State of Startup Businesses in San Diego: Discussion Panel

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Dow Gabriela Dow of San Diego Startup Circle[/caption]

Startup businesses are a crucial element in San Diego’s economy. How do individuals with solid business models and innovative ideas go about starting an original business? Well, that is where entrepreneurship comes into play. San Diego Startup Circle’s Robert Reyes and Gabriela Dow led a forum at Mintz Levin Law Firm last night, November 15 regarding key facets to performing as a startup business.

Reyes kicked off the forum, but panelists Michael Limbrizi, Ping Wang, Kathryn Cloward, and Jed Sundwall all offered some perspective on what it takes for businesses to succeed, as well as the current direction of startups in San Diego.

“Entrepreneurs need to select businesses based on principles of collaboration, innovation, and trust,” said Reyes. “As for-profit businesses, we must foster a culture of ‘giving back’ to the community.”

Regarding giving back to the community, Reyes felt they should do so utilizing research-based solutions and approaches. He further mentioned their involvement in bringing government into the discussion of entrepreneurship, citing the Co-Merge mayoral forums, as well as current Mayor Jerry Sanders’ prior business discussions at the community workspace.

Gabriela Dow touched on spending a day with the Startup America Partnership, which was founded with the Obama Administration as a main partner. Launched at the White House in January of 2011, the Ewing Kauffman Foundation and Case Foundation provided the initial funding for the partnership. Though the the partnership is not overseen or funded by the Federal Government, they are dedicated to helping Startup Champions create ecosystems in every state that will be beneficial to startup businesses.

Dow continued about Startup Circle’s five year goal. This goal included, but was not limited to, the continuation of partnerships with universities and community colleges, encouragement of 250 students to create startups after graduation, continued work with the French and Swedish Chambers of Commerce, and the promotion of startups lead by at least fifty percent women.

“We’re looking at the main point that we are trying to accomplish, and what our visions for the specified areas in which we are working are,” Dow elaborated.

First on the panel of entrepreneurs was Michael Limbrizi, founder and inventor of ecoATM, who has been involved in “seven or eight startups” in his career. Beginning his professional life in the Navy, Limbrizi shortly thereafter became involved in “serial startups,” or finding several businesses he felt would had a strong business model and becoming heavily invested in those businesses. He advised the audience that one of his partners in a new business venture had found him on LinkedIn, approached him about the idea, and asked if he would be interested.

“This deal was really about a service,” said Limbrizi, who then expelled some observations that paralleled his experience with past startups:

“1)Work hard to not spend money, and get people to do things for free. Everyone around this table has ‘skin in the game,’ and all one really has is their time. You have to ask (in regards to labor), ‘What will you do for me for free?’ You have to find out ways to find out ways to ‘bootstrap,’  and a major goal is to build your product and first generation platform. Offer equity or other incentives to customers as well. It is ideal to start with a service where: one – you can charge (have value), and two – you place the most focus on your business model and how you make money.

2) Don’t assume you can’t approach companies for funding. You should fund through strategic relationships, with investors that see value in your company.”

Reyes then posed the question to Limbrizi, “In the space you are in, what is about a business you saw that made it interesting?”

Limbrizi responded that one of his co-founders is extremely passionate about music, is a composer, and is also involved in writing. He added that he saw him completing a whole orchestra with musicians he had found on Craigslist. Limbrizi admitted that he had success himself, but that ultimately it came down to passion and a maintaining a positive business model.

Next to speak on the panel was Ping Wang of the Ansir Innovation Center.

Wang said of San Diego, “We pride ourselves in the diversity of the area. I come from a multicultural background. I was ‘made in Taiwan,’ moved to Central America, grew up in Texas, then California, attended Chula Vista High, and received my secondary education in the Bay Area.”

He further felt that his multinational and multidisciplinary background, and ideas that combine them all rightfully adds up to what he refers to as “multisector.”

“San Diego is multinational, and has been referred to as a geographical ‘cul-de-sac’ in the United States. There is a wealth of talent in the software engineering field in Mexico. In regards to multidisciplines, take a look at San Diego, with its strengths in wireless, biotech, and software and web development. Sony has headquarters in Rancho Bernardo, so how do we take advantage of these major multidisciplines?

Being multi sectional, and through mixing models, how can we better synergize and work together? We need to think beyond the realms of different boundaries, and I feel we are very well positioned to do so. Venture manufacturing is something I am trying to push here, as I happen to have a manufacturing group fielding over 200 different products. The problem is we don’t have a $1 billion budget. As a manufacturer, Why not operate as a venture capitalist?”

Jed Sundwall of Measured Voice then spoke about utilizing social media as a management tool for government entities. Sundwall said:

“My company asked, ‘How about we have an approval process in using social media as an outlet?’ Social media is designed to get individuals addicted to services, and organizations aren’t like that. One of the perils of ‘bootstrapping’ in my field is that creating great software takes a ton of time. We have complete control over what we do, as the social media message will not change. I like to say that Paul Revere composed a famous Tweet, ‘One if by land, two if by sea.’ I think he would have simply tweeted ‘by land’ though.”

Kathryn Cloward, of Natural Kidz Inc. and Kandon Unlimited Inc. spoke of her new program coming out this new year – her passion project involving children’s books.

“I am looking to build up ‘Kathryn the Grape’ (her children’s book character), which would be similar to Dora the Explorer. I am a serial entrepreneur, and at my first company I built it to $16 million in sales in six years. I had a child, things changed, and I was not interested in what I was doing anymore. You really should target your passion and purpose. Lead your business intuitively, and always ask for a better price.”

The night ended with a brief question and answer period, of which questions focused primarily on self investment in projects, as well as offering employees equity in a company. The Startup Circle will be hosting several similar entrepreneurial forums throughout the months of November and December, and throughout the New Year.