A Sunny Forecast
It ought to be more complicated than this. The creation of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem ought to be — and usually is — a complicated interplay of talent, education, capital, circumstance, resources and opportunity.
And all of that is present to varying degrees in San Diego, but it still comes down to one thing. The Sun. Sol, the glorious orb that gives San Diego the most ideal weather in the United States; the yellow dwarf star that beams down on skateboarders and genome researchers alike, that warms the waves and beckons people who decide it might be fun to live and work where others vacation. The Aztecs were right. It’s all about the Sun.
It can’t be that simple, you say. San Diego isn’t the sleepy beach town it used to be, a haven for retired Navy officers and a hangout for surfers and skateboarders. It’s home to Qualcomm and Scripps and Amylin and scores of other high tech firms and institutions.
But consider this. Irwin Jacobs, the granddaddy of entrepreneurship in San Diego, came to the city because of the Sun. In an interview, Jacobs recounted how he turned down an offer in 1966 to head the engineering department at the brand-new UC San Diego. Then, a few days later back in Boston, where he was a professor at MIT, he got soaked in a day-long rainstorm.
Next thing you know, he changed his mind and moved to San Diego where he founded Linkabit. And Linkabit gave birth to Qualcomm, which gave birth to a whole new industry and hundreds of other companies. All because San Diego averages 146 days of clear, sunny weather a year, 48 more than Boston does.
How many other Midwest and East Coast researchers and entrepreneurs have been lured to San Diego by the Sun and SoCal lifestyle?
The Navy and Marines are in San Diego because of the Sun and geography and their presence means a defense contracting industry and millions in federal research dollars.
The Sun also bring retirees, former C-suiters happy to volunteer with CONNECT to mentor and coach aspiring entrepreneurs in between rounds of golf. Sometimes they even get back into business for themselves.
And that’s only the industries that benefit indirectly from the Sun. San Diego’s skateboarders, sailors, golfers and surfers and the entrepreneurial companies that sell them equipment, accessories and apparel would not be here if the Sun were not so munificent with its rays.
Befitting something powered by a star, San Diego’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is powerful and diverse. Because the city has transformed itself since World War Two, it’s not beholden to legacy industries and “that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking. Military R&D, Qualcomm and the research on Torrey Pines Mesa help the city stay abreast of new business possibilities. San Diego also is helped by entrepreneurs’ willingness to help each other and collaborate on areas of mutual interest.
On the negative side, San Diego does have to contend with California’s business-unfriendly regulations and taxes. It’s also a very expensive place for new college graduates to live and start businesses. The startup support network must work to stay relevant to young entrepreneurs.
Of course, the Sun will not burn out for another 5 billion years, so San Diego has some time to work on those problems.