Startup San Diego Showcase Founders at Qualcomm, SDSU, Carlsbad and Tijuana

Posted: November 7, 2023

By Fred Grier

SDSW 2023 Day 5

This article was originally posted on Business of San Diego by Fred Grier on November 6, 2023.

During the last week of October, four hundred people converged at Qualcomm’s headquarters in Sorrento Valley on a Friday evening, to conclude its annual “Startup Week” extravaganza organized by non-profit Startup San Diego.

The week-long conference, celebrated the city’s thriving startup ecosystem which has created thousands of new jobs and attracted over $3 billion in venture capital funding this year from top venture capital firms.

Similar to L.A., the annual startup week featured a wide variety of fast-growing startups, the leaders behind them, and welcomed newcomers that are working building the next big idea, or more ambitiously — San Diego’s next Qualcomm.

High-Level Overview

  • Startup San Diego is a grassroots non-profit founded in 2013, it brings together thousands of local founders and business professionals to host the various startup-focused events each year.
  • Its goal is to support the region’s startups, celebrate leaders who are making an impact in the ecosystem, as well as help young professionals land roles at companies with a growing presence in San Diego.
  • Startup San Diego, is led by interim executive director Lisa Barnhouse, who replaced Alexa-Rae Navarro, after she stepped down in April this year.
Joe Kudla Vuori
In the last six months, Kudla was interviewed on NPR’s business podcast “How I Built This,” featured in magazines such as Inc. and Men’s Health, and also regularly speaks at his alma mater University of San Diego.

Unicorn Startup Stories in Carlsbad

Joe Kudla, the founder of Vuori, San Diego’s unicorn startup valued at more than $4 billion, served as the keynote speaker for its kick-off event in Carlsbad.

Mr. Kudla, who knows how to keep a crowd engaged, asked the 100-plus attendees to raise their hands if they are building a startup or running a company. Simultaneously half of the room proudly raised their hand towards the sky.

“Amazing — that’s what it’s all about,” said Kudla, the 45-years-old founder, who centered his keynote talk around the importance of entrepreneurship.

In particular, he shared stories around the early days of founding Vuori, why San Diego has remained a core piece of the brand’s story, and the journey maturing into a global retail operation that is rivaling Lululemon.

He did not confirm that his company is planning to go public, which Bloomberg first reported it may happen as early as 2024. Vuori also has made major hires at the c-suite level earlier this year, signaling that it is more than likely up for an IPO.

Christian Sanz
Christian Sanz, CEO at Skycatch, shared his startup journey scaling a San Francisco-based startup and selling his company to Adobe.

Building a Startup Hub in Tijuana, Mexico

“Mexico is going to be a global growth engine in the next 10 years and Tijuana will be at the center of it,” Angel Sanchez, co-founder and CEO at ArkusNexus told a 120-person crowd dressed tech casual in a navy long sleeve shirt and dark blue jeans, on Tuesday evening at its newly renovated headquarters.

Tijuana is often associated with its amazing food and being a top tourist destination.

Today, it is quietly becoming a growing startup hub with thousands of newly trained engineering and tech talent thanks to organizations such as ArkusNexus and iTjuana.

Dayra Gamino, a manager at ArkusNexus, said she believes business opportunities at the intersection of Tijuana and San Diego have remained largely untapped.

Gamino joined ArkusNexus roughly twelve months ago, and helps strengthen relationships with startup organizations including Aquillius, EvoNexus, Connect.

“There’s incredible talent and resources on both sides of the border. There are no limits to what we can achieve together — the sky’s the limit,” said Gamino.

SDSW2023 Keynote Talk
Cheryl Goodman (left), Vice Chair at Startup San Diego, interviews Qualcomm’s CCO Jim Cathey and Tribetan’s CEO Tiffany Norwood for a fireside chat on AI.

Startup Panels on AI

It is no secret some of the smartest people in tech are either investing or working on AI-related projects across the nation and specifically in San Diego.

Startups including Personal.AIMeasurablGood Face Project, participated on a panel discussing how they are using artificial intelligence to drive new business.

Qualcomm, who was an executive sponsor of Startup San Diego, have been all-in on artificial intelligence and machine learning for the past five years.

“It’s critical that we sponsor, help, and guide startups in the San Diego area,” Jim Cathey, chief commercial officer of Qualcomm, told the crowd. “Over the years, we have invested “hundreds of millions” to develop our AI and machine learning capabilities.”

In 2018, Qualcomm launched a $100 million AI-focused investment fund and has backed local startups such as Truepic, among other fast-growing startups through its corporate arm — Qualcomm Ventures.

“This year’s startup week had the most energy I’ve seen in a long time,” said Cheryl Goodman, who moderated numerous AI panels for Startup San Diego this year.

SDSW 2023 Day 5
San Diego Startup Week will host its 12th annual startup week in 2024. It strives to create unique startup programming and less flashy events than traditional tech cities.

Helping Startups in San Diego

To wrap up the startup week, eight entrepreneurs pitched their companies for a chance to win non-dilutive funding. Maria-Nicole Marino, took home a grand prize of $10,000, beating out Lotus Sustainables and five early-stage technology startups.

Overall, Startup San Diego has been instrumental in helping rebrand San Diego’s reputation as a sleepy “biotech and military” town, into a competitive startup city.

Compared to LA and NY tech week — which is billed and hosted by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) each year — Startup San Diego strives to create unique startup programming and less flashy events than traditional tech cities. In 2024, Startup San Diego will enter its 12th year helping the local startup ecosystem.

Mike Krenn, President and CEO at Connect, who is best-known for bringing elite VCs into San Diego each year to invest in promising founders explained it best: “We don’t want to be like S.F. or L.A.; We should to be more like San Diego.”

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March 28, 2024
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