San Diego’s tech scene is not like Silicon Valley…thank God
Always on the lists of best places to live, San Diego draws in residents with its warm weather and beautiful beaches. As people continue to search for new tech hubs outside of the Valley, these perks have caused many entrepreneurs to call San Diego their home. For a long time, three things have dominated San Diego’s job market and tech scene: biotech, micro-breweries, and Qualcomm. More recently, although these industries continue to thrive, there has been a rise in the number of tech startups in the area. The city is now considered one of the top places to start a company, recently making the top spot on Forbes’ list.
Last week’s San Diego Startup Week (SDSW) showed off many of the great projects that are currently being hatched in America’s Finest City. It brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts and featured numerous speakers, panels, discussions, and workshops. I was lucky to play my part as a sponsor and participant, getting a sneak peek at some of the technology the city has to offer. Being part of Branch Metrics, a company that helps mobile apps grow, I was especially excited to learn more about the mobile developer community in Southern California.
Most of the week’s events took place at EvoNexus, the largest non-profit tech accelerator in the area. They provide office space, resources, and a large network of connections to help young companies to get off the ground. Their downtown office boasts a class of over 20 startups. Each year, the startups compete for prizes and a few are selected to move to another floor in the building, such as The VineSD, for a larger and less temporary workspace. EvoNexus was also where we hosted our first Mobile Growth Hackers meetup in San Diego. We were lucky enough to have this meetup featured on the growth and developer track of SDSW and had an awesome panel and lively discussion based mainly on questions from the audience.
Two of our panelists were from graduating companies of the EvoNexus program, Rock my Run and TapHunter. Rock my Run is a fitness app that provides songs and playlists based on the user’s cadence or heartbeat. TapHunter is a technology company based around San Diego’s famous craft beer. They have both a B2B product, allowing restaurants to manage and market their beverage programs, and a B2C app that allows consumers to find out where their favorite drinks are around town. Megan Stillerman, VP of Growth at Rock my Run and Jeff “Flash” Gordon, CTO of TapHunter both sat on the panel. Brian Freeman, CEO of Wyldfire, and Eric Franchomme, VP of Engineering of PEAR Sports joined the panel as well.
My week in San Diego was capped off with Geek Girl Tech Con, an all-day conference promoting women in tech, which took place at the University of San Diego. I was proud to represent Branch Metrics as one of the featured sponsors of the event with my colleague Anne Carroll. As such, we meet hundreds of women studying or working in various fields of technology. Two of our co-founders, Alex Austin and Mada Seghete, also came and hosted workshops. Alex demonstrated building a referral system for mobile apps while Mada discussed tips for being a growth hacker. In addition, Alex sat on a panel about the future of mobile apps. From the participants of previous years, we learned that the event has grown significantly and we look forward to supporting its continued growth in the future. The atmosphere during the whole event was full of energy. There were events, panels, and workshops for every age and skill level and they did a great job of encouraging young girls to strive for STEM degrees.
During my week in San Diego, I met so many residents dedicated to growing the entrepreneurial environment. I was fortunate to take part in many of the great events during the week and I’m excited to be back for our next meetup. As a San Diego native, I was excited to learn about the growing tech scene and the resources available to entrepreneurs. I’ve been in the Bay Area, for school and for work, for the past six years but look forward to eventually calling San Diego my home again. It’s nice to see and entrepreneurial community that is very interconnected and willing to help each other out. Even as an outsider, I met many developers who were willing up open up their networks to me and introduce me to a number of their acquaintances.
This was one of the things that I found particularly interesting in comparison to Silicon Valley. With accelerators like EvoNexus at the heart of the entrepreneurial community, most of the startups were utilizing, not competing over, the same resources. This seemed to produce an environment much like that of a family. In Silicon Valley, there is definitely a sense of community or family around startups, but it seems to only span small subsets of companies that share investors, class rings, or have other personal connections. In San Diego, this interconnectivity seems to span the whole tech community.
In addition, the entrepreneurs I talked to were well aware that they operate differently from Silicon Valley. First, the amount of funding available is very limited and hard to acquire in comparison. Second, and maybe because of the lack of funding, everything seems to happen at a different level; things move a bit slower, companies don’t scale as fast, revenue models are actually important. But for the people I talked to in San Diego, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For instance, Mel Gordon, CEO of TapHunter has had her fair share of 80-hour work weeks. But she acknowledged in one of the talks during SDSW that on average, the slower pace of San Diego actually allows her to enjoy some of the things outside of work that are important to her, such as working out and finding a new place to enjoy a beer. In the hyper-competitive, fast-paced atmosphere of Silicon Valley, the struggle between a work and non-work life balance seems much more prevalent.
During my trip, I learned that San Diego is indeed a growing tech hub. However, it does NOT seem to be trying to replicate Silicon Valley. Rather, an environment is developing where tech entrepreneurs can enjoy the resources available to them, along with all of the other things that the great city has to offer. Although I’ll be remaining in Silicon Valley for the next few years, I’ll be closely monitoring the San Diego tech scene, waiting for the next big startup to arise.