Santa Barbara and the Central Coast Connection
Centered between steep mountains and the Pacific lays a hidden gem. This area is full of hidden talents, melodiously flourishing discretely next to LA, an area known for its hustle and bustle. In a collaborative paradise, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties comprise of incubators and professionals ready to work and develop innovative ideas. These are small communities set in a vast beach setting, which makes for the perfect relaxed location as a breeding ground for ideas to be thought of, built upon, and nourished in order to reach their fullest potential. Yet, it remains a secret.
To get to the bottom of this “Entrepreneurial Underground” as Michael Holliday, C.E.O. of Synergy would call it; we sat down with the Central Coast’s top entrepreneurial leaders to help us paint a picture of what the entrepreneurial environment looked like. Peter Hartman, principle of Anderson Financial Solutions and Insurance Services, was the one that helped us get this meeting together. Here is a list of the talent that’s creating the entrepreneurial community through collaboration in the Central Coast:
JOEY BRIGLIO: Senior planner of the economic development division in Ventura/Director of Ventura Ventures Technology Center
PETER HARTMAN: Principle of Anderson Financial Solutions and Insurance Services
MIKE PANESIS: President of the Central Coast Network at Tech Coast Angels/Current Technology Program manager at UC Santa Barbara
KYLE ASHBY: Marketing Executive and Consultant at Kaldera Marketing/Instructor at U.C. Santa Barbara
MICHAEL HOLLIDAY: C.E.O. of Synergy Co-working Space
GIDEON RUBIN: Chief Marketing Officer at Local Market Launch/Board Member at MIT Enterprise Forum Central Coast
Yes, they are a bit of a secret, but they are not necessarily looking to be found either. They consider their collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem to be unique in its own right, and are not looking to be compared with the likes of Los Angeles or Orange County. They welcome entrepreneurs with open arms and are constantly on the lookout for new ways to collaborate, but they by no means want to allow their identity to be tainted by the status quo. During our interview, it was noted that collaboration has become an integrative part of uniting the entire Central Coast. They admitted that previously, there wasn’t quite as much collaboration going on, but that once collaboration started taking place, it became all too clear the benefits that were emerging as a result. They discussed the fact that they don’t see each other as competitors, but rather that they are just different types of entrepreneurs that are operating in different contexts.
This meant that working together as a team could only yield more productive results. Michael Holliday talked about how there used to be an “old school model” of doing things on your own, and a lot of individualistic “chest beating” to express dominance. However, it was emphasized that this model just no longer works in a place like Santa Barbara. Now, it’s obvious that collaboration is the way to go. Thanks to collaboration, the Central Coast area has seen a surge of growth and expansion in networks and has lead to a more cohesive community.
There was an agreed upon philosophy about the way the entrepreneurs on the Central Coast wanted to do things. An aura of excitement flowed around the room as these men discussed progress, business, and community. The goal is to build a strong entrepreneurial community within the Central Coast without transforming it. They discussed how there is a certain relaxed feel in Santa Barbara that differentiates them from other counties. As an example, they talked about how celebrities often come to Santa Barbara in order to be able to experience great weather without having to be mobbed by fans, as Santa Barbara carries a vibe of tranquility and humility, which doesn’t hold certain people at a higher level than others. Santa Barbara certainly has a solid infrastructure and plenty of locations that are conducive to building great businesses, but as with all entrepreneurship, there are struggles.
Obtaining talent is definitely not a problem on Santa Barbara’s list. Having the world class University of California, Santa Barbara right up their alley, super talented entrepreneurs and engineers are constantly getting pumped into the system. The issue is keeping them. Since Santa Barbara’s entrepreneurial community has a sense of pride in the way that they do things, some entrepreneurs just might not quite fit in, or would want to go to the perceived entrepreneurial hot spots like Los Angeles. These talents from U.C. Santa Barbara are at times commuting students who return back to their home town after receiving their degree, or they just get bought out by large established companies.
What is it that Santa Barbara and the rest of the Central Coast actually has to offer? This is the question that was begging throughout our conversations. Michael Holliday helped clarify that for us quickly. He discussed the fact that Santa Barbara has “Quality of life, small town community, and access to world-class engineering institutions (UCSB).” With the beautiful weather and the beach a block away, the question really became “Why not?” However, there is an answer for that as well. Mike Panesis pointed out the fact that “If you plan to come to Santa Barbara, you better be ready to succeed, because the cost of living is so high.” It’s a fair warning to start-ups that might wish to enjoy the best that Santa Barbara has to offer. Joey Briglio commented, “That’s where Ventura comes in,” as Ventura has a lower cost of living while enabling you to be connected to the Central Coast’s entrepreneurial community. This is a testament to the benefits of the small town community aspect. We discussed the massive division that exists in Los Angeles among entrepreneurs, and in contrast, Joey spoke about the fact that “Anybody in this room could probably connect you to anybody you’d need in the Central Coast.”
When fresh entrepreneurial talents move out of town, the entrepreneurial community here doesn’t get upset, but they do wonder: “Why not stay?” One of the factors that influences whether these companies make it in the industry or not, is their environment. Location plays a big role in building a successful company. Why leave and take the risk when you’re doing so well where you are? And now, the Central Coast is collaborating more than ever giving people a higher chance of succeeding. If not Santa Barbara, then San Luis Obispo or Ventura. Going to each other’s events, being a part of these small family like communities where nearly everyone knows everyone really gives you the best of both worlds; a large area with other successful people, and being in a family like community setting.
This is ideal for the hard-working man or woman who likes to properly balance their work and pleasure in life. The Central Coast works hard and plays hard. Synergy, the location at which our meeting took place, was a great example in itself of the Santa Barbara entrepreneurial culture. Synergy is stocked with all kinds of goodies. There are complimentary candies, surf boards, and bikes in the office. This is very clever and convenient, considering the beach is only ten minutes away. With taking the leap and the stress that comes with it, it is very likely that the very same leap will take you further if you have less stress to deal with. Santa Barbara and the entire Central Coast is looking like a great location to go if your goal is to succeed. It’s not that Santa Barbara, the best-kept entrepreneurial secret, wants to stay a secret. It’s just that Santa Barbara wants to stay Santa Barbara.
By Alejandro Grover and Debby Hay
Photo by Don Haynes Photography