Lessons from TechStars’ David Cohen on Building a Startup Culture: 7 Takeaways from the Xconomy San Diego Dinner

When it comes to tech startups—especially in Internet software and app development—San Diego has been adrift in the horse latitudes. That’s the term Spanish mariners had for the waters where the trade winds died out for days and even weeks at a time. Becalmed sailors desperate to gain some headway would heave their horses overboard to reach the New World.

It hasn’t reached that point yet in San Diego, but you would never know that software was once a thriving entrepreneurial community here. Even now, the software sector accounts for more than a third of San Diego’s private technology companies. But as I’ve written previously, it feels as if the local software companies speak different languages. In contrast to the flourishing tech hubs in Seattle, Boston, and New York—not to mention Silicon Valley—San Diego’s software scene is sleepy and indifferent.

Still, there are signs of a freshening breeze.

David Cohen last week at UC San Diego

Scores of new seed-stage startups have begun to emerge throughout the region, including a dozen that just moved into the new EvoNexus incubator in downtown San Diego. These emerging companies are led by young entrepreneurs who view San Diego’s innovation establishment as old-school and irrelevant. They are turning out instead for informal “hackathons” and “meetups.” They tell me they’re yearning for real mentoring by real tech entrepreneurs, and for access to real tech investors who are really investing.

Last week, more than 200 people turned out to hear David Cohen talk at U.C. San Diego about TechStars, the early stage fund and accelerator program for Internet startups that he co-founded with three partners in Boulder, CO, six years ago. Cohen is the CEO, and by any measure, the startup program has been wildly successful.

TechStars enrolled its first 10 Internet startups in 2007, providing as much as $18,000 in seed funding and an intense, three-month mentorship program for each company in exchange for a 6 percent stake. Since then, TechStars has expanded to … Next Page »

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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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