San Diego’s Innovation Establishment Faces Its Own Innovators’ Dilemma

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join the innovation scene in San Diego. He joined Connect, the San Diego Venture Group, and the local chapter of the MIT Enterprise Forum to help mentor entrepreneurs. But he became disillusioned by the caliber of the programs they offered, and by their use of “vanity metrics” (how many startups have graduated or total amount of venture capital raised) instead of evaluating their programs more honestly—and transparently.

The success San Diego achieved in the 1990s spawned multiple nonprofit groups focused on different sectors of innovation. But as the decade wore on, Cooper argues that the local innovation groups began to compete for the limited supply of sponsorship dollars needed to meet their own nonprofit payroll. The sponsors became the customers, and as he puts it, “The entrepreneurs are chased underground, running from endless attempts to monetize them by both the organizations and event sponsors and attendees!”

His disenchantment led him to San Diego Tech Founders, a virtual meetup organization where he has sought to promote the lean startup model and such concepts as viral coefficient, gamification, mobile monetization strategies, and crowdsourcing funding. (At least 220 people have registered to attend a presentation by Brad Feld at a meetup hosted tomorrow evening by the San Diego Tech Founders.)

Cooper’s post, Success and Failure—San Diego Startup Community, has prompted a flurry of responses on his own blog and on San Diego Tech Founders’ Facebook page. The comments include an extended rebuttal from Mark Bowles, a co-founder of San Diego-based EcoATM, who tells Cooper, “You are a much-needed mentor and point of view here in San Diego, but I think collaboration with these existing organization is a better way to accelerate the whole thing.”

If nothing else, he has provoked a worthwhile discussion about San Diego’s startup ecosystem. In the end, though, the question is the same as it was at the beginning: Can San Diego re-invent itself as a capital for innovation?

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

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