San Diego Tech Roundup: Startup Week, Planck, TuSimple & More

On the eve of the start of the seventh annual San Diego Startup Week, let’s learn more about the event—which is expected to draw thousands to its talks and gatherings—and take a look at some other recent tech news.

—Local entrepreneurs have dozens of speakers teed up and get-togethers organized for Startup Week, which kicks off Tuesday.

The event, which started out with a few hundred people looking to highlight the region’s relatively nascent startup ecosystem, has morphed into days-long production with dozens of events and thousands of attendees.

Startup Week is produced by Startup San Diego, a nonprofit organization started and run primarily by volunteers. In August, the group named its first full-time executive director, Jarrod Russell. Russell previously headed public affairs for UE.co, a San Diego-based lead generation company formerly called Underground Elephant. He was formerly involved with the Downtown San Diego Partnership and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

This year most of the Startup Week activities are taking place at the San Diego Convention Center. Organizers have also, however, expanded its geographic reach beyond downtown San Diego, adding events in nearby cities in an effort to feature the broad geographic scope of the region’s startup activity. As a uniting message, organizers announced the week’s theme would be “We Are San Diego.”

The group said more than 150 talks, workshops, networking opportunities, and other events are part of this year’s schedule. The content has been slated into four tracks: idea, seed, growth, and San Diego, for those looking to find out more about the local startup scene. The week will kick off Tuesday with events in Tijuana. Later in the week events will also take place in Carlsbad, in the northern portion of San Diego County. Check out the full schedule here.

Tickets cost $119, plus Eventbrite fees. Students and military are eligible for discounted entry.

—Planck Aerosystems, a startup that makes specialized drones, was awarded $25,000 as part of the inaugural year-long Defense Innovation Voucher (DIV) program.

The defense-related startups accepted into the program when it launched last year were each initially awarded $15,000 toward their expansion plans. Then the companies, 15 in total, worked with consultants to figure out how to diversify their revenue streams. Companies in the industry can struggle with sustainability due to the boom-or-bust nature of government contract spending.

The San Diego Regional EDC manages the program, which is primarily funded by a Department of Defense grant.

“Our local defense economy supports one in five jobs, and small businesses represent 98 percent of total companies in our region,” said Mark Cafferty, the San Diego EDC’s president and CEO. “This is why EDC is committed to building programs that promote defense innovation and build resiliency in small and mid-sized businesses.”

Five DIV companies from among the initial group were selected for a pitch competition to determine the winner of the subsequent cash prize. In addition to Planck, EpiSci Science, Fuse Integration, GET Engineering, and Trabus Technologies were finalists.

Dave Twining, COO of Planck Aerosystems, said the company would use the funds to ramp up its marketing efforts.

—Tiled, a local startup that has developed interactive software for sales and marketing communications, raised $1.5 million more in seed financing. The funding round was led by Kickstart Seed Fund, which also led the company’s first seed financing last year. Stage 2 Capital also invested. To date the company has raised about $3.8 million.

The company also announced it had hired Jake Reni, who previously worked for Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) as the head of its Sales Academy, a career acceleration program, to run Tiled’s sales operations. The San Diego-based software startup has 10 full-time employees based at its main office, plus six others who work remotely, including Reni, who is based in Utah, according to the company.

The money will go toward additional hiring for sales, marketing, and engineering, CEO Darrell Swain said in a news release.

“We validated everything we set out to validate with that [2018] financing, including doubling our annual recurring revenue, and we felt it was now time to accelerate our hiring,” he said.

—TuSimple, an autonomous trucking startup that recently raised a $95 million Series D financing round at a valuation of $1 billion, said Tuesday that it would conduct a two-week pilot for the US Postal Service hauling its trailers between cities in the Southwest. The contract is for five round trips over more than 1,000 miles between Phoenix, AZ, and Dallas, TX.

To date TuSimple has been operating in Arizona. It announced plans to expand to Texas earlier this year in conjunction with its Series D funding.

“It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck,” said Xiaodi Hou, TuSimple’s founder, president, and chief technology officer. “Performing for the USPS on this pilot in this particular commercial corridor gives us specific use cases to help us validate our system, and expedite the technological development and commercialization progress.”

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

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