San Diego’s EvoNexus Eyes Downtown Move and Expansion

EvoNexus, the free incubator founded in San Diego more than two years ago by CommNexus, the non-profit technology industry group, is evaluating a move that would significantly expand the scale of its operations.

Kevin Hell, who stepped in nine months ago as part-time chairman of the incubator’s oversight committee, tells me “the infrastructure is in place” to move EvoNexus to an office tower in downtown San Diego.

In its fourth-floor suite in one of the Irvine Company’s Executive Square towers in San Diego’s University City neighborhood, the pro bono incubator currently has room for only eight or nine early stage startups. By moving downtown, though, EvoNexus could occupy one entire floor of a downtown commercial high-rise—enough room for the incubator to double or even triple the number of startups in its clutch, Hell says.

Moving downtown is appealing because Hell wants EvoNexus to host more startups developing mobile apps and Internet software. The downtown locale includes the restaurants, coffee shops, and nightlife of San Diego’s downtown Gaslamp District, and local startups like SweetLabs, MindTouch, and the FLUD already have established offices there. Hell sees it as a more vibrant and attractive area for young tech entrepreneurs than the semi-suburban commercial office developments that have spread throughout Sorrento Valley and the northern tier of San Diego County.

Kevin Hell

Hell cautions that the 13-member EvoNexus oversight committee is still evaluating the change, and that budgeting and other issues remain to be worked out. “Timing is still to be determined,” Hell says, but if plans progress as expected, EvoNexus could move downtown before the end of this year.

CommNexus founded the incubator in mid-2009 in part to counter the effects of the wrenching economic downturn that hit the previous year. For startups admitted to the program, EvoNexus provides free and fully furnished office space, utilities, Internet access, and business mentoring by local executives and other volunteers. Unlike with most other incubators, there are no strings attached, and the companies that leave have no financial or equity obligations to EvoNexus.

In our 2011 edition of the Xconomy Guide to Venture Incubators, we counted 64 incubators—including EvoNexus—that offer space, equity funding, mentorship, and networking connections to early stage entrepreneurs and their startups throughout the country. Yet San Diego’s EvoNexus is different. “As far as we know, we’re the only pro bono incubator in the country,” says Hell.

Since EvoNexus officially opened in mid-2009, the incubator has received 186 applications from startup entrepreneurs. Of the 14 companies admitted to the program since then, five have “graduated,” a move that usually occurs after a startup raises its Series A round of venture funding, Hell says. Altogether, the five graduates—EcoATM, Pixon Imaging, MicroPower, IO Semiconductor, and Tetra, have raised a total of $39.7 million from venture capital firms, angel investors, and strategic investors, says Hell.

He says moving downtown should help EvoNexus better the odds that the incubator can keep its streak going. He adds, “And we want to revitalize the downtown with these talented software engineers.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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