EvoNexus Demo Day Draws Crowd as Incubator Gets Bigger, Better

A little more than five years ago, CommNexus CEO Rory Moore called a news conference outside the former Leap Wireless headquarters to announce the formation of a pro-bono, non-profit incubator for San Diego tech startups. At that time, venture funding in San Diego was in critical condition—especially in the tech sector—and Moore acknowledged that “it’s miserably hard for a company to get funded in the seed round here.”

Since then the EvoNexus program has expanded beyond its initial focus on telecommunications startups, and evolved as a startup incubator to become the biggest and probably the most visible beehive of startup activity in the San Diego region.

Moore has been able to sustain the no-strings-attached program—EvoNexus startups do not have to give up equity—by drawing financial support from CommNexus member companies, including Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO), and especially the privately held Irvine Company, which is now providing free office space for a third EvoNexus incubator in Irvine, CA.

Moore has a series of statistics that he proudly cites whenever he gets an opportunity: His latest update shows a total of 826 startups have applied to get into EvoNexus; 68 were accepted and 58 are still active; over 1,000 jobs were created; and companies have amassed $573 million in total venture funding and acquisition outcomes (a one-of-a-kind statistic that conflates investments and exits as “total money raised” by EvoNexus companies).

He also notes that seven EvoNexus companies have been acquired since 2009—Qualcomm acquired Fatskunk; Silanna Semiconductor bought IO Semiconductor; DigitalGlobe took over Tomnod; Total Transit purchased GoFastCab; Five9 acquired Hold Free Networks, and Outerwall (aka Coinstar) got EcoATM. Financial terms were not disclosed in some cases, but the biggest so far was Outerwall’s $350 million payout last year for EcoATM, which created sophisticated kiosks that enable consumers to recycle cell phones and other mobile devices.

Demo Day at EvoNexus (photo courtesy of EvoNexus)

Demo Day at EvoNexus (photo courtesy of EvoNexus)

In the early going, the big drawback at EvoNexus was a lack of a mentoring program, or even experienced startup veterans to mentor startup founders—which has been key to the success of accelerators like Y Combinator and Techstars. But over the past couple of years, a strong grassroots effort by local volunteers has helped to mitigate this shortcoming—and a core team of EvoNexus staffers has worked hard to improve other aspects of the EvoNexus program.

Perhaps the most telling EvoNexus statistic, though, was the standing-room-only turnout for the incubator’s second … 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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