Build Bridges Not Walls: How Cross Border Initiatives Can Make America Great Again

My two biggest passions in life are entrepreneurship and traveling. One of the reasons I chose to move to San Diego instead of San Francisco or Los Angeles was the proximity of Mexico. I see San Diego, Tijuana and the Baja California region one day being a super economy. The ability to travel, learn about another culture, do international business and practice your Spanish within 30 minutes from San Diego is something that most San Diegans ignore because of the stigma created by the US media. Very few people have this luxury on their doorstep.

In recent news, the US President and Republican party have laid down plans for a wall to be built between the US and Mexico. I’m not a politician so it would be futile to debate this stance. However, as an entrepreneur, I feel it is now my duty (and the duty of every entrepreneur in San Diego and California) to look at how we can build bridges not walls between the US and Mexico. The US sets the example for the rest of the world. The way it encourages an entrepreneurial ecosystem is far more progressive than most countries. So with Tijuana so close, here are a few ideas of how we can collaborate:

1). Launch projects like the Dos Puertas International Trade and Innovation Center 

The project is spearheaded by Carl Nettleton and his plan is to create a place where, for the first time, the border can be seen as a place to come together rather than an obstacle to cross. When I first heard about this, it was described to me as a building that had a virtual borderline running through the middle of it. Mexicans and Americans could effectively be collaborating freely and working on big ideas.

2). Stage more events like Tijuana Innovodora

Tijuana Innovodora Creativa 2016 brought elected officials from both sides of the border to Tijuana’s World Trade Center. They celebrated Tijuana’s potential and the broader cross border region.The eight day event brought creatives, startups and food trucks together for a cultural melting pot. Mayor of San Diego Kevin Faulconer is one of many prominent officials that is championing Tijuana and has even looked at teaming up with Tijuana¬†to make it a bi-national event with San Diego.

3). Introduce More Foreign Exchange Programs

When I attended the Mind Hub Demo Day at the San Diego Downtown Library, I was blown away. Here was a Tijuana company bringing the startups it was incubating to a foreign country, getting them up on stage to pitch (in English not their native Spanish) and then getting useful feedback from startup people. It made me think, why aren’t there more programs for US startups to go to Tijuana, learn Spanish and then pitch in Tijuana? What an incredible experience and a way to truly broaden your mind.

4). Create More Micro Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

When I visited Estación Federal in December 2016 for a posada (a fiesta loosely based on a traditional Christmas celebration), I saw something really interesting. Imagine a vibrant neighborhood that had been reduced to the size of a block. Now imagine a mini co-working space, restaurant, coffee shop and galleries then throw a communal area in the middle and you have this creative space. This model needs to be adopted in San Diego to create micro hubs for entrepreneurs to thrive.

5). Consider Mexico For Manufacturing 

You may be used to seeing “Made In China” on most products you find in US retailers but¬†“Hecho En Mexico” (made in Mexico) is on the rise. Factories in Mexico are competing with Chinese factories and causing them to close. The other benefit of partnering with a Mexican factory is that you are on the same time zone, can drive to it to oversee production and have similar labor costs as you would in China. Your product can also be shipped and arrive much faster. If you also have a factory in the US, you can invite Mexican employees to the US to learn from the American employees and vice versa.

6). Launch Cross Border Investment Funds 

Why focus where everyone else is looking (Silicon Valley) when you can invest in Tijuana startups? If you back Silicon Valley startups, the high cost of living up there, high cost of team members  and operating costs will mean your investment will need to be much higher and will not go far. Plus, competition for equity will be sky high. With an exchange rate of $1 to 20 pesos, investing in Tijuana means your dollar is stretched so much further. If you can then help them launch their products in the US market, your return would be good.

What are your thoughts on these concepts? 

san diego aerial photo padres baseball ballpark

With A Little More Weird San Diego Can Become One of The Biggest Startup Hubs In The World

I moved to San Diego in the summer of 2016 because I saw a lot of unrealized potential. Cities like Austin (where I lived for 4.5 years), Miami, Las Vegas and Denver had become hotbeds of startup activity but Austin felt as if it was saturated and had already hit its peak. I needed a change and San Diego was it.

Reading The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School For Startups¬†by Randall Stross, I came across an interesting section where Y Combinator’s Founder Paul Graham talks about startup hubs and how they are formed. “I think you only need two kinds of people to create a technology hub: rich people and nerds,” said Graham. “Nerds congregate in places that host a leading department of computer science and also places that tolerate oddness because smart people by definition have odd ideas.”

It suddenly made me think, with a little more weird (it worked for Austin) and increased attention on computer science programs at the colleges, San Diego could become a magnet for hackers. The result: a world class startup hub. Here are the reasons why I think San Diego can become one of the biggest startup hubs in the world:

1). The startup scene is growing fast

San Diego Startup Week¬†has grown at a rapid rate. With 2016’s event¬†attracting 3000+ attendees and hosting 150+ events over 5 days, 2017 will top this. Startup Week is from June 19th-23rd. Use #SDSW.¬†Startup Convergence is a mini startup week which takes place from January 24th-27th.¬†San Diego is known for biotech and the US Navy but its startup community (especially in tech) is growing fast. Co-working spaces, an exodus of entrepreneurs from San Francisco and more investors moving to the area are other factors that will aid in San Diego’s rise.

2). There are lots of rich people

California is an expensive state to live in and San Diego is one of the most expensive cities in the US. The result: lots of rich people congregating in the same area. When you realize that the rich rattle their jewelry instead of applauding, you know there’s startup capital up for grabs.

2). It is cheaper than San Francisco

A lot of tech startups are attracted to San Francisco but leave quickly when they realize they have to sell their house, car and soul just to get a studio apartment 10 miles from downtown.

3). There is less pollution than Los Angeles

Ever flown into LAX and thought there was a storm rolling in? That’s the smog caused from the never-ending traffic jams and congestion in the city. Breathe that in on a daily basis, and you’ll be dreaming about surfing in San Diego fast.

4). Tijuana is next door

About 10 years ago,”TJ” as locals call it, was not the safest place to go. Gang violence escalated and drug smuggling was at its peak. Well, Tijuana in 2017 is a different story. You will probably find the best tacos you have ever eaten south of the border, Avenida Revolucion is like the Gaslamp District on steroids and the people are super friendly.¬†If you want to pay a third of the price for everything and party like a king, TJ is the place for you. They also have a sports team that wins things (sorry Chargers and Padres!). Their soccer team – Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente or “The Xolos” – play at Estadio Caliente and the atmosphere is electric. TJ’s startup scene is also blossoming and Tijuana is becoming attractive to early stage startups that cannot afford the high costs of web development in California. The MindHub tech incubator is in a great position to capitalize on this.¬†If you want to practice your Spanish, experience a completely different culture and keep an eye on your website or app, TJ is only 14 miles away and a quick stroll across the border crossing. Cross border initiatives are also trending so look out for San Diego/Tijuana partnerships coming soon.

5). The weather is so perfect, the weather presenters often talk about other stuff!

When the weather is sunny with blue skies and 75F for most of the year, you never have to worry about missing out on the great weather. If you are working on a startup, the hours can be grueling for the first 1-2 years and you spend a lot of time inside. Whenever you need a timeout or a weekend to recharge, get a dose of vitamin D courtesy of SD’s rays. Better than San Francisco’s chilly summers and fog!

6). There is weird. We just need more of it!

Hackers and startup people are weird. They think differently. They need to see things that are different not gentrified areas with dozens of Targets and Starbucks (more Dark Horse Coffee please!). There are areas around Balboa Park that could fall into the weird category (Normal Heights, North Park, Barrio Logan and Golden Hill). But we need more of it. Austin and Portland share taglines – “Keep Austin Weird” and “Keep Portland Weird”. Maybe we should “Keep San Diego Strange”.

7). With the vote against the Chargers stadium, can the $1.8 billion money be used to fund startups and create a hub?

As Y Combinator’s Founder Paul Graham notes, “for the price of a football stadium, any town that was decent to live in could make itself one of the biggest startup hubs in the world.” With the city of San Diego voting against the construction of the San Diego Chargers new stadium (which subsequently saw owner Alex Spanos finally move the team to LA), surely that kind of capital could be used to back startups and create a world class startup hub?

8). Our earthquakes are much weaker than up north

When tectonic plates get jiggy and seismic shifts happen, San Francisco and Los Angeles feel them the most. If you don’t like¬†the idea of losing your house because¬†you probably can’t get earthquake insurance, the mild tremors in San Diego might be for you.