What could be better than having a strong university in your city that inspires students to explore an entrepreneurial future? The only thing I can think of would be having 3 universities that work both independently and collaboratively to fuel students’ entrepreneurial goals.
Between The University of San Diego (USD), San Diego State University (SDSU), and the University of San Diego California (UCSD) students should be looking at San Diego as an entrepreneurial paradise. Each university has its own unique approach to building entrepreneurial talent in San Diego and keeping entrepreneurs here.
My alma mater, USD, has developed an intensive V2 Pitch Competition that throws entrepreneurs and startups into a Shark Tank scenario to compete for $50,000. But throwing them in blind would be a disservice to their talents and the university.
That’s why USD with the help of Nadia Auch, the Assistant Director Responsible for Enterprise Initiatives, put together an Idea Labs series that acts as a catalyst for entrepreneurship at USD. Local entrepreneurs sit down with students and prepare them to compete successfully in the V2 Pitch Competition.
The Idea Labs are twofold in nature though as the students are also prepared to compete in the $50,000 Social Innovation Challenge (SIC). And this is where USD feeds that collaborative mentality in San Diego because they recently expanded the SIC to include students from SDSU and UCSD; it’s known as the San Diego Track.
UCSD prepares their students for both the San Diego Track and the world after college via their StartR Accelerator Program led by previous VC Kim King. It’s built on the familiar accelerator model and includes mentorship, mentor speed dating, and workshops.
“The idea is to get the students to expose themselves to other entrepreneurs and the community at large from very early on,” says King.
And while there is a lack of Venture Capital in the city, King recognizes that there is a growing population of entrepreneurs in San Diego. The university role then becomes that much more important.
“We want to be able to fund the students with a little bit of money upon graduation. Then we’d also like to provide a small level of initial seed funding,” says King. “And all the different groups are really starting to work together and want to put San Diego on track with regard to a technology standpoint.”
Yet another perfect show of this collaborative mentality is the fact that the Zahn Innovation Center at SDSU lets the StartR students use the 3D printing labs when they need to.
“I think collaboration in general is important,” says Cathy Pucher, Executive Director of the Zahn Center. “The more we can help and complement each other the better.”
The Zahn Center is fueled by a mission to help students, faculty, and staff from across campus take early stage ideas and develop businesses out of them. In the last 2 months alone the center has seen 55 people come through the door with an idea; for the entirety of last year they only had 155 people.
There are 2 important things to take away from each school’s independent and collaborative programs. First, it’s providing young entrepreneurs – entrepreneurs who will grow the city into a booming startup scene – that there is a way around the funding issue. Second, it helps establish new startups in San Diego which will in turn positively affect the retention of talent in the city.
When you pair that with the work that EvoNexus and 1120 are doing, you can see that San Diego is steadily climbing towards their goals. Perhaps there might be something further that the big names like Sony, Nokia, and Qualcomm can do to bolster the scene even more.