Everyone in business and economic development agree that startups are great for cities—but how can communities and leaders do more than just tout the benefits of startups, and actually help pave the way for entrepreneurs to bring their business ideas to life?
One way of getting behind San Diego startups is through celebrating the innovation and creativity being brought to our region. This month Cox Business, Tech Coast Angels and the San Diego Venture Group are doing exactly that by sponsoring and organizing the John G. Watson Quick Pitch Competition.
The Quick Pitch Competition on Oct. 29 gives 10 local startups the opportunity to compete for grants of up to $50,000 to further develop their idea. It’s one of several others like it throughout the year here in our region.
However, we can always do more to support our startup ecosystem—especially if we want to hang on to our distinction as one of the best cities in America to launch a business. Moreover, San Diego in particular has a number of very good reasons to do so:
• Small businesses, including startups, are the backbone of our regional economy. Small businesses, defined as those with 100 employees or fewer, employ 697,000 people, or 59 percent of San Diego’s workforce. If we were to attract fewer talented entrepreneurs, opportunities for both our long-time residents and recent transplants would dry up, and our economy would suffer.
• They’ve given us our reputation as a life sciences and biotechnology innovation hub. Aside from the San Francisco Bay Area and the Boston-Cambridge region, we’re one of the top cities for manufacturing, testing and research in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Several of the top employers in this area are, of course, large companies like Illumina, but a vast majority of the more than 1,100 life and sciences biotech businesses in San Diego began life as small startups with an idea.
• They encourage competition. Competition is a good thing and spurs innovation, and a competitive business ecosystem makes our city stand out as a dynamic source of tech solutions. As Ben Yoskowitz, an angel investor and founding partner at Year One Labs puts it, “Any reasonably good idea has 10,000 people working on it right now.”
• A few local startups have made it big already. Thanks to our large pool of talent both local and transplanted (the perks of being a major center for universities) as well as a good network of accelerators that coach startups on how to prepare for a successful launch, many of our startups have emerged as major players on the national scene. Think GoFundMe, Classy, Brain Corp, and Human Longevity. Imagine how many more ideas like these are currently incubating among San Diego’s startup founders.
• They employ talent from other tech hubs, especially recent graduates. The job market may have improved greatly since the 2008-2009 recession, and unemployment may be low, but it’s still challenging to get your foot in the door as a recent college graduate. In cities like San Diego, though, where there’s a strong pool of startups, these young professionals can easily find employment that develops them professionally into the future talent that our city will need to continue to grow.
San Diego has steadily climbed higher on lists of top U.S. cities for startups over the past few years, but that didn’t happen in a vacuum. Every big company started small, and it’s important that larger companies encourage startups, and help provide funding through programs such as the Quick Pitch Competition—especially if they’re in your field. It’s good for business and for everyone who lives and works in America’s finest region.
Duane Cameron has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. He is vice president for Cox Business, helping to bring innovative products and services to Southern California businesses.