Every city in America says “you should invest here”.
Every city in America says “we collaborate here”.
Every city in America says “the future is here”.
So declared Dr. Mary Walshok, Ph.D., of the University of California San Diego, to begin the 2018 San Diego Global Investment Forum. The rest of her speech, and the rest of the day, was about why these statements are are actually true when they are made about one city in particular: San Diego.
The goal of the San Diego Global Investment Forum, which brought public and private organizations from the San Diego region into the same space, was to reach across geographical distance, sectors, and verticals to bring people from different backgrounds into contact with each other.
Overall, it seems to me that the event accomplished its objective. Throughout the day, I saw and heard entrepreneurs talking to people from municipalities, realtors talking to nonprofit executives, professors talking to angel investors.
A panel of successful San Diego-based entrepreneurs told the audience why they chose to start and grow their businesses in San Diego, and then shared their thoughts on what the city can do to improve its entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Then, a panel of municipality officials from San Diego and its surrounding counties explained what each area has to offer businesses looking for places to start or expand.
The event made clear to me that San Diego possesses some unique and important business advantages over other major cities. Greg Murphy, the executive director of The Maritime Alliance, pointed out that San Diego has the largest cluster of “BlueTech” companies in the world, responsible for 46,000 jobs and worth more than $14 billion per year.
The region’s universities, which form a top-tier research cluster, are graduating large numbers of talented entrepreneurs and STEM majors, many of whom are choosing to stay in San Diego, unwilling to abandon the high quality of life available here that is far less easily attainable in many other cities.
Throughout the day, there were signals that San Diego’s startup ecosystem is moving towards maturation. Jon Carder is the co-founder and CEO of Empyr, a San Diego-based online to offline commerce startup that has raised $50 million. Jon told the audience that, seven years ago, when Empyr was starting to raise funds, investors were concerned that the company was based in San Diego, rather than Silicon Valley.
Now, however, venture capitalists don’t consider a San Diego headquarters to be a disadvantage. In fact, according to Jon, investors are explicitly looking outside of Silicon Valley to places such as San Diego for new deals.
Jon applauded the work of San Diego Venture Group, which through events such as its annual Venture Summit bring investors from all over California and the world to learn about what San Diego’s entrepreneurs are building.
Moreover, San Diego’s entrepreneurs are endorsed by city officials. Jennifer Shoeneck, the Economic Development Manager for the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, highlighted a program called Innovate 78, a collaboration between five cities north of San Diego to boost their area’s economy by attracting and supporting startups.
Entities and organizations in the San Diego area appear to be realizing how much value startups can generate, and are designing support networks accordingly.
David Graham is the Deputy Chief Operating Officer for New Smart and Sustainable Communities for the City of San Diego, and in his words:
“San Diego is quietly brilliant.”
Kevin Kim, a Partner at Geraci Law Firm, echoed the same sentiment, calling San Diego a “sleeper city”.
Despite the innovation and collaboration going on in San Diego every day, many people still think of the city as a vacation destination, and not a place to start a company.
But, there is very little doubt in my mind that people will not be calling San Diego a quiet, sleepy city for much longer.
The market, for talent, for real estate, for any sort of stake in the future of this beach-side metropolis, will soon heat up much more than it already has.
I left the first inaugural San Diego Global Investment Forum firmly convinced that San Diego will become a global city and an economic superpower. The question is not if, but when.