San Diego nExT: Part 2 of 5- The Challenge
As with any situation, for there to be opportunity there must be challenges that are worth addressing. I’ve focused my attention on those affecting our startup ecosystem. It’s very difficult to identify a single root cause for any of these challenges. However, we can work together to create a positive set of outcomes that lead to more progress.
Throughout school we’ve been taught to study for the test and by answering the questions correct you succeed. The problem is that’s not the way most things work in life. Rarely do you get a manual that tells you the right decision so you can recall it at some point in the future. The ironic part of all this is that our education starts off in the right way. As babies we’re constantly experimenting and learning from running tests. As we get older this tends to get extracted from the process in an attempt to make things more efficient.
We find this happening all the way through college where students come out with a degree but they’re not equipped with all the skills needed to immediately contribute to an organization. Concepts and theories are very important to understand and can be helpful. However, they’re no replacement for practical implementation and the ability to adapt. It’s never been more important to continuously learn.
How can we measure our success based on our ability to learn?
I consistently hear the same thing from investors. First, there are only 4 or 5 investable tech companies that come out of San Diego each year. This comment makes me wonder “who’s responsibility is it to create more investable companies?” The answer I hear is “Good entrepreneurs will find a way to make it happen.” Second, capital is efficient and will get to the best opportunities. Yet, when you look at the cap tables of some of the best up and coming companies the majority of their funding has come from out of the area.
Both of these statement have merit however, using this as an excuse to not participate in the earliest stages of our ecosystem is short sighted and detrimental. The missing facts are:
1) Good entrepreneurs will also go to where they think they have the best opportunity to succeed.
2) Outside capital doesn’t get redeployed in the ecosystem after a successful outcome. This makes for a very challenging startup environment.
3) Exits are not the only way for companies to add value to a community.
From entrepreneurs the two things we hear are. First, there’s not enough local investment dollars to go around. Second, it’s hard to find good talent here. There’s a second job syndrome that prevents someone from taking a good job offer because of concerns that there are limited opportunities in the area if things don’t work out.
Again, good merit to both statements. However, we know that there are some active investors in the community and capital is efficient. Right? We also have the military bases and a top computer science programs right in our back yard. Where’s the talent all go? The most common answer is “back home.” .
How can we measure the success of our ecosystem based on the quality of support for entrepreneurs?
Politics get in the way of governing. It’s impossible for any one politician to know everything there is about their district. They must rely on others to help them understand as well as rely on the support of others to help them get elected. The programs created to resolve the issues of the past don’t fit in the world of constant rapid change. We need to find ways to be more versatile and still keep the accountability and measurable outcomes required to promote the outcomes to constituents.
Applying the old solution to a new problem in a different way isn’t going to solve the current problem. The greatest challenge is that our government officials have a set of solutions that have been applied in a certain way so they know it’s OK to use them. Changing the way those work opens up an all new set of questions that can be hard to address. They want to help, it’s tough to know the best way given the current set of tools at their disposal. If you want to be innovative and the first question you ask is “Where has this successfully been done before?” you’ve missed the point!
How can we create an environment where testing new combinations of innovative ideas is valued and celebrated?
There’s a negative connotation around San Diego for being known as the place that people go when they’re tired of working so hard. There’s a lot of talk about having a good work/life balance. The challenge is this implies the two concepts are opposites that need to be balanced. Why can’t we just live? More and more we understand that they’re both important and that our ability to have experience throughout is key to a positive lifestyle. With today’s focus on healthy living, a cleaner environment, and working well together the current workforce values quality of life at both home and work.
How can we create a positive message around living life?
In a recent talk Dr. Don Norman from the UC San Diego Design Lab said “San Diego isn’t known for great creativity and innovation even though we’re full of it.” Really great things are happening, this highlights the need to celebrate and share our creative community. It’s strange to walk around an urban environment and have most of the public art only on display in tourist areas. With so many blank walls on the sides of buildings, open courtyards, and bland lobbies it’s a wonder anyone thinks of us as being creative.
There’s also a significant divide between the creative and entrepreneurial communities. This is particularly frustrating considering all the different ways the two group could gain value by working together.
How can we be creative and build more interactivity and engagement in our community?
nExT: Part 3 of 5- The Solution