For the young entrepreneurs who work at the vanguard of innovation, there may be no more important topic to address in San Diego these days than the scarcity of venture funding.
While venture funding nationwide has regained most of the ground lost during the Great Recession, the overall mix has been changing and the venture landscape is being reshaped. Venture investments in life sciences startups have fallen nationwide since 2007, while funding for renewable energy and cleantech startups has surged over the same period. Venture funding in San Diego and Seattle has declined, while VC activity in New York has been soaring. Today San Diego has fewer hometown VC firms, fewer deals, and fewer venture dollars invested than it did a decade ago.
So the timing for getting some rock stars of capital together for a public discussion about alternative models of venture funding couldn’t get much better. That’s especially true for the next generation of tech entrepreneurs in San Diego, who have survived in a vacuum of local venture support for Internet and mobile app startups by resorting to guerrilla tactics. Using a lean startup model, they have bootstrapped their startups with the software equivalent of baling wire and duct tape. Yet many of these tech startups will need capital eventually, so Connect and Xconomy have joined forces to bring some renowned investors (several of whom happen to be great musicians—read on) to town for the “Rock Stars of Innovation Summit,” set for March 28-29. They will be joined by an all-star lineup of leading researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors from San Diego itself.
You can find out more about the speakers, agenda, and register for the Rock Stars of Innovation Summit here. Among our keynoters are Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs; noted innovation visionary Juan Enriquez of Excel Venture Management; Internet pioneer Larry Smarr of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (CalIT2), Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute; John Reed, CEO of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute; Rich Levandov, managing director of Avalon Ventures; and what promises to be really interesting: A presentation that explores the differing views of founding innovators and investors by Sapphire Energy co-founders Steve Briggs and CEO Jason Pyle.
One of the key topics on the agenda is alternative investment models. On this subject, we have Jason Mendelson, a co-founder and managing director of the Boulder, CO-based Foundry Group, a venture firm that helped trigger a boom among Internet-software startups there. Mendelson was one of four co-founders of TechStars, a startup accelerator program that has expanded from Boulder to Seattle, Boston, New York, and beyond. Mendelson told me recently that TechStars has proven to be model that is relatively easy to franchise, so one question that will likely be raised is whether a similar low-cost accelerator program could work in San Diego.
Joining Mendelson for the discussion will be Scott Kupor, a partner and chief operating officer at Andreesen Horowitz. He will be bringing insights he’s gleaned from the Menlo Park, CA-based venture firm’s investments in such Internet startups as Pinterest, RockMelt, Zynga, Twitter, and Facebook. Rounding out the session will be Chuck McDermott, a general partner in the Boston office of RockPort Capital who is focused on venture investments in cleantech, environmental sustainability, and renewable energy.
In a literal twist, some of these rock stars of innovation also plan to take the stage at the downtown San Diego Hard Rock Hotel for a VC jam session set for the evening of March 28. RockPort Capital’s McDermott will be leading the Chuck McDermott Band in a show hosted by Bill Walton, the San Diego basketball legend and a lifelong Grateful Dead fan. The Foundry Group’s Mendelson, who is lead vocalist of the band Soul Patch, plans to chime in as needed, along with David Cremin of DFJ Frontier.
Just what this mélange of cross-cultural, generation-spanning musicians will sound like is anybody’s guess. I’m thinking, though, that the young entrepreneurs who work at the vanguard of innovation will say it sounds pretty good. Did I say pretty good? I meant really good. Really, really good.
The jam session and hard rock networking event are included as part of the Rock Stars of Innovation Summit. Again, you can get your tickets and more information here. But you better act fast, because it’s unlikely these rock stars will ever play together again.