San Diego is bringing back Silicon Beach

Forbes 30 under 30 came out just a few weeks ago, and it seems that San Diego had two top notch representatives: Daniel Lee and Sarah Guthals, who are both UCSD alums. Both also are actively running their startup ventures from sunny San Diego, a trend that to many who aren’t closely following the scene may find incredibly odd.

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This is a continuation of the series on entrepreneurship. Feel free to like The Triton on Facebook to stay up-to-date on the evolving story.

Forbes 30 under 30 came out just a few weeks ago, and it seems that San Diego had two top notch representatives: Daniel Lee and Sarah Guthals, who are both UCSD alums. Both also are actively running their startup ventures from sunny San Diego, a trend that to many who aren’t closely following the scene may find incredibly odd.

Isn’t Silicon Valley the hotbed for innovation?

Well yes — and no.

Let’s take things out of order (because they always make more sense that way).

In 1984 “Silicon Beach Software” opened up for business in San Diego. The company has a rich history, becoming the basis for early product lines at what many of us now know today as Adobe, finding this home through a series of acquisitions. The name was lost with the first acquisition, where Aldus became the brand representing what used to be SBS. The name was not to be lost forever though.

The timing of the word “Silicon” in San Diego made sense; the word first appeared in publication in 1971, and really took off as a widely used term in the 1980’s when IBM rose to supreme power. But alas, the valley had a lot on its side: from (at the time) cheap housing, popularized co-ops, strong and vocal worker unions, immigration reform, Stanford’s efforts with ARPANET, and a coincidental relocation by silicon chip inventor William Shockley to be near his ailing mother. All factors combined, the valley was clearly the place for the “Silicon” namesake to dominate.

Fast forward to the past decade or so. Silicon Valley is still great because most of the talent set up camp there, and the network created new resources. However, most of what made the valley great from the get-go no longer existed.

Rent became highest in the world. Cities became less worker focused, and bent more to the will of larger corporations. Research in cutting edge fields became more distributed as immigrant populations found new places to live and the university system around the nation becomes more built out.

The Valley was getting pretty damn full.

Insert the rebirth of a new “Silicon Beach,” this time rooted in Los Angeles. Hulu, Snapchat, Tinder, SpaceX, and more found their roots near beautiful Santa Monica. And when they needed to dip back into the old valley for funding or the established network, they did, but they had no intention of moving back. Google, Buzzfeed, and more have since opened offices in the area, and collectively all this activity has brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the region.

So now here we are back in (almost) the present. What happened to old Silicon Beach?

Last November I attended a founder’s panel where Sam Altman, president of famed YCombinator, talked about startups and future trends. During the Q&A, he was asked:

“What is something that Venture Capitalists aren’t doing right?

“No one is investing in hardware and biotechnology,” Sam explained. “Software became huge because the product iteration cycle cost next to nothing. The cost of new forms of hardware are finally approaching this same point.”

Interesting observation. The biotech capital of the world seems to have caught the attention of some big fish. And in more than one way.

I had the pleasure of talking to talk to a representative from Andreessen Horowitz this past summer about their new recruitment strategy to at UC San Diego. Months later, I talked to LionTree CEO Aryeh Bourkoff about why he was bringing his VC to become more involved at UCSD.

“Now is just the right time,” he said. More heads turning.

The network in San Diego is weak compared to Silicon Valley, but perhaps that’s not what we should be looking at. Perhaps we should be looking at pre-Valley conditions; why did people want to go there in the first place?

Looking back at our list, it seems like San Diego is very comparable. Research, pricing, top universities, and not to mention…

The community wants it.

One such group is Startup San Diego, with their Convergence event happening this week. The conclusion of the week of Convergence is a “Startup Intern Fair” at UCSD on Saturday from 11AM-2PM, where they are seeking to retain top talent to work at cutting edge local startups. This will be followed by personal mentorship hours and demos of local startup tech for the student body later that evening.

Neal Bloom, co-founder of upcoming edtech giant Portfolium and now leading expansion with Hired, spoke with me about why he is helping put on the event and why he believes in San Diego:

“I’m personally motivated for how helpful the community has been in introducing me to their network anytime I have a question or need. Everyone who comes to visit remarks how open and accessible people are in SD. Everyone is also generous with their time, you just have to reach out and ask.”

Neal isn’t alone. Many of the folks behind the zero-equity incubator EvoNexus are also working towards making the event a success, with part of Convergence taking place at EvoNexus headquarters in downtown San Diego.

If you are interested in attending Convergence, read more about the event via their Eventbrite page.

And Convergence, of course, is just one piece in the puzzle. Groups like the Economic Development Corporation are constantly working to better the regional landscape and reinvest in the community. People like Daniel and Sarah, although indirectly, are working in San Diego to help foster the university and the region’s reputation for innovation. And of course, with the Chancellor’s huge push to create the Office of Innovation and Commercialization, one can only assume UCSD will soon be making notable strides to join the movement.

Ultimately, there are a lot of moving parts to this equation, and the landscape is constantly evolving. The community is growing, the conditions are good… but only time will tell what the people do with the opportunities in front of them.

So that begs a question — UCSD, what are you going to do in San Diego?

0 Replies to “San Diego is bringing back Silicon Beach”

  1. Charlie Jackson says:

    Kudos for a well researched piece. I founded the original Silicon Beach Software in 1984, not long after being a grad student at UCSD for a few years. I recently started another software company here in San Diego, again using the name Silicon Beach Software. The U.S. Trademark office originally denied my application because they said it referred to Los Angeles, and I’m not in Los Angeles. But you’ll be happy to hear that I prevailed in my arguments, showing that the term had referred to San Diego since 1984.
    This is my third software company in San Diego, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else. There’s always LOTS of talent here, and who would want to live in L.A. or the extremely crowded and expensive Silicon Valley?
    I try hard to be a part of the San Diego startup ecosystem, and I’ll be at the Saturday Convergence event at UCSD. So if you see me there, please say hi.