Santa Cruz Tech Beat

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Local tech companies need housing to draw talent

By Steve Blum
Tellus Venture Associates
Contributor, Santa Cruz Tech Beat

January 29, 2015 — Seaside, CA

[Editor’s note: To learn more about the MBEP economic summit, read this Monterey Herald article, and view Bud Colligan’s keynote presentation.]

Two hundred regional business and government leaders take part in MBEP’s economic summit.

Housing (or lack) is the highest pain point. Otherwise, it’s like “having your cake and eating it too.”

Talent and attitude are the key to building a high tech economy in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. That’s the message from executives at four of Santa Cruz’s hottest start up companies, speaking at the kick off conference for the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) on Thursday, January 29.

“There’s not a thriving scene of professionals in Santa Cruz yet,” said Carolyn Hughes, VP of talent and culture at Looker. Her company maintains a shared work space in San Francisco, allows employees to work remotely two days a week, and pays for rooms in a local hotel so commuters can work in Santa Cruz the other three. One of the barriers to convincing people to make the move is finding jobs for spouses and partners.

“We have senior folks and the entry level talent, but we’re trying to fill that gap in the middle,” said Keri Waters, COO at Vivo Technology.

Start ups need access to angel funding and venture capital, which is easy to find over the hill. But Silicon Valley investors don’t naturally look to the central coast to find opportunities.

“They don’t see as driven a group of workers as on the other side of the hill,” said Brian McDonald sales VP at PredPol. The area “doesn’t resonate as well with investors.”

Looker has raised a lot of a capital, Hughes said, but “our challenge has been to demonstrate that we can adequately deploy that capital” in Santa Cruz.

“Can Monterey County have it’s own unique culture but still drive growth?” asked Jeremy Almond, CEO of Scotts Valley-based PayStand. “Santa Cruz and Monterey are less about pure work/life balance. It’s a little bit like having your cake and eating it too.”

Infrastructure, particularly the lack of affordable housing, is the biggest barrier to attracting and keeping the people the region needs to fill talent gaps, according to the panelists.

“That’s our highest pain point right now,” Hughes said.

Other infrastructure problems include lack of parking, clogged roads, scarce office space and limited broadband availability.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the problems Santa Cruz start ups are experiencing are problems that come with success. Much of the discussion that followed was about how to repeat Santa Cruz’s success elsewhere in the region, where the supply of resources and infrastructure still exceeds demand.

The goal for the more than 200 regional business and government leaders who took part in the conference, and MBEP’s reason for existing, is to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem. That “starts with research and intellectual property, and then applies talent and capital,” according to Bud Colligan, CEO of South Swell Ventures and MBEP’s co-chair. It’s not about changing the essential nature of the region, but adapting it to the realities – the opportunities – of California’s high tech economy.

“We can either be crushed by the wave or ride the wave,” Colligan said. “I prefer to ride the wave, having been crushed by waves many times.”

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