Jason Mendelson, the Elvis of Innovation, Offers Some Lessons for San Diego’s Tech Sector

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infinitely, as the program places a high priority on recruiting “superstar” mentors in each city.

Spencer, who has volunteered in the past to mentor startups here, says San Diego suffers from a lack of such true mentoring. What he saw, Spencer said, were a lot of other mentors who “either had an agenda or were out-of-work CEOs looking for their next job.”

Boulder also has benefited enormously from the energetic efforts of CU’s faculty, Mendelson said. In particular, he cited J. Brad Bernthal, an associate clinical professor of law who leads the Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurship initiative, which is a cross-campus platform that ties itself into the community as well. Some of the programs that Bernthal spearheads include an entrepreneurial law clinic that gives free legal services to startups, crash courses that have industry experts teach the community and students relevant topics for startups, discussion roundtables, and “entrepreneurs unplugged,” where well-known entrepreneurs come to speak regarding their life experiences. All the events are free.

Interestingly, a former adjunct assistant professor in electrical engineering at CU, Tom Lookabaugh, was a leading player in this Rocky Mountain hubbub of activity until he recently relocated to San Diego as the chief technology officer for Entropic Communications (NASDAQ: ENTR).

It’s also possible that the many local organizations that provide entrepreneurship mentoring are contributing to the fragmented nature of tech startups in San Diego. In addition to Connect, which is a kind of umbrella group for entrepreneurship and innovation, the telecom group CommNexus offers events and startup mentoring through its free tech incubator, called EvoNexus. The San Diego Software Industry Council, MIT Enterprise Forum and San Diego Venture Group also offer events and services, along with a few private programs like the Founder Institute and Startup Circle.

In this respect, it might be a mistake for TechStars to join in San Diego’s cacophony of well-intentioned voices for innovation—even if it could expand here. But the right kind of leader could help San Diego’s tech community coalesce around some common goals, Mendelson said. It might be necessary, however, to get all the different stakeholders in one room to talk specifically about the most efficient ways to broaden and energize software and IT innovation in the region.

“I think it’s possible to come up with an executable game plan,” Mendelson said. “And we want to share everything we know with other cities.”

So what’s the next step? It probably begins with getting all the different stakeholders in one room. I’ve asked Mendelson if he’d consider making the trip.

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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