Community

New Tech in Santa Cruz: a Q&A with Doug Erickson

By NextSpace on Apr. 25, 2017

Written by Cat Johnson

When Doug Erickson started the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup nine years ago, he had to beg friends to attend. Now the monthly event attracts hundreds of people all interested in learning about the latest tech offerings and connecting with fellow tech enthusiasts and professionals.

I chatted with Erickson about how the tech ecosystem in Santa Cruz has changed in recent years, why Santa Cruz is a great place to launch a tech company, and the impact that the New Tech Meetup has had on our local scene. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Cat Johnson: How are things going with the New Tech Meetup?

It’s going really well. We had close to 400 people at the last event. There are a lot of new companies, a lot of people offering jobs. We had a new segment called Fireside Chat. We had Hap Klopp, the founder and CEO of The North Face there. He’s an intensely interesting person who has accomplished so much in his life.

How has the new tech scene in Santa Cruz changed in the last few years?

In the early days, the Meetup was mostly people standing up saying they were looking for work. Now, every single Meetup, we see anywhere from four to ten companies get up and say, “We’re hiring.” They’re looking for marketing or sales or engineering. A lot of people are trying to hire people in Santa Cruz to work for their Santa Cruz-based companies.

We also see that within the tech ecosystem, all the gears seem to be meshing really well. When NextSpace first opened, we held a couple of events there and we had what we thought was big crowd of maybe 40 people. We had interesting companies come up and talk. For example, one guy told a story that his wife said he had a bad memory and he couldn’t remember what the great wine they had at an event was, so he created a small company to keep track of everything. It’s called Evernote. Now, Evernote has become a massively big company.

Everything’s meshing together now. We’ve got UCSC, with Sue Carter and CIED (Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development) starting to build the incubators and helping connect students to the community. They’re working with Santa Cruz Works on an accelerator and incubator. Hack UCSC, which started four years ago, has grown to over 600 participants per year. It’s meshing with Santa Cruz Economic Development really well, which continues to support us because part of the New Tech Meetup is really helping grow the economy here.

We’ve got a multitude of angel investors now, from Central Coast Angels to Angels by the Sea, Sand Hill Angels, and private angels, like Toby Corey from Tesla/Solar City, all trying to build the community. And coworking spaces like NextSpace and Cruzio are doing extremely well. I think we’re in a wonderful, flourishing moment of Santa Cruz.

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What kind of impact do you think the New Tech Meetup has on Santa Cruz tech and what’s happening here?

It’s a place where tech professionals can meet their peers once a month to find out what’s going on in Santa Cruz. They learn about new gigs and possibly get inspired to create their own business. It sparks that entrepreneurial flame. It’s where we connect people with a good idea or startup with some of the angels, or help them find additional resources, such as IP lawyers or business accountants. It’s just a hub where everybody can get together and find out what’s going on.

What are some of the benefits of creating new tech in Santa Cruz?

Being a smaller community helps people network. You get to meet a lot of the players. I’ve been to Meetups in Palo Alto and San Francisco that are such massively huge networking events that it’s hard to navigate and understand how all the pieces fit together.

A smaller community is very beneficial. The fact that we’ve got seasoned tech professionals here that have suffered Highway 17 for the past 20 years, but have really built up their knowledge and their network and their ability to support their community, is very beneficial.

What are some of the disadvantages?

There still aren’t enough jobs for everybody. Of the 22,000 people that are crossing over the hill daily to Silicon Valley, there simply aren’t that many jobs here in Santa Cruz.

But Ryan from Inboard moved his company here from North Carolina specifically because he wanted to be in a smaller community that’s near Silicon Valley, but not in Silicon Valley. He wanted to be in the heart of an area where our sports industry is a global player, with companies like O’Neill, Santa Cruz Bikes, Santa Cruz Skateboards and West Marine. We’re known for developing a lot of the sports tech industry.

The advantage of being here is that we’re a small community, but there still aren’t that many jobs to go around.

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What are some of the most exciting tech projects you see coming?

Calliope is really interesting, with Keri Waters. She has taken the concept of a product they’re calling Buoy, which attaches to the residential side of a water main and sends data back to your phone or computer about water use and alerts you if there are leaks. She has closed deals with two major, global names for distribution. She has investments from very large entities. She’s building a company that’s relevant right now.

Inboard is another. They’ve really gone places with their skateboard that has the motor inside the wheel. Onewheel is just killing it, as well. We all know that Looker has broken out of the earth’s gravity. They’re destined to be stars. Outsite started here, they're doing really well. They’ve got five places around the world now for business travel and lodging.

Anything you’d like to add?

I love this place. It’s a great place to live. Average surf guys and gals make it fun to live here.

NextSpace has helped launch countless tech projects and businesses in Santa Cruz, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. To learn more and schedule a tour, contact us at nextspace.us.

Photos courtesy of Doug Erickson

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