“Let me hear your pitch” are the most caring words a startup founder can hear. And though I was a bit shocked and somewhat unprepared, that’s what two of the community leaders behind San Diego Startup Week (SDSW) told me in early 2015. That’s when I first discovered the week-long event, and I was refreshed by the direct, constructive feedback they provided me.
I admit: I’m not afraid to cry during the sad parts of movies. My Girl, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Notebook are full of those tearjerker moments. But I also thought the idea of a “startup community” to be a bit silly. After all, startups are businesses, and businesses compete for market share and so forth. So why would business leaders be so inclined as to help out one another? Because they get back so much more than they give.
When SDSW leaders Austin Neudecker and Tim Ryan asked to hear my pitch, I fast discovered a part of San Diego that I had never known in the 14 years I called it home: a genuine desire to support individuals building startups in San Diego. Our conversation caused me to look closer at SDSW and Startup San Diego, the nonprofit they were building to represent the interests of entrepreneurs, celebrate successes, and foster a cohesive and collaborative community.
The startup I was working on, Ideator, decided to sponsor SDSW 2015 and host the Kickoff and the Finals for an idea competition. This is when we launched Ideator and introduced our software product to the world, using our platform to manage the idea competition. Throughout the week, we received more than 50 submissions, brought in a panel of expert judges, and gave away cash prizes.
Not only did we host two successful events, we also found and hired our first Community Manager and made deep, meaningful connections within the startup community. This momentum helped us to introduce several educational institutions to Ideator, and it has since become the innovation network platform used by UCSD, UCLA, USC, Yale, Salesforce, and several other large organizations.
While I exited Ideator in 2016, I am still committed to bringing value to the startup community. In January 2017, I was ready to give back, and I attended a volunteer rally where I was named the Head of Finance for SDSW. Shortly thereafter, I was voted in as the Board Treasurer, and I have deeply enjoyed contributing my knowledge and expertise. For the first time in five years, SDSW didn’t depend on volunteer donations to finance its production. I also helped create the #1st Mondays Networking Mixer, which has been attracting international startup founders and building the community.
Finally, I have found my home, and I have been converted. How could anyone not love the San Diego startup community? Afterall, the motto of the County of San Diego is: “The noblest motive is the public good.” Yes, we have great beaches, research institutions, and quite a bit more. But San Diego is also full of founders who know that we’re stronger together. So don’t be afraid to try something new, to start something new, or to share it. Any genuine feedback cannot hurt you, but rather make you stronger.