A Big Crowd and Signs of Increasing VC Activity Mark SD Venture Summit

Xconomy San Diego — 

“Clearly, there’s more activity here today than there was a year or two ago,” Dave Titus said as he was making final preparations for today’s San Diego Venture Group Summit. As a litmus test for San Diego’s innovation economy, the signals coming out of the annual event were all green. More than 640 people registered, including 125 VC investors, for a half-day display of 30 local “cool companies,” a VC panel discussion, and two out-of-town speakers.

San Diego’s startup scene remains a far cry from Silicon Valley, concedes Titus, an erstwhile VC who became president of the San Diego Venture Group (SDVG) last year. He says the tech culture is different here. “We tend to do more of the stuff that you can’t do in 90 days,” says Titus, alluding to the rapid rollout of Web 2.0 and mobile apps for consumers in the Bay Area.

San Diego’s startups seem to focus more on infrastructure technologies and business-to-business markets, but Titus says even the consumer-facing startups take longer to grow here. For example, TakeLessons.com, which provides a Web-based service for booking music lessons, has required years to develop software, expand into 2,800 cities, raise $6 million in venture capital, and hire over 100 employees.

Still, there are signs of increasing tech activity throughout the region.

—Kathleen Warner, the chief operating officer of the Startup America Partnership, is scheduled to be at the UC San Diego Rady School of Management at 9 am Saturday to inaugurate the San Diego Regional Chapter of its affiliated Startup California project. (Free online registration is here.)  The White House launched the Startup America Partnership earlier this year “to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation.” The free half-day program at UCSD, which is open to entrepreneurs, students, and others, features local entrepreneurs and speakers from San Jose, CA-based eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) and Culver City, CA-based Magento.

—The number of local groups focused on forming new tech startups and supporting entrepreneurs has been proliferating. The list includes grassroots networking groups like San Diego Tech Founders, SD Tech Launch, Bootstrappers Breakfast, Startup Circle, San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange (SDEE), the San Diego Biotechnology Network (SDBN), entrepreneurial boot camps like the Founder Institute, occasional social events like SD Tech Scene, dedicated space for entrepreneurs at the Co-Merge Workplace, and a variety of hackathons and meetups.

—SDVG’s Titus highlighted a pickup in local VC activity (if not actual venture investments) that includes the formation of Correlation Ventures, Moore Venture Partners, BioMed Ventures (although I could find no information about BioMed Ventures online), and a venture fund affiliated with the West Wireless Health Institute. Titus also noted that a few partners with out-of-town venture firms, such as Sigma Ventures and Anthem Venture Partners, are spending more time scouting for deals in San Diego, while other firms, such as Thomas McNerney, have opened second offices here.

—A number of new venture incubators have opened, including the Janssen Labs at San Diego, EvoNexus, the Ansir Innovation Center, and the Zahn Center at San Diego State University. Plans to establish incubators are reportedly under way at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Institute and elsewhere.

Qualcomm, which formed a partnership with CommNexus to form the QualcommLabs@EvoNexus, revealed this week that it may provide as much as $250,000 in early stage funding to startups admitted into the EvoNexus program. When asked for more details about the funding, a Qualcomm spokesman replied, “Under this program, we are offering the opportunity for one or more companies admitted to EvoNexus to receive funding of up to $250k. In terms of structure, we expect to tailor the funding agreement (type, timing) by company.”

As the Venture Group’s Titus put it during today’s summit, “We are, in fact, making a lot of progress in San Diego.”