The 2018 San Diego Global Investment Forum made a compelling case for why Southern California, and San Diego in particular, is a great place to start a company. The area’s universities are graduating an enormous number of STEM majors, the competition for talent is less intense than in other tech hubs, the relatively low cost of living enables startups’ early-stage capital to last longer, and the quality of life is high.
However, the recipe for a thriving entrepreneurial city is complex and varied, and nowhere has all the ingredients. What impressed me most about the Global Investment Forum’s tech and innovation panel was that the conversation shifted from being self-congratulatory to constructive, and took on the multi-faceted question of how San Diego can improve its entrepreneurial climate.
Here is what the seven seasoned San Diego entrepreneurs on the panel each said when asked what they would change about San Diego’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:
Jon Carder, Co-Founder and CEO, Empyr: Jon said that San Diego needs three to five more tech startups that have reached a valuation of one billion dollars or more. He pointed out that these unicorns beget active angel investors and experienced entrepreneurs, who are then able to help other companies achieve similar success.
Tristen Blake, Founder and CEO, CO Innovation Labs: Tristen believes that San Diego should concentrate resources on attracting artificial intelligence talent to the area. He thinks that there will be a few cities around the world that become AI hubs, and he wants San Diego to be one of them.
Robert Swisher, Founder and CEO, Frendli: Robert wishes that San Diego were better at selling itself to the outside world. He noted that the world knows San Diego for perks like its tacos, beers, and beaches, but is less likely to recognize San Diego as an excellent place to do business or start a company.
Kimberly Owen, Founder and Principal Recruiter, Mission Resourcing LLC: Kimberly suggested that San Diego should invest more resources into the creation of affordable housing projects. San Diego, like many other large cities, is facing high and rising housing costs.
Greg Murphy, Executive Director, The Maritime Alliance: Greg made the practical point that San Diego needs to improve the quality of many of its roads. He also thinks people throughout the city should remember to “see the ocean as an opportunity”, and try to use it to help tackle the biggest issues we face.
Sean Freeman, VP Strategy, Technology and Corporate Development, NuVasive: Sean hopes that San Diego can develop an organized seed-funder organization in the healthcare and biotech space. He mentioned that there are some great ventures being developed that are struggling to secure local funding.
Gregg Anderson, Co-Founder and CEO, 41 Orange: Gregg called for a more widespread, robust, and effective pipeline for San Diego’s university students to get internships, and then full-time jobs, at local companies. He wants to ensure that San Diego’s graduates do not have to take their talents elsewhere to find gainful employment.
Members of the audience also chimed in, saying that San Diego faces infrastructural challenges such as a one-runway airport and an underdeveloped public transportation system. It was encouraging to see the panel constructively respond to some of these concerns. For instance, the moderator, David Titus, SVP of business development at Cooley, LLP pointed out that the Tijuana International Airport is also within half an hour of the city, and if better utilized could help to alleviate the one-runway problem.
Overall, seeing a group of veteran San Diego entrepreneurs have a nuanced discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the city’s entrepreneurial climate was edifying, especially since it was only my second full day living in San Diego. If the San Diego startup community can utilize its strengths while working on its weaknesses, I have no doubt that the pace of the innovation occurring here will only continue to accelerate.