied that our corporate supporters can find their next deal?)

    I understand the practical realities of needing to court & maintain corporate support…there is no question this is crucial part of the ecosystem. And there are several corporate and professional services folks in town that are invaluable to local startups. Further, in the past year I’ve personally interacted with most of the programs / organizations mentioned in the article (as well as others not called out), and have found all to be welcoming. That said, I know a TON of entrepreneurs in town that will tell you they have had disappointing / non-productive experiences with local programs, incubators, organizations, and events.

    We need to make it easier for entrepreneurs to find great mentors. To meet seed and angel investors (and to have a positive experience when they do). To become local heroes through media and events, so as to encourage more people to leave their corporate jobs and join cool startups. To be able to work alongside other smart people that challenge their thinking and assumptions and ‘pace’ on a daily basis.

    Personally, I’m happy to invest time to help any entrepreneurs/startup-centric organization in town by conducting a survey-based assessment of what they do well (i.e. do more) and what to improve upon (i.e do less or start doing). Its been a while since my BCG management consulting days, but as we all know the best way to figure out the way forward is to listen to your customers. And one thing we can all (hopefully) agree on, is that our local startups and entrepreneurs are the core customer in this discussion.

  17. Olin Hyde April 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    No shit! I love this assessment. Those that boast the most about San Diego are the ones who never worked in Silicon Valley.

    Brant’s a hero for delivering an honest message.

    Let’s see if there is a chorus of support to actually effectuate change!

  18. Kevin April 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    The negativity of this post astounds me.. and to call out an organization such as EvoNexus as having no real value and going as far as to call it a ‘miserable failure’ is a slap in the face to hundreds of volunteers and companies in San Diego who have contributed to making a zero cost option available to entrepreneurs. EvoNexus and other organizations in San Diego are constantly working to better themselves, mostly in the spirit of providing better resources to the San Diego tech community as they are ‘non-profit’s’ after all. I’m sure there could have been a more eloquent way to have gotten this message/feedback to both the organizations in town and to the public. Have you reached out to EvoNexus to provide feedback and help them better utilize the opportunities they have created with Qualcomm Labs and the Irvine Company?

    • Olin Hyde April 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      Yes, EvoNexus and scores of well-meaning volunteers have done their best to help the San Diego startup community.

      Brant’s point is that well-meaning old white men (like me) are not enough to make a community. Rather it requires diversity and the elements he listed above.

      Just like working hard and having a good idea are not enough to make a business successful, having committed volunteers and incubators are not enough to make a startup community.

      Rather, San Diego must take honest stock of what we are doing and see that we are not keeping pace with Silicon Valley, Boulder and other areas.

      Denying that we are failing is a guarantee that the situation will only get worse. We’ve not had a Fortune 500 company launched in San Diego since Qualcomm. There is no meaningful venture capital. And we are failing to attract talent.

      As an old white man, I can tell you: We need more than old white men.

  19. Malcolm Bohm April 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Brant
    You and I have been at a few events together and we have largely been aligned around a desire to improve the overall landscape for tech start ups in San Diego. I only have direct experience with Tech Coast Angels and Evonexus. The former funded my company in part and have been very supportive of the roller coaster ride that my startup journey has been. This group is a hugely important to our ecosystem and I have a lot of respect for the depth of experience many of the Angels provide. It may be a tough process but let’s face it, they put up the cash to fund our dreams.
    I was pretty dismayed by the very public slap down of Evonexus. While it’s almost certain that not every company will have a superb experience in the program, the vast majority do. It’s simply inaccurate to say the program is a miserable failure. Admittedly my company is not downtown but nevertheless I know many of the groups that are downtown and of course my colleagues in UTC. Evonexus is very ably run and it really isn’t as hands off as you suggest. Evonexus has supplied top mentors to us and has been extremely active on our behalf to get us the resources and connections we needed. Moreover, they have been unbelievably supportive of the tough times. Evonexus has helped innumerate companies. There are many, many successful graduates, from downtown and UTC. And finally, the no strings attached is a huge bonus that yields great value to each and every company in the long run.
    Your comments on these two groups are unjustified, unnecessary and harmful. Why poke them and us in the eye like that? It doesn’t engender goodwill from the hands that feed us or those that work hard to nurture us.
    I’m all for change that helps our ecosystem and I put a lot of energy into helping fellow entrepreneurs. You can count on my support for any overhaul that happens but I just don’t think whipping us will spark any meaningful change. It would be great if you could lay out a sustainable plan that draws on the best that we have.

    • Chris J Snook April 11, 2013 at 9:46 am

      To be fair I believe the earlier comments about how Evo is
      actually deserving of credit for breaking into a new model of
      Feeder engagement (irvine co, qualcommlabs, cooley etc). A mistake
      would be to be too light or heavy handed in praise or criticism at
      this early juncture. Its no different than any other startup idea
      which is likely to benefit from market feedback and pivots or
      tweaks to its UI. The idea and intent are sound and we need to not
      take any of this personal and keep the main thing the main thing
      and each find a way to add value to the effort where we
      can.

  20. Micha Mikailian April 9, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    When I entered the start-up scene in SD in the late 90′s a lot of these orgs (connect/SDVG/MITEF/EMC) played a HUGE role in my initial integration in the ecosystem and building out a network in SD (it was all we had back then). I agree they are outdated and have not kept up with the times. I’ve also mentored some entrepreneurs and had to “undo” bad advise of old-school mentors. To me this is all just part of the game, entrepreneurs need to learn who to trust as expert advisers and be resourceful in finding more innovative solutions to their problems. Its all part of the journey.

    Our tech community could use more “strategic serendipity” and “honoring of failure” like we see in The Valley & SF. I feel these two hallmarks are what makes the ecosystem there so powerful.

    My view of our current scene: After grinding it out for 10+ years and being well integrated in the local start-up community I took a few years to travel and take some time away. When I returned into the scene towards the end of last year I was really impressed by the entrepreneurial energy of our community. Relative to 5 years ago I’d argue that we’ve seen a significant improvement in participation and breath of events. We need more competition from more innovative “new school” events and meet-up to compete with the larger more established institutions and keep them on their toes.

    I love that Brant wrote this and put out his thoughts to inspire conversation and participation from the community. I feel like we are turning a corner and will continue to see the SD community step-up. Looking forward to seeing you guys tomorrow, Aaaaaaaaooooooooooooowwwwww!!!

  21. Jared Mimms April 9, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Hit the nail on the head Brant. The problem is the way SD society is structured. The intelligence is just not there and people are following the wrong “leaders,” false prophets if you will.

  22. Greg Solovyev April 10, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Brant, great analysis, but I think the local incubators deserve some credit for the progress that San Diego has made in the past few months. In particular EvoNexus and The Founder Institute (IMHO FI is the most effective program in town). These programs have accomplished two important things: 1 – they kept more startups in town and 2 – they connected the founders with each other, with investors and with mentors. The Founder Institute is also a great 4 month bootcamp for first time founders.

    When I came to San Diego a little over a year ago the local startup scene felt like a car with an empty tank. You can hear the ignition but it does not start. This changed in the last few months, mostly thanks to the people you mention but also thanks to EvoNexus and FI. Speaking of FI – Jeanine Jacobson has been able to bring together some of the best mentors in San Diego.

    • brantcooper April 10, 2013 at 7:23 am

      Yes. Greg, I commented to Goia I was remiss in not mentioning Jeanine and the great work she’s doing at FI. Thanks for bringing it up.

      • Greg Solovyev April 11, 2013 at 11:55 am

        Brant, my main point was that trashing of EvoNexus was unfair and uncalled for. My startup has been in FI, MassChallange and EvoNexus and I’ve talked to founders who have been through YC, TechStars and LaunchPad. EvoNexus has ways to go, but considering where it was a year ago, where it is today and how it compares to other programs in town it is not a miserable failure.

        • brantcooper April 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm

          Greg, thanks for the important clarification. I’m glad you’re a happy camper.

          The response I’ve received from the (apparently) small corner of entrepreneurship I engage with is *overwhelmingly* positive.

          Perhaps you’ve seen my update, perhaps not. Regardless, here’s to hoping you have the same openmindness to alternative viewpoints you aspire me to have.

          If you would ever like to discuss in more detail, I think you know where to find me, eg (almost) every Wed am at Pannikin in Del Mar. #Open #Inclusive #Transparent

  23. Rick Valencia April 10, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Brant, I’m an old white guy and a native San Diegan. I’m uniquely qualified to comment on this article because I’ve personally experienced every side of the issues you raise. I’m an entrepreneur who built a company in San Diego and benefitted from most of the organizations you disparaged. As a result of their support, I raised angel money in San Diego, venture capital in Silicon Valley and created hundreds of San Diego jobs. Since then I’ve given back to these organizations as an advisor and board member and given directly back to the startup community as a mentor and angel investor.

    I’m now at the company you disparaged that gives tens of millions of dollars every year to the San Diego startup community through their venture fund, sponsorship of virtually every support organization, funding of research being done by future entrepreneurs in our local institutions and through organizations like the one represented by great people like Liz Gasser, who is likely appalled by your use of her name in this article.

    I’ll give you credit for igniting a healthy conversation, Brant. But your decision to trash people and organizations who have given blood, sweat, tears, millions of dollars and years of their lives to help the local startup community on a blog that promotes your book and your consulting services, (which appear to compete for entrepreneurial mindshare with these organizations) is shameless. And what I found online about your background doesn’t help me understand what makes you a credible voice on the topic. Other than being one of the CONNECT mentors you also disparage in your article, it’s not clear what you ever did to personally experience the things you complain about or what are you doing now to effect positive change for the benefit of other entrepreneurs.

    Brant, if you really care about San Diego entrepreneurship and you want to make a difference instead of just making a statement, tell us what your 10 year commitment is to fix things. It’s easy to write a few paragraphs disparaging people and bemoaning what’s wrong with the establishment, but what are you prepared to do about it? I agree that we can do better. I agree that things need to change. I even agree that the established organizations that were so helpful to me in the past need to rethink their models for a new generation of entrepreneurs with new expectations and needs.

    But trashing good people and organizations doesn’t solve the problem. Tell us what you’re going to do to be part of a real, meaningful and lasting solution. If you have a good plan, you’ll likely be shocked by how many of the people you just trashed, (who have nothing to sell and no agenda other than to help local entrepreneurs) will step up to support you.

    • brantcooper April 10, 2013 at 7:52 am

      Rick, where exactly did I disparage Qualcomm?

      • Tony May 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm

        Have you (Brant) ever founded a company? Ive looked for a
        company you have started and cant find one?

    • Doug Giese April 12, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Well said Rick/

  24. Derrick Oien April 10, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Brant,

    I am reminded of the saying that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I first met Brad and David Cohen and Jason Mendelson when I attended the first Tech Stars demo day in Boulder in 2007. I was an advisor and then a board member to a company called socialthing which went on to be acquired by AOL.

    When I returned from the demo day I spoke with some of the VCs I know in town and lamented that Boulder would be more buzzing than San Diego when we are larger and have a lot more raw materials.

    Fundamentally though, while there are a number of issues, I think the two biggest issues to me are the leadership of a person like David Cohen, and the capital infrastructure that promotes startups and a recycling of talent in the community.

    I was the COO of MP3.com and to me the best way to give back to the startup community is to continue to create companies and jobs for those who desire the entrepreneurial track, which I have continued to do. I agree with GK that there is a lot of stuff happening that isn’t just confined to the group that is downtown or who attends the meetups. The MP3.com alumni groups have created a ton of startups, many of who have had exits and a big chunk of us continue to be active in the community by starting new companies and acting as mentors in organizations like Founders Institute and Evo Nexus.

    I entered EvoNexus last year partially at the request of one of my VC friends and I have to say that while there certainly are some shortcomings, specifically around capital, I think it is one of the best things going on around town and I am happy to be a part of it and I have been able to help a number of companies in the program including Tomnod who was recently acquired.

    There are more good thing happening in the community now than ever, but I would also say that there is a ton of stuff happening that you aren’t aware of because your network is limited to a subset of what is happening in town.

    I am confident that things will continue to improve but would suggest that fundamentally a strong leader or organization who can bring the community together the way David did is a frist step which must be followed by strong sources of capital for things to improve.

    I would encourage those who care to do the most fundamental thing, which is actually go out and start companies and find ways to bridge the gaps to a lot of the talent that is here. I think the best way to do that is to do it in a positive manner and be cognizant that maybe the view you have of the community isn’t necessarily the complete picture.

    -Derrick

  25. Al Bsharah April 10, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I’d like to talk a little bit about “keeping it in the family”.

    First, I’m in love with San Diego…as I’m sure everyone else here who’s passionate enough to comment about this article. We love where we live, we love where we work, we’ve seen or helped San Diego come a long way in even just the past 2-3 years, and we know that it can go so much further in the next 2 years.

    My co-founder Bryan and I were lucky enough to get Embarke into a TechStars program sponsored by Microsoft up in Seattle. We left our families behind and spent 3.5 months up there to forward our business. I should also mention that we went through the Founder Institute 2 years ago (both of which, by the way, I’d do all over again if given the option).

    Seattle has a fantastic startup ecosystem, one of the best in the country. There are a number of things that contribute to this, but I’ll leave it to Brad’s book to describe. In a simplistic view, there are a ton of people giving back throughout the entire fabric of the ecosystem. Entrepreneurs, Mentors, Investors, and Providers…all giving without ever expecting anything in return. They live in a self-sustaining ecosystem driven by one core belief: Make Seattle better. It was impressive to see first-hand.

    San Diego can do this. Easily.

    There are a few stand-out items, however, that I’d like to compare to San Diego. It’s my belief that we are really, really close to climbing the hump. You can feel it. The energy in this town is changing. 2-3 years ago, the tech community consisted of “the usual suspects”. Same events, same people. Now? More events than I can keep track of, and I’m lucky if I know half the people at them anymore.

    This is awesome, and is a great first step.

    In my opinion, one of the next important things that has to happen is this: We have to keep it in the family. While in Seattle, there were a couple things that really stood out for me.

    1) Recruiting. We came back home from Seattle 3 months ago, and still have folks that are hopeful that we’ll move Embarke to Seattle…you can feel the recruiting efforts. People want good companies there and they go out of their way to help keep them there.

    2) It was amazing to me how many investors like to keep their money in the Seattle area. Not in a “black-and-white” way, but just a core belief that they will inherently choose local companies over remote ones.

    I believe we’re at the point where we’re getting close to being able to keep it in the family. We’re seeing great startups come to life…we’re seeing local investors getting more excited about these companies and are putting more money into them…and more effort into sharing the best companies with their peers.

    But this, at the scale we want, is going to take a lot of work…from everyone involved. I don’t know Brant’s direct intentions for this article – but I like to think this was meant to be a call-to-action. The passion in the comments is indicative of that. If that was the intention, I think it’s on the path to working.

    We, as a start-up ecosystem, have flaws. If we can’t admit we’re not perfect, we’ll never improve ourselves or this community. I do believe that we ALL need to work together, become more transparent with each other, and become more of a “family” before this ecosystem will really start to gel.

    I think we’re pretty damn close.

    For my part – I’m doing everything I can to raise as much of our money from this area as possible, even if it’s a little detrimental to my timeline. It means as much to me that San Diego is successful as my company is successful. I want both, and will do whatever it takes to help both, every opportunity I can.

    The point is this… Give back to the community. It’s not hard if you care enough to do so. Bryan and I do everything we can to help foster this community and help startups who were where we were 2-3 years ago. We get involved in Startup Weekend, Lean Startup Machine, Founder Institute…we have a talks about something we’ve got knowledge in and other entrepreneurs can benefit from.

    Whoever you are: Give more, with a focus of “Making San Diego Better” and “Keeping it in the Family.”

    Rock on San Diego!

    • Liz April 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      I’ve really enjoyed the discussion in the comments (and on
      the FB group) and thoroughly enjoyed your perspective, Al. The
      points you call out are the big takeaways for me from all of this
      discussion. There have been great efforts along the way, but in
      order for this community to thrive, more people are needed to, as
      you simply state: give back & get involved.

  26. Jon Belmonte April 10, 2013 at 10:28 am

    The engagement and thoughtfulness here is impressive, and encouraging. Some themes:

    - Lots of valuable resources going against building a better San Diego startup ecosystem…money, time, effort. We should be encouraged by the building blocks we have in place, and thankful for the people and organizations that have put them there.

    - While the scene has improved over the last 10 years, there is quite a bit of opportunity for improvement. Those currently driving key programs like Evo, CONNECT and others need to take an honest look at what they are doing well and what they need to improve upon. The mission for each of these organizations is spot on…the question is where can we do better at fulfilling that mission. For those that are doing things optimally, congrats. For the rest of us, we need to be relentless in our quest to constantly improve. Taking honest feedback (positive and negative…and there will be both) from entrepreneurs is key

    - It must be easy for entrepreneurs (and those supporting them) to jump into the startup ecosystem “current” which enables them to participate deeply and frequently . Being swept into this “current” is core to the success that Boulder and others have had. Building blocks are great, but we need an ecosystem that is productive, welcoming and value add.

    Where should we focus our time?

    - Facilitate frequent direct face-to-face interaction with high quality, experienced mentors that are committed to supporting San Diego tech startup success

    - Establish collaborative, productive and affordable workspaces where San Diego startups can thrive and the entrepreneurial community will convene . Include constant stream of mentoring, education, networking and investor introductions.

    - Ensure San Diego offers top-shelf developmental programs and resources for entrepreneurs, such as accelerators, networking events, etc.

    - Develop an online hub where entrepreneurs and their supporters can connect, learn, find opportunities and read about local heros (so as to encourage more local entrepreneurial behavior and support)

    - Provide startups with direct access to engaged, value-added capital providers

    We are getting there.

    We will get there!

    • Robert Reyes April 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Brant, Thank you for fueling this discussion as an
      entrepreneur and intrapreneur can tell you things are changing in
      San Diego and you have a number of people in town working towards
      making a difference. (You included) I returned to San Diego Seven
      years ago found the organizations mentioned above specially Connect
      and Evonexus outdated on their approach to helping the
      entrepreneurs. Their approach follows a Corporate (Big Business)
      mentality. But now I see things slowly changing. But the good news
      I see fresh energy from different groups and organization. (Ansir
      Innovation Center, Fab Labs and Universities – SDSU, UCSD, Cal
      State San Marcos) I am very optimistic and invite you to
      participate in a series of activities starting in May focused in
      defining and leading a common voice for the San Diego community. I
      believe the time has come for the San Diego community to evolve and
      hope to see Connect and Evonexus evolve with it. All the best,
      Robert Reyes StartupCircle

  27. Cynthia April 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    This is really exciting. I recently moved to San Diego with
    my startup, and have been searching for a group to learn from. I’ve
    been to several networking groups and reached out to people in my
    industry only to never hear back from them. I’ve been invited to
    lunch, I have invited to lunch/coffee and I can’t get any
    commitment or follow through. It’s been frustrating-no doubt. The
    one person who has pulled through is Felena with Hera Hub. I love
    the conversation here, the good and the bad, and I’m looking
    forward to getting involved!

    • Chris Corrieau April 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      Cynthia you should reach out to Leslie and Tanya at Geek
      Girl. They are great connectors, looking to meet others in the
      community and also looking for great women tech leaders.
      leslie@geekgirlcamp.com and tanya@geekgirlcamp.com Check out:
      http://sdtechscene.org/ and http://sdtechfounders.org/ Also always
      open to meeting to hear about local startups and help make some
      local intros. email me chris@stocktwits.com

    • Eric Otterson April 11, 2013 at 8:48 am

      By nature of you reading this and being on this blog, I trust that you are already following San Diego Tech Founders? Worth looking into the Wednesday coffees.

      • Cynthia April 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm

        Yes! Thank you! Ever since getting connected with this group and HH, it’s been awesome!

  28. Gabriela Dow April 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Great discussion, along with the NYT article that posted
    yesterday on this same topic:
    http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/torn-between-two-start-up-communities/
    My comments on that NTY piece are relevant here, I think, so I’ll
    post below. And I agree with Jon’s point about the value of a
    thoughtful and candid (even bruising) discussion if it is geared
    toward ultimately improving our ecosystem. Brant is a unique voice
    in our community; we had an interesting discussion (debate,
    really!) at his recent book signing regarding the role of
    government in helping to support and promote entrepreneurs.
    Although we disagree on that issue, I always appreciated any point
    of view that will ultimately help our region to improve.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    As a founder of multiple startups in San Diego (GovPartner is going
    strong since 2000, others fizzled out, and I’m currently involved
    with StartupCircle and Locbit), I could relate to this timely
    write-up. San Diego is going through an interesting time; really
    the entire region from Tijuana to Temecula and Los Angeles. The
    most exciting element is that the SD community no longer looks
    toward Silicon Valley for all of the answers. The leaders,
    organizations and entrepreneurs are certainly interested in
    collaboration and funding opportunities from outside of our city
    but are more focused on defining and promoting what is unique and
    competitive about our region. Our work in bringing Plug and Play to
    San Diego is indicative of the bridge to Silicon Valley, with a
    focus on startups returning to SD to grow their business and our
    city. The more established organizations in town are working to
    improve their value for the entrepreneurs of today and a new
    generation of exceptional companies and leaders dedicated to San
    Diego are joining the traditional leaders (Qualcomm, Sony, Nokia,
    etc). Best of all is the diversity throughout — in the makeup of
    those at the table leading these changes (inluding with our new
    Mayor and regional agencies) and in the startup industries
    represented: not just software and biotech, but manufacturing / 3D
    printing, e-health, financial, services, MMI, etc. It’s an exciting
    time in San Diego, stay tuned…

  29. Dave Churchville April 10, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I’ve learned that there are 3 steps to improving anything:

    1. Being completely honest about where you are. Thanks Brant for starting the conversation, and everyone else contributing in the comments for refining that. Yes, it’s a little harsh, and maybe a little unfair at times, but often a bit too much honesty is better than not enough. I can’t imagine a kinder, gentler piece would have generated this much energy and passion.

    2. Getting clear about where you want to be. This is the hard part. It’s easier to point out what’s not working, who isn’t helping enough, investing enough, or being generous enough. But it starts with being clear about the positive vision. What does a thriving, dynamic San Diego startup community look like?

    3. Taking action. Once you know where you want to go, it’s much easier to enroll people and institutions in helping you get there. Give me a clear, compelling vision for the future, and I’ll be the first one to do whatever I can to help us get there.

  30. Steve Flaim April 12, 2013 at 10:40 am

    I just need to point out that TCA never charges our
    entrepreneurs anything and certainly never charges them for
    training! I’d certainly like to know where this bit if
    mis-information came from. Also, just for the record, we review
    about 600 applications/year and fund about 20 companies each year.
    We’ve invested well over $1M of our own money since our inception
    and those funds have helped our companies raise well north of $1B
    in follow-on investment. What we do is all volunteer and its a lot
    of hard work. Also, 20% of our members in San Diego are women and
    they bring huge value to our organization so I’m a little disturbed
    by the “old white guy” label.

  31. Scott S. April 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    The San Diego Entrepeneurs Exchange sdentrepreneurs.org
    Might want to check us out – we’re a bit different. By
    entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. 100 % volunteer. Free events
    (with free food) Trying to find new ways to work together to make
    us all succeed. Entrepreneurs should not be a revenue stream – they
    should be the creators of growth in our economy. Next event 4/17
    “Built to Last, Not for the Exit”

  32. REALLY??? April 15, 2013 at 8:44 am

    If you have any doubt about the “Innovation Establishment”
    being run to milk entrepreneurs check out the compensation of Joe
    Panetta, CEO of Biocom. $527,252 in 2011: See p 7 of the Biocom
    Institute 990 filing
    https://bulk.resource.org/irs.gov/eo/2012_10_EO/26-1852884_990_201112.pdf
    I wonder what our other “Leaders” are taking from starving
    entrepreneurs?

  33. REALLY??? April 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Duane Roth, CEO of UCSD Connect, $330,276
    https://bulk.resource.org/irs.gov/eo/2010_06_EO/20-3049742_990_200906.pdf

    • REALLY??? April 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      That’s 2008 by the way

  34. Shay H. April 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    I know I am a bit late to respond but first of all, thank
    you for raising these issues. While I don’t agree with some of your
    points, having an honest introspective discussion is definitely
    welcomed. I am the CEO of Tomnod, a recent graduate of EvoNexus
    where we had our office in the downtown space for just over a year.
    Earlier this year we were acquired by our biggest and closest
    partner in the satellite imaging space. Overall, my experience with
    EvoNexus was positive and I think we were able to get quite a bit
    out of it. Specifically: * We received a bunch of introductions to
    investors and key tech people who were coming through SD or part of
    the tech scene. * Once we were assigned our mentors (after 6
    months) we had considerable interaction with them where they were
    able to provide good advice about IP and product development. * The
    office space allowed us to have a professional presentation to our
    customers, partners, and eventual acquirers especially being near
    the convention center * The name ‘EvoNexus’ was well known in San
    Diego, which worked to our advantage when meeting people in town
    (customer, investors, and partners) * We were able to build a great
    relationship with the other Evo companies and learned from each
    other’s mistakes and successes. One thing that worked to our
    advantage was that we had an IP focused business that leveraged a
    lot of the knowledge of our mentors. It seems like the bulk of your
    criticism can be attributed to inappropriate or insufficient number
    of mentors helping to provide guidance and build a community. That
    is an awesome observation not only because it is precise but also
    because it presents an opportunity. I think it would be great for
    all of the folks following this thread who are experienced in the
    space to step up and work with EvoNexus companies. I know for a
    fact that they are always looking for new people to participate and
    work with the portfolio companies. That is the real opportunity
    here, at least as far as EvoNexus is concerned. Also, great
    observation about EvoNexus succeeding in rallying the Qualcomm and
    Irvine folks to support entrepreneurship in the region. Combining
    that with great mentorship and support networks really elevates the
    scene.

    • brantcooper April 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      Congrats on your acquisition and thanks for sharing your positive, first-hand experience.

  35. Bruce Bigelow April 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I’m surprised that I am only learning by reading this
    thread that some EvoNexus startup founders have sold their
    companies. Why didn’t you let me know? This is the kind of news
    that helps San Diego’s startup community build an identity and a
    reputation as a vibrant ecosystem. Last year, TechStars’ David
    Cohen told a group of San Diego tech entrepreneurs, “I don’t know
    anything about San Diego, but I will tell you, I can’t hear you. I
    don’t know what your successes are.” –See Lessons from David Cohen
    on building a startup culture here:
    http://www.xconomy.com/san-diego/2012/02/03/techstars-david-cohen-on-reviving-san-diegos-startup-culture/
    As Brant will tell you, I’m a longtime San Diego journalist who was
    lucky enough to jump from old school print media to a new media
    startup. It has felt at times like I’m living my own personal
    version of “Life of Pi”—I was lucky to escape a sinking ship,
    except there’s a Bengal tiger in my lifeboat. Xconomy also is a
    startup, based in Boston, created to provide authoritative coverage
    of technology innovation in tech hubs throughout the country.
    Xconomy’s founders are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met,
    and Brad Feld was impressed enough with Xconomy to lead a
    crowdfunding campaign to create the Xconomy Boulder website. But I
    don’t hear much from San Diego Tech Founders. There aren’t many
    comments posted. Xconomy also organizes events for the startup
    community here. I led the effort to bring David Cohen to San Diego
    last year; I hosted a lunch discussion with Brad Feld last week,
    and I’m working with Brant and Eric Otterson of Cooley to bring in
    other startup leaders/investors this year. Xconomy is just one
    example. The infrastructure is here for building a better and
    more-responsive startup community is here, but you’ve got to want
    to use it.

  36. Michael McCafferty April 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Being an “old white guy” I might not live long enough to
    read everything said above, so may I ask for a quick checklist of
    recommended action items? Please?

    • Olin Hyde April 24, 2013 at 10:53 am

      1. Learn to read faster.

      • Michael McCafferty April 24, 2013 at 11:27 am

        Ha! Good suggestion, of course, but what I’m really looking for is something a little more useful than a rant. It would be great to have some prioritized list, an Action Plan, rather than a harangue.

        • brantcooper April 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm

          I’m always amused when:
          1) There’s an assumption that there’s no plan because one hasn’t been publicized;

          2) That people are somehow *owed* the plan instead of the rant.

          Too bad. You know where I am if you ever want to discuss.

          • Michael McCafferty April 25, 2013 at 10:11 am

            I don’t feel that anyone is “owed” a plan, but It seems that if there were a plan, the publishing of it should encourage others to join with you. I’d love to help implement any plan for positive improvement in the startup ecosystem in San Diego. And I would be most happy to discuss with you. I’ll buy lunch! When and where is your choice!

          • Michael McCafferty April 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

            By the way, I totally agree with the desirability of transparency, especially about angel/venture backed companies and how those investments turned out. The challenge is how to get the angels/VCs to do that. I’m sure it would be a dismal record, and discouraging to fresh startups, but Truth needs to be told.

  37. TSE April 25, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Anyone notice that Brant Cooper’s shining examples of
    ‘successful’ all involve apps, social media and web 2.0? Maybe the
    San Diego community has better things to do than support yet more
    trivial wannabe hipster companies.

  38. Ari June 23, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Frankly, it is easier for me to find customers (sell) than
    pursue investors. Granted, my business isn’t a traditional tech
    startup but I could certainly use funding, mentorship, and other
    boosts to help get to the next level. We find new applications of
    technology which already has a strong footing in other
    industries.

  39. Sid Shetye February 6, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Just got this in my inbox and I think it’s a good read. A much needed reality check, maybe a little harsher than (I think) it is. I second Al’s comment as I’m witnessing energy levels pick up compared to 2-3 years back. I can also safely say that there are several institutions whose value-add is questionable to the entrepreneur (net of efforts, time etc)

    And since we’re introspecting on building the scene, here are some thoughts. They aren’t directed at you – it’s community wide conversation. As an entrepreneur, we have three main tasks, 1) Make stuff 2) Sell stuff and 3) Survive (to do the former two or exit). If a vendor, advisor or incubator don’t help in those 3 buckets, it’s an overhead for the startup/entrepreneur. I’m actually weary of attending “Startup events” only to be pitched by service vendors – the ratio is really skewed. I wish for more events dominated by entrepreneurs, engineers/scientists and investors.

    Since there has been much talk about downtown within the context of a tech economy, I want folks to take a step back for a second. It’s obvious that a tech economy needs engineers to ‘make stuff’ (one of our 3 main tasks). Now Qualcomm has over 10,000 engineers; pulled from across our planet (by the Qualcomm’s brand) right into our backyard. Plus UCSD has some of the best engineering students around. Most of these folks live where they work or study. This means they’re in the UTC/Sorrento Valley area/Carmel Valley area. Yet we focus on downtown where the office spaces are. For an early tech startup, an office or a desk isn’t a critical differentiator. Instead we need to focus on getting the minds of the smartest engineers mingle, spark and ignite. Ignited minds are motivated to convert thought into reality. IMHO, any movement to catalyze the tech scene in San Diego MUST catalyze this talent to tinker in their free time and must do so on their home turf. Move to the market, don’t expect the market to move to you. I’m not saying Downtown is impossible but I AM saying that being closer to where these 10,000 engineers are WILL help increase the odds for success for San Diego becoming prolific.

    Don’t get me wrong, we DO need to rally around a few ‘startup centers’ across town and I’m personally helping CyberHive/CyberTech (Downtown). But lets not forget that we do have some hidden resources that we should use to our advantage.

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