San Diego and Entrepreneurial Communities

Last night, I was invited by Xconomy to come to San Diego and talk about entrepreneurial communities at a private dinner that had about 25 entrepreneurs and investors that care deeply about the issue. It was a great group of people and a lively discussion to say the least.

Xconomy had asked that I share insights on what made Boulder really work, and to talk about TechStars and the effect that it’s had not only in Boulder, but also in NYC, Boston, and Seattle.

So, I rattled off 7 things to the dinner group to spur discussion:

  • Richard Florida’s work on the Creative Class matters. Please read it. This is now table stakes.
  • I talked about how the real up and coming communities are entrepreneur led. Everyone else’s job is to support the entrepreneurs who are leading. I referenced Tony Hsieh in Las Vegas as a great current example of this.
  • We discussed the idea of a “high quality focal point.” – This is the notion that you need something in your community that engages everyone deeply across the spectrum of first time entrepreneurs, more experienced entrepreneurs, service providers, angels, venture capitalists, students, etc. They have to have something “real” to do together. TechStars provides this for the communities that we’re in. But it can be anything, as long as it drives real activity and energy together and it’s something that’s not shallow.
  • We talked about Brad Feld’s notion of entrepreneurial density. If the best efforts of a town occur in a dense area, you will have more serendipity and excitement around startups a compact area. In Boulder, this is palpable.
  • We talked about what Brad calls “fresh meat” – a constant inflow of new talent. Again, TechStars provides this. But so do universities. The best entrepreneurial communities seem to do this well.
  • We talked about being vocal about your community. I told the folks from San Diego “I can’t hear you!”. Talk about this more, and let the world know about your successes. Again, this has to come from the entrepreneurs (and be amplified by the media).
  • Finally, I said that a community needs visible entry points. Boulder’s new tech meetup and boulder.me web sites are great examples. I love the “ambassadors” part of Boulder.me. Look at the entrepreneurial leaders who have stuck their hand up to say “I’ll show you around here.” Amazing.

Towards the end of the dinner, I also discussed Brad Feld’s view that you have to take a 20 year view to building a sustainable entrepreneurial community. I then asked everyone at the table to raise their hand if they were an entrepreneur. These were the potential leaders in San Diego. I asked them to keep their hand up if they were still going to be here in 20 years. Most stayed up, but some went away quickly. Perhaps 8 of the 25 hands were still up. I said to the rest of the table who did not have their hands up, “Your only role is to help these people.”

The conversation then lasted for a few hours. And I expect that it will last for many more years. But I did get a sense that the people in that room could make a real difference, so I was glad I went. Thanks to Xconomy for the invitation. I know they’re going to write it up soon in much more detail, and I’ll blog that link here once I see it.

UPDATE: Here’s the Xconomy story on this -> http://www.xconomy.com/san-diego/2012/02/03/techstars-david-cohen-on-reviving-san-diegos-startup-culture/

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About David Cohen

Geek. Hacker. Investor. Founder and CEO of TechStars.

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  • http://sdtechscene.org Phelan Riessen

    It was good to meet you and thanks for coming out and sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

  • http://xpenser.com/ Parand Darugar

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge, hopefully we can put them to good use here.

  • Mike Alfred

    I’m bummed that I couldn’t be there but I was glad Dan Weeks was able to make it in my place. It sounds like it was a great discussion.

  • http://www.aicenterca.com Ping Wang

    Indeed, it was a great, thought provoking discussion – thanks to Bruce @ Xconomy for organizing and David for coming. In particular it seems that SD is strikingly very well positioned with respect to each of the 7 points. Some of us stayed afterwards to draw up more detailed “battle plans” to strengthen any remaining issues to make SD an even better place. Hopefully it won’t be years, but very shortly that we’ll see even greater big things coming….

  • http://embarke.com Al Bsharah

    Great insights. We’ve got a lot of people trying to make some great things happen in San Diego, and I’ve seen substantial growth in just the past year. We’re in it for the long haul, San Diego. Let’s make this happen!

    See you tonight…

  • http://clareyt.tumblr.com Clare

    Boulder makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

  • http://CampusEntrepreneurship.com Campus Entrepreneurship

    Great insights. Thanks for sharing. Two thoughts from my end 1) this framework (or checklist) can be applied to universities as well (I measure some of these things in my researchs) and 2) universities could be there own number on this list not only do they provide fresh and energetic meat, but they provide diversity, immigration points, science, and many other assets that support sustainable growth

  • http://www.SDREDC/BRE.org Meredith Dowling

    Thrilled to have been at the table. Thank you. If there is anyway we can better support with these efforts we are here to assist.

  • http://taphunter.com Melani Gordon

    Amazing. Thanks to Bruce and all those who supported this dinner. I love San Diego. Out of curiosity, of the 25 how many were women? There was a women tech founder panel last night so it’s fresh on my mind;)

  • http://www.ai-one.com Tom Marsh

    Wasn’t at the dinner but great fup last night at Brant Cooper’s event. It looks like some of the players in town are following this blog post, has anyone done a map showing “density” of our entrepreneurial activity. We have a lot of activity and organizations focused on this but it seems fragmented, not getting enough mass on the flywheel, at least in software. It is my observation that our angel investors are more in need of TechStars training than our entrepreneurs. Thanks David for coming.

  • http://www.scrib.co Toby

    I sense from these points that “giving back” to the ecosystem is more important than “extracting” from it; and the benefits for all are multiplied by doing so. Very grateful to live In Boulder with people who get this. Thanks for sharing David.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/groups?about=&gid=2181454&trk=anet_ug_grppro Paul Sonnier

    Thanks for not approving my post, David.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/groups?about=&gid=2181454&trk=anet_ug_grppro Paul Sonnier

    We certainly have all of the right elements here and the burgeoning digital health space represents a unique opportunity for San Diego entrepreneurs. In this regard, I know one startup that moved here recently from France, so the inflection could be at hand and it’s only a matter of catalyzing it.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/groups?about=&gid=2181454&trk=anet_ug_grppro Paul Sonnier

    Oh, there’s a character limit!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/groups?about=&gid=2181454&trk=anet_ug_grppro Paul Sonnier

    David: Please delete all but my relevant comment. Thanks!

  • http://www.GlobalCEOspace.com Dave

    If Tony Hsieh is a “great current example” we are in deep doo-doo.

    Las Vegas is in awful shape and it will take a new industry or a new economy to turn it around. If you’ve visited recently, you know what I’m talking about.

  • David Cohen

    dave – i’m not saying vegas is great. i’m saying tony is trying to make it great and leading by example and action.