Connect, San Diego Venture Group Announce Plan to Merge Operations

Connect, which runs the San Diego region’s longest-standing accelerator program for early-stage startups, is combining its operations with that of the San Diego Venture Group to form an organization that will be better equipped to support young ventures, the two companies said this week.

Mike Krenn, who became president of SDVG in August of 2014, will become CEO of the merged organization, which will assume the name Connect. The previous Connect president and CEO of five years, Greg McKee, stepped down earlier this year to launch Torrent Ventures, a venture fund. Last month, Connect announced it had named Silvia Mah as its president.

In an announcement Thursday about the merger, Connect and SDVG said Mah would also take on the role of chief operating officer at the combined organization, and lead it with Krenn (pictured above).

“Mike and I share the same value system and know that it takes a village to start and scale a successful startup,” Mah said in a prepared statement.

The move combines Connect’s reputation for supporting early-stage companies through Springboard, its accelerator program, and SDVG’s connections to tech investors, to whom it aims to tout the local startups ready for outside investment. The deal also more tightly links Connect’s ties with the region’s early-stage life sciences community with SDVG’s tech connections.

While San Diego’s tech ecosystem has seen increasing activity in recent years, the entrepreneurial community has struggled to capture the attention of venture capitalists, most of whom are based in San Francisco and other areas with more startup activity. That being said, tech companies raised the majority of the nearly half a billion dollars in VC funding that all San Diego companies raked in during the first quarter of this year, according to an EY report that cited Crunchbase data.

SDVG, however, has managed to connect some of those out-of-town investors with local companies seeking funding. Annually, it names about 30 startups to its “Cool Companies” list, and brings those companies—which it considers ready for venture investment—face-to-face with investors at a private meet-and-greet. It also highlights the companies at its yearly Venture Summit, which it bills as Southern California’s largest gathering of VCs. In recent years, Dafina Toncheva, a partner at US Venture Partners, and Bill Maris, who heads Section 32, have keynoted the event.

Ashok Kamal, who heads the San Diego chapter of Tech Coast Angels, its largest and most active, described the merger as an example of the collaborative nature of the region’s maturing startup economy.

“Silvia and Mike are respected leaders, individually and organizationally, who embody this spirit of San Diego,” Kamal said.

Krenn, a founder of Tech Coast Angels, has helped more than 50 companies collectively raise more than $200 million in startup capital. He’s also done a stint as a chief operating officer and vice president at a tech startup. His ties with Connect are longstanding, having previously served on its board of directors.

Mah, an investor and entrepreneur, is the founder of Hera Labs, a business accelerator for women-led companies, and a founding partner of Ad Astra Ventures, a business accelerator for female entrepreneurs that provides companies with funding as well as programming.

Adding the three-person SDVG staff to Connect will bring the headcount at the new organization to 12. The combined Connect group has moved into a new space, 4110 Campus Point Court, in La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Mesa. The two-story building is also home to LunaDNA, a genomics startup.

“Connect has traditionally focused on helping those promising entrepreneurs to be investment ready and grow in ways that benefit the regional economy,” said Tim Scott, Connect’s executive chairman, in a prepared statement. “San Diego Venture Group has done a superb job of facilitating entrepreneurs on their journey to securing capital and as a combined team, Connect with SDVG will be focused on supporting the entrepreneurial journey from idea to a successful enterprise.”

Sarah de Crescenzo is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can reach her at sdecrescenzo@xconomy.com. Follow @sarahdc

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