April 09, 2013

"I want to take Brad Feld to Tijuana"

That's what Eric Otterson told me at Brant and Patrick's Book Launch of The Lean Entrepreneur in San Diego.


We'll get to that, but first let me tell you about how I met Eric.

I met Eric 5 years ago through Patrick Luffburrow, a partner at Cooley. Patrick brought Eric into the Web Leaders Collective to see how Cooley could help the startup community in San Diego. The Web Leaders Collective was a group of about 40 startup founders organized by Chuck Longanecker of Digital Telepathy.

If Cooley had just sponsored a meal for the group, I wouldn't be writing this today. But a number of fellow entrepreneurs, including myself, got free legal advice from Patrick, and support from Eric.

Back then the web startup community in San Diego was so fragmented that it was nice to have Eric and Patrick in the room. For the most part, we were all just figuring things out on our own.

So Why Tijuana and Why Now?

For starters there's Tijuana Innovadora, which has become a beacon event for Tijuana, showcasing Tijuana's finest minds and gathering many US leaders including: Steve Wozniak Co-Founder of Apple, Blake Mycoskie founder of Toms, Biz Stone Co-Founder of Twitter, and Chris Anderson Editor of Wired. Well former Editor because Anderson left Wired Magazine to focus on 3D Robotics with Jordi Muñoz, a Tijuana entrepreneur. 3D Robotics has operations in Tijuana and San Diego.

On the startup scene, Mexican.vc co-founded by David Weekly has become 500 Startups Mexico. And Startup Weekend Mexico and SuperHappyDevHouses are being organized all over the country, with this weekend marking Tijuana's third Startup Weekend.

Why I'm Bullish on Tijuana

So when Eric Otterson said lets make it happen, lets get Brad Feld down to Tijuana, I put my networking hat on.

Olin Hyde of ai-one.com had just written: Why Baja Will Be the Next Big Thing In High-Tech. So I reached out and a few hours later Olin made some introductions that got Mario and me very excited about Tijuana's Tech community.

I skyped with Omar Monroy, a Startup Lawyer, probably the only one in Mexico, and he gave me a run down of all the initiatives in Mexico and Tijuana with traction.

A week later Omar graciously guided Mario and me to Mind Hub, an incubator, just a few minutes from the border. There we met Ulises Elias who shared with us not only Mind Hub's internal startups, but also the government programs ready to support startups. I walked away impressed, but I thought Mind-Hub might be an anomaly.

My hesitation was due to my prior professional experience in Tijuana around 2001-2002 when I did some consulting there as an IT / Network Engineer. Also, I was born into a family with around 100 years of history on both sides of the Tijuana-San Diego border so I spend lots of time in Tijuana and as a consumer I had noticed technology was always a little behind.

The next stop on our tour was the BIT (Baja's Innovation and Technology) Center. A building created with the specific purpose to build and foster the startup community in Tijuana. Mexico's federal government invested 5 Million U.S. dollars in the BIT Center. It's an impressive undertaking.

There we met Sergio Langarica, the president of Canieti, a trade group made up of 1000 companies, including Apple, Foxcom, Microsoft, Sony and more. The BIT Center already is home to a few software and hardware technology companies, and has office space, a conference center, training and meeting rooms, a co-working space, and a free wifi lounge for tech people.

Sergio shared how Baja California, the state government, and the trade organization Canieti are supporting Startups any way they can. Together they've taken a grocery store I used to go to as a kid and made a 5M dollar investment in the future of Tijuana Tech.

Which leads me to Startup Weekend Tijuana's 3rd event this past weekend held at the Bit Center: 67 participants, a great team of Organizers, and 7 Mentors from San Diego and Tijuana. One thing that bodes well for Tijuana is that the teams I spent time with had all validated their ideas, built working prototypes and two of them were out getting feedback from customers who were already using their product. Some of these products deployed involved, Android, iOS, Django, PHP, QR Codes, Payment Gateways, and Raspberry Pi.

I could simply say I was amazed by what I saw, but that's only part of the story. Mario and I were so inspired and motivated by what we experienced that we want to get involved and help grow the startup community in Tijuana.

Two important things I believe are lacking in Tijuana Tech are:

1) An investment community.

2) Awareness of The Lean Startup Movement.

Having said that, the people we met are incredibly talented, speak and write in English professionally and want to build startups. It's early days and Mario and I plan to help out by organizing some Lean Startup Meetups inspired by Brant Coopers's SD Tech Founders Meetup. and I know there's a group that would like to start a Tech Stars Tijuana / Mexico.

Eric Otterson's vision for getting Brad Feld to Tijuana was the spark that kicked off our participation in Tijuana Tech, and it's just the beginning.

We'll be at 2 events this week where Brad's speaking about his latest book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. We'll take all that knowledge and apply it as best we can. And hopefully the next time Brad Feld's in San Diego we can get him down to Tijuana.

Special thanks to Mario for editing and reading through 4 versions of this.