Initiative to Boost SoCal’s Startup Scene Teams With GV Founder

A Silicon Valley entrepreneur has set out to boost the startup ecosystem in San Diego and the rest of Southern California—and he already has scored a coup by partnering with Bill Maris, the founder and former CEO of Google Ventures, now known as GV.

Steve Poizner, who sold two of his startups to Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) and served as California Insurance Commissioner a decade ago, has signed a collaboration agreement with a venture fund that Maris founded in suburban San Diego.

Maris raised $160 million last month for the inaugural fund of Section 32, a new venture firm he founded in Encinitas, a coastal community about 30 miles north of San Diego. (He would not disclose investors in the fund.) He has been living in the San Diego area for years, although he has tried to maintain a low profile here.

Poizner said the partnership deal he reached with Section 32 is intended to help seed more startups in the region—and he wants to establish similar collaborations with other elite venture firms. One of his initial goals is to draw more venture capitalists to Southern California in general, and to San Diego in particular. But that’s just the beginning, Poizner said in a recent interview.

As traffic, crime, cost of living, and other conditions “continue to choke the lifeblood” out of Silicon Valley, Poizner said he sees an opportunity for Southern California to “emerge as a tech center on a par with Silicon Valley over the next five years.”

“It’s very clear to me that SV [Silicon Valley] is becoming more and more saturated, and it’s difficult for entrepreneurs to compete with SV titans for talent and office space,” Poizner wrote in a recent e-mail. “So timing is ideal for SoCal to take steps to emerge as a tech hub on par with SV—which if successful, would have a trillion [dollar] impact on our state and country…and good for SV too…”

As a first step toward realizing his vision for Southern California, Poizner has created a nonprofit consortium of universities and research institutes to work together on initiatives for entrepreneurs, venture investors, and innovators throughout Southern California. Under their collaboration agreement, the consortium, officially known as the Alliance for Southern California Innovation, will refer promising startups to Maris and Section 32.

According to a source familiar with the formation of Section 32, the venture firm’s name is a non-infringing nod to the stealthy Section 31 in the science-fiction franchise “Star Trek.” According to Wikipedia, Section 31 is an officially nonexistent autonomous intelligence and defense organization.

In an e-mail Sunday, Maris described Section 32 as a general VC fund that invests across all stages and industries. “I am particularly interested in highly scalable companies disrupting existing industries that are being revolutionized or have yet to be touched by the power of large scale supercomputing (life sciences, agriculture, transportation, etc), and what I call frontier technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine brain interfaces, and the like. But in the end, this business is about the unexpected and not knowing exactly what the next big idea is, which is part of the fun.”

Bill Maris

Bill Maris, founder of venture fund Section 32 and former chief executive officer of GV, formerly Google Ventures, at conference in 2016. (Photo by David Paul Morris used with permission)

While Maris said he will be scouting for startups in San Diego, where he has a special interest, he plans to invest “anywhere on the planet (or beyond) where I see a glimpse of the future and an opportunity to empower positive change and generate returns.”

San Diego has had a strong startup ecosystem, especially in the life sciences. But these days you can count the number of hometown venture firms on one hand. When asked if he sees that as a problem, Maris wrote, “One person’s problem is … 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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