The other day, I spent the morning hanging out with Margaret Rosas, Founder and Chief Strategist at the strategic web consultancy Quiddities. The Santa Cruz Sentinel had just run a story on Margaret and her team (we lovingly call them The Q-Mamas) about how their company—and our town—thrive on collaboration. As we washed coffee cups (a morning ritual at NextSpace), Margaret and I reminisced about the first time we spoke to each other over the phone in October 2007 and how we both lamented the lack of a vibrant, collaborative tech scene here in Santa Cruz. And then we marveled at how far our town and our amazingly innovative tech community have come lately.
So, inspired by my conversation with Margaret, here’s a quick (okay, not so quick!) run-down of what’s happened over the past 18 months regarding the tech scene in Santa Cruz. Please take a look. And if I’ve missed something, please drop a comment and let me know. Meanwhile, I think you’ll be pretty damn impressed with the state of the tech community in Santa Cruz….
It all started on November 30, 2007 with the inaugural Santa Cruz Geek Dinner. Local visionaries Margaret Rosas, Sean Tario, and Sol Lipman decided to put a stake in the ground, gather some talented people, and start building a community. One of the attendees, David Beach, predicted that this dinner would be the first of a series of events that would put Santa Cruz back on the tech map. Beach’s words proved prophetic.Through the Geek Dinners, Beach met Sol Lipman. Together, along with Jakey Knobel, they started 12seconds.tv, the hottest social media start-up on the planet. I think that counts as “putting Santa Cruz back on the tech map.” The Geek Dinners continue to draw dozens of talented Santa Cruzans every month.
Santa Cruz Geeks
Hard on the heels of the Geek Dinners came the Santa Cruz Geeks, a virtual and physical community of local techies. Now over 250 strong, the Geeks form the backbone of the Santa Cruz tech community. Most important, the Geeks prove that this town is chock full of talented, innovative, successful tech professionals who are passionately committed to building great companies in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Design + Innovation Center
January 2008 marked the official launch of the Santa Cruz Design + Innovation Center. Recognizing that Santa Cruz is a hub of world-class design talent, the SCD+IC was formed as an advocacy group to promote that talent to the rest of the world. Over 300 people packed into an auditorium at Plantronics for the SCD+IC’s launch event, proving that the design and technology community in Santa Cruz was hungry for opportunities to organize, network, and collaborate. Aside: Plantronics is one of Santa Cruz’s great home-grown companies. They designed the headset that Neil Armstrong wore on the moon in 1969 and have been designing great products in Santa Cruz ever since.Rockstar/Boy-Genius Darrin Caddes is Plantronics VP of Design and is a huge (and remarkably humble) fixture in the Santa Cruz tech scene.
Santa Cruz New Technology Alliance MeetUp
Another local visionary, Doug Erickson, started the Santa Cruz New Tech Alliance MeetUp in February 2008. Like many of us in Santa Cruz, Doug has deep professional connections in Silicon Valley. But he knew very few of his fellow Santa Cruzans. Yet, he had a pretty strong hunch that there was a community-in-waiting of local techies in this town. So Doug started the New Tech MeetUp. He had three goals: create a monthly networking event for Santa Cruz high tech professionals, increase our exposure to new technologies that would tickle our geek gears, and stimulate beachhead startups. With humble beginnings (39 attendees crammed into the police department’s community room with no Internet access), Doug has grown the MeetUp into an organization nearly 600 strong.
Approval of the Delaware Addition
In July 2008, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously approved the Delaware Addition project. Designed by local architect Mark Primack and spearheaded by Craig French from Redtree Properties, this 20 acre, LEED-certified, mixed-use, live/work development on the city’s Westside will provide the infrastructure that the next generation of Santa Cruz companies will need. Most important, the approval of Delaware Addition is the first major piece of public policy indicating that this community understands the direction that the local economy is heading: towards smaller, collaborative, environmentally-minded, high-tech businesses.
For a long time, the Santa Cruz tech scene has been famously decentralized. Many Santa Cruzans work as consultants, independent contractors, or telecommuters for larger companies in Silicon Valley and throughout the rest of the world. But independents lack opportunities for community, collaboration, and connection. So Shane Pearlman and Peter Chester (they run a company called, you guessed it, Shane & Peter, Inc.) decided to herd the cats. In August 2008, they hosted Freelance Camp for over 125 freelancers and independent consultants. This barcamp-style unconference provided yet another community-building opportunity as local freelancers shared ideas on how to run a one-person shop. Even better, Freelance Camp has become a home-grown national phenomenon, with similar conferences popping up in places like Miami, Houston, and Austin. Hey, just one more step in putting Santa Cruz back on the tech map.
Digital Media Factory
Santa Cruz is building a new digital information industry. And Marty Collins, CEO of the Digital Media Factory and thirty-year industry veteran, is leading the charge. In Marty’s words, “the Digital Media Factory is a multi-business facility for the design, development, production, replication, management, and distribution of digital information products.” In my words, DMF is pure genius. Why? Because Marty believes in community. He’s gathered over a dozen digital media businesses under one roof to share resources, talent, and opportunities. Even more important, Marty is leveraging the immense talent pool at UC Santa Cruz. He’s developed partnerships with UC Santa Cruz’s Digital Arts and New Media program, as well as the UCSC Baskin School of Engineering. Which brings me to…..
UC Santa Cruz/City of Santa Cruz Legal Settlement
Universities are amazing repositories of talents, ideas, and innovations. From an economic perspective, universities are fertile ground for new companies that can boost the economies of their host cities. Heck, Silicon Valley was practically built by Stanford spin-outs. Why can’t that phenomenon happen with UC Santa Cruz and the City of Santa Cruz? It can. And it will, especially now that the UCSC and the City have stopped suing the bejeezus out of each other over UCSC’s long-range development plan. The legal settlement, announced in August 2008, marks the beginning of what I call “The Great Thaw.” It’s high time for the UCSC to show some leadership in using its pool of talent to help build local business and the local economy. And it’s even higher time for the citizens of Santa Cruz to recognize that UCSC is a tremendous asset to the community, rather than a liability. I’m incredibly optimistic.
NextSpace Grand Opening
Amidst all of this excitement, NextSpace Coworking + Innovation, Inc. officially opened its doors on October 1, 2008. We started with a handful of true-believing early adopters. But in six short months, our community of innovators has grown to over 100 strong. What’s happening at NextSpace? A lot. Take a look at this post on The NextSpace Effect for a quick rundown. Mostly, I want to acknowledge that NextSpace would not be possible without the vision, passion, and hard work of all of the people mentioned in this post.
New media? Old media? The smart ladies at Quiddities think you can have both. They received a Knight News Challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to fund their new project Radio Engage. In their words, Radio Engage is a platform allowing public radio stations to create a web presence that will draw their local community in and invite them to participate through social media. In my words, Radio Engage will totally revolutionize how public radio stations interact with their listeners. Quiddities teamed up with Santa Cruz’s own KUSP as a test platform for Radio Engage. As part of the project, Quiddities hosted Public Media Camp in November 2008, bringing public media and social media experts from around the country to Santa Cruz to discuss the future of public radio. Are you catching the themes that we’re building here: high tech, collaborative, community-based business and innovation.
Pilot Project for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Remember how I said a minute ago that I was incredibly optimistic about the emerging relationship between the City of Santa Cruz and UC Santa Cruz? Here’s the first proof point: The Pilot Project for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Hatched in December 2008 by Bonnie Lipscomb (City of Santa Cruz Director of Economic Development) and Nirvikar Singh (Special Assistant to the Chancellor at UCSC), PPIE brings together undergraduate business teams from UCSC with local business mentors. The first round of projects focused on bicycles and other forms of alternative transportation, a perfect fit for the tech-savvy, sustainability-focused crowd in Santa Cruz.
Launch of CruzBusiness.com
Peter Koht, the economic development coordinator for the City of Santa Cruz, is a man on a mission. Peter knew that the City offered plenty of economic development resources, but those resources were often disparate and hard to find. Seemingly overnight, Peter launched CruzBusiness.com, an interactive, community-based portal for information about starting and sustaining a business in Santa Cruz. Peter’s work is an important step in accomplishing his—and the City’s—mission of recruiting, attracting, and retaining great businesses in Santa Cruz.
The Envision Santa Cruz Summit
In March 2009, Sean Tario (man, that guy is everywhere!) hosted the first Envision Santa Cruz Summit at the UCSC University Center. Sean’s objectives for the Summit were to assemble thought leaders in local entrepreneurship and economic development, to celebrate the amazing companies and resources in Santa Cruz, and to inspire Santa Cruzans to take a more active role in building their local economy. Over 150 people showed up to discuss the economic future of our community. Decades from now, when someone writes a book about the economic history of Santa Cruz, Sean’s summit will definitely be one of the highlights.
Girls in Tech
The latest group on the scene is the Santa Cruz chapter of Girls in Tech. Founded by Seana Sullivan and Victoria Crimmins, this group focuses on “engagement, education and empowerment of like-minded, professional, intelligent and influential women in technology.” Their first event brought author and journalist Sarah Lacy to town. More important, this group provides a much-needed acknowledgement and celebration of the critical contributions that women make to our local tech scene.
UC Santa Cruz Business Plan Competition
Right now, as I type, as you read, 16 business teams from UCSC are going head-to-head in the first-ever UCSC Business Plan Competition. The semi-finals are on April 17, 2009, and the finals are in late May 2009. Local investors, bankers, and business leaders are judging the competition. Remember how I said a minute ago that I was incredibly optimistic about the emerging relationship between the City of Santa Cruz and UC Santa Cruz? The UCSC Business Plan Competition is proof point #2. Stay tuned….
Right, so, that’s the low-down. This has been a long post, mostly because so many cool things are happening in Santa Cruz around high tech, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and community-based economies. We’ve come a long way as a community in the past 18 months. So where are we now? I think the best benchmark is the number of companies that have started up or are ready to scale here in Santa Cruz. Here’s a quick list of just a handful: 12seconds, UserVoice, Pergamum Systems, ProductOps, Intuvo, RideSpring, ZoomPool, Verdafero, Zazengo, Studio Cruz, and Digital Media Factory. Not too shabby for this beautiful, brilliant, creative, innovative little seaside town.
As I said at the top, please comment if I’ve missed something in this lengthy round-up.Meanwhile, what’s next? I have some ideas. What are yours?