14 Entrepreneurs on What It’s Like To Be a Startup in San Diego

California has become a magnet for aspiring entrepreneurs and startup aficionados. But when you think California startups, you might think of Silicon Valley, the Bay Area, or even Silicon Beach. But some of the best startups and entrepreneurs might be hiding in plain sight. San Diego is one of those places. It’s “California’s best kept secret,” according to Will Smelko, CEO of Ora Organic.

That’s why we took a look at San Diego’s startup community to find out how the lesser-known destination for entrepreneurship operates and what startup founders there think of it. Turns out, it’s a pretty awesome place for startups.

Well, that’s if you’re ready for the San Diego experience. If you think the money meetings are happening in boardrooms and coffee shops, think again, as a margarita might be in your future.

“If you’re raising money, be prepared for Mexican food,” says Doug Hecht, founder of Lymber. “Whether I’m pitching or being pitched, it seems 70 percent of the meetings take place in a Mexican restaurant.”

It’s not just the food that attracts investors to the city, San Diego has proven itself as a fertile environment for startup success and there are dozens of entrepreneurs to prove it. From the unique talent to the sense of camaraderie, San Diego offers a diverse range of opportunities and benefits that stand tall against its more popular counterparts in the state.

There Are Tons of Resources

Daniel Passov, President of Greek U, says there are so many resources and opportunities at your disposal:

“It turns out that there are endless resources to help you build, grow, scale, and exit your business. And it’s right in front of you. You don’t need “open your eyes,” you actually need to open your mouth and start talking. Over the past few years, San Diego has become a community of startups. The sense of camaraderie within the entrepreneur community has given me unlimited resources to help in every aspect of my company.”

Fellow Entrepreneurs Want You To Succeed

Passov says that the entrepreneurial community is very selfless and want others to succeed:

“Instead of withholding information or the “secret sauce” of their successes, entrepreneurs in the startup community in San Diego are willing to share it. This allows all companies in San Diego to grow together and put San Diego on the map to hire better talent and find more funding for new ideas.”

Renne Catalano Gussman, Director of Business Development at San Diego Sport Innovators, says the entrepreneurs and executives who have found success want to share their knowledge with founders and mentor budding startups:

“San Diego’s Sports and Active Lifestyle community and San Diego’s larger business and entrepreneurial community are incredibly collaborative and supportive of the growing businesses in San Diego. So many successful executives and entrepreneurs are willing to give their time and share their experiences to help up-and-coming startups hit the ground running.”

There’s Incredible Talent

Jurgen Schmerler, CEO of VerifiR, says there’s an extensive pool of talent that entrepreneurs can tap into:

“Some of the best universities in the country are producing incredibly talented alumni in computer sciences and engineering here. Networks, like San Diego Sports Innovators, Connect, NDIA, and Biocom are ready to form bonds between tech startups, collaborators and customers in a wide variety of industries. It’s all there for us founders to take advantage of at no or minimal costs.”

Jason Riggs, CEO of OSSIC, says the talent coming out of universities in and around San Diego are extraordinary:

“OSSIC has been successful in hiring top talent from local universities and what we’ve found interesting is that a lot of these individuals came here for school from tech centers like San Francisco and Los Angeles, but were looking to stay in San Diego and work for a startup after graduating. We are happy to help keep them here.”

Matthew Veling, founder and COO of NumberBarn, says the employees really make each startup special:

“When most entrepreneurs speak about their business they mention product, pricing, or innovation. However, in San Diego, the topic of startup culture always seems to end up back on one thing – employees. It may be the perfect weather or the robust opportunity in the city, but one thing is clear, San Diego attracts happy, top-tier talent – and the startups thrive because of it.”

Jon Belmonte, co-founder and CEO of Spoutable, says they make for awesome teammates:

“What I’ve appreciated most about building companies and teams in San Diego is the quality of talent you’re able to attract, develop and retain here. Not only do folks bring very strong job-specific skills, i.e. sales, technical, marketing – in general, they have been some of the highest quality individuals with whom I’ve worked. Great teammates, loyal and respectful towards each other…on top of showing the drive, commitment and resourcefulness found in all successful companies. We could not be more excited to be creating Spoutable in San Diego.”

The City Is Evolving Rapidly

Smelko says the combination of low cost, hip culture, and sense of community make the city something special:

“The startup scene is so focussed on SF or LA that a lot of people are missing the cultural renaissance happening in San Diego. Seriously, there’s an organic eatery and a craft brewery on nearly every corner, a string of underground tiki bars and a theatre scene that holds outdoor Shakespeare plays…You meet more fish in a bigger pond, but in a smaller pond like San Diego, the fish are a lot friendlier and more supportive. We’re able to attract more talented employees with a beautiful loft-style office right by the water in San Diego – something like that in Santa Monica would be 3 times what we’re paying.”

It’s Accessible and Fast-Paced

Lisa Bicker, co-founder of PartyKroo, says the fast-paced startup culture vibes well with how accessible fellow entrepreneurs and resources are on-demand:

“San Diego has an incredibly robust ecosystem for entrepreneurs. Our ability to quickly tap leading technology innovators who understand the lean and fast-paced culture of startups has given PartyKroo a nice head-start to building a successful on-demand business. I have also found the business community to be particularly welcoming with ready access to expertise, smart capital and a skilled workforce. If you have a quality business idea and plan, San Diego is the place to be.”

The Weather and Environment Makes Life Easier

Jenn Harris, CEO of Street Swings, says the relaxing atmosphere the city’s location provides adds a relaxing element to the stress of running a startup:

“I love being an entrepreneur in San Diego because it’s so easy to have work-life balance. Even while pulling 20-hour days, you can still take an hour to meditate in the sunshine, take a long lunch to go surf, and refocus with a clear mind and fresh eyes. Startups in San Diego have a ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude that is a great compliment to the entrepreneur lifestyle. This fits my startup especially well – being in the golf industry I can take prospects out to Torrey Pines and enjoy year-round perfect golf weather at a beautiful course.”

Evan Harris, Co-Founder and CEO of SD Equity Partners, says it’s important to take a little time out of work to enjoy the beauty and culture of the city:

“My one major takeaway throughout the process of starting SD Equity Partners is the importance of taking time away from work.. Ina startup, there are always things to work on, and if you let it, the work can consume your life. Leave work at work – get outside every once in a while and take in the amazing beauty and culture that San Diego has to offer.”

It’s Easier To Make Mistakes and Learn From Them

Craig Cole, founder of Doppler, says San Diego gives you a wider space than most to fail gracefully and improve your business:

“With [San Diego] not being labeled a main ‘tech hub,’ this allowed us to freely make mistakes, beta test, even fail- without the fear of any skepticism within the industry. Instead it gave us the unique opportunity to work with a variety of people and places throughout the city, gaining perspective and constructive feedback upon each interaction.”

Funding Can Be Difficult

Daniel Magy, founder of CITADEL, says San Diego is the best place for his business, but that funding can be difficult to attain at times:

“If you are looking to get into security, defense or hardware there is not a better place than San Diego, there is incredible and affordable talent right here in our back yard. The only issue is that the funding landscape in San Diego beyond a seed round is very, very, dry.”

Shaun Savage, founder and CEO of GoShare, says the only downside is that you might need to look elsewhere for funding:

“San Diego is a great place to start a tech company. You have access to great talent coming out of the universities, a welcoming community of entrepreneurs and incubators like EvoNexus helping the startup ecosystem thrive. You may need to look outside of the city for funding but investors will give you the money if you have a good business.”

One thing is clear: San Diego is becoming a juggernaut for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Read more about the San Diego startup ecosystem here on Tech.Co

Photo: Flickr / peasap

Did you find this article helpful? Click on one of the following buttons
We're so happy you liked! Get more delivered to your inbox just like it.

We're sorry this article didn't help you today – we welcome feedback, so if there's any way you feel we could improve our content, please email us at contact@tech.co

Written by:
Jacob is a journalism and political science student at Arizona State University. He likes to learn and write about anything that isn’t cliché. His primary interests are foreign policy, solutions to global poverty, and tech innovation. He has helped lead multiple student groups on campus that have hosted a range of speakers on international issues and has acted as moderator for a couple himself. In his free time, he likes to watch movies, read weird books, and drink offensive amounts of coffee.
Back to top