The following is my perspective on the San Diego Startup ecosystem and the amazing progress I’ve seen since. It will also give you a quick overview of some of the programs we run today…
A year ago, I returned to San Diego after 12 years (I grew up in San Diego before I left for college in 2001). After graduating from Y Combinator’s class, my return was prompted by my wife matching to her residency at UCSD. Thus, it was not fully my choice (and, honestly, probably wouldn’t have been vs. San Fran or NYC where my existing network were strong).
My general impression at the time was that there was a fledgling community here; people were working on exciting companies and trying to build an ecosystem, but the efforts seemed like disjointed silos run independently (with a wide range of quality & success). It reminded me a lot of what I had seen 3-4 years ago in Philly (which has made tremendous progress since).
Within the first week of arriving I met with two people at the center of the scene: Brant Cooper (lean startup author, community organizer and consultant) & Eric Otterson (Cooley Startup Liaison & Promoter). These guys got me plugged in quickly to some of the activities and people leading them. A few of us (Eric, Brant, Melani, Jon Belmonte, Dave Karlman) got together after that event and decided to make some changes. Startup San Diego was born from these eager startup enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, Brant published an infamous post to his blog that critiqued many of the institutions around town and where/why they were falling short of actually serving the needs of entrepreneurs. Quick summary: Events tended to be for the benefit of the host or sponsor and often not that helpful to actual entrepreneurs & no collective identity or cross-program support. The post got a lot of backlash and attention from the community which I generally bucket into two responses: 1) “you don’t know what you’re talking about” (+ insert an ad hominem attack) or 2) “you make some good points, let’s re-evaluate ourselves.” Unfortunately, the second bucket was very small, but most notably included EvoNexus.
Through the new group, we started a mentorship program with the help of Melani Gordon – CEO of Bevato. It was suppose to imitate the YC/TechStars/DreamIt office hours I had experienced in the past. The program connected some of the best mentors in town with startups for 4-5 short 30-minute meetings in a row (like speed dating). Since then we’ve hosted about 30 mentor events (involving over 100 different startups) and 4 large night versions (with over 30 companies at each) and about 50 of the top investors & successful entrepreneurs in the region.
The organizers of EvoNexus started hearing about our events and asking questions. Several of us met with the Evo team (specifically Michele & Kristen) about improving their program and eventually decided to team-up on several programs and aid in their internal transformation into more of an accelerator (EvoStart). I believe that they are currently the best program in San Diego and constantly improving.
The group quickly grew to include some of today’s most vital members (most notably Al Bsharah from Embarke). The momentum from these events inspired others and allowed us to launch similar types of programs:
· Mentor Hours & Nights – 1-on-1 mentoring sessions w/ successful entrepreneurs
· Domain Experts – 1-on-1 topic-specific meetings w/ service providers (design, legal, HR, etc.)
· Seed San Diego – dinners/events with local investors (education & company connecting)
· CEO Forum – trusted startup leaders discuss their latest challenges
· Poker 2.0 – monthly poker tournaments w/ founders & investors
· Startup SD website – news, calendars, ecosystem info and sign-ups
All that being said, it’s not all roses. There is still a long road ahead and a lot broken: no huge success stories to tout, many investors still acting backwards, lots of posers (on both entrepreneur and investor sides), general business etiquette lapses, etc. But 1) these are all fixable problems and 2) I’ll write more about these later.
I’ve been lucky enough to contribute something to the growth of several communities (NYC, Philly, Boston, SF), but have never seen the speed of improvement & growth that San Diego exhibits right now! It’s an exciting time to build your company in San Diego and the right time to get involved in the community – come join us! Do things – participate or, even better: help!
UPDATE: I’ve seen a new rise of gripes floating around the ecosystem. If you view this post as a complaint, I have sorely failed. It was suppose to celebrate the progress and direction we are heading. My responses to that hopefully appears consistent: get educated on what is really going on, then help out where we still need bolstering, or shut up. 🙂