Technology has been a part of Santa Cruz for decades, but there seems to be an increasing buzz surrounding our local tech ecosystem:
Late this summer Xconomy ran a three-part series on the Santa Cruz tech scene which referred to Santa Cruz as, “a city that’s taking thoughtful and meaningful steps to become a more attractive place to grow a technology-related business.”
This buzz about the Santa Cruz tech scene may or may not be something new; however, one thing is certain. Unlike past years, there is finally an easy way to stay on top of all the developments in our local tech community.
This past July Sara Isenberg, a web consultant and project manager and longtime NextSpace member, launched a weekly email digest called Santa Cruz Tech Beat.
Santa Cruz Tech Beat curates and breaks news in the local tech scene, but it also serves a greater function of offering a unified voice for what has often been a disparate, albeit tight-knit, community of technology companies and entrepreneurs in Santa Cruz County.
We recently sat down with Sara Isenberg to learn more about the evolution of the Santa Cruz tech scene, and to find out what role Santa Cruz Tech Beat plays.
Isenberg gives us a brief history of tech in Santa Cruz, tells us how a prominent local figure helped spur the creation of Santa Cruz Tech Beat, and discusses why even those outside of the tech industry need to stand up and take notice.
The Big Bang of Santa Cruz Tech
Technology in Santa Cruz is nothing new, but the tech landscape as we know it today is much different than it was even as recent as the mid-2000’s.
“There has been tech in Santa Cruz for decades, but I would say that before 7-10 years ago tech in Santa Cruz meant the big companies. It meant Santa Cruz Operation, and Plantronics, and Borland, and Seagate,” Isenberg said.
“What’s new, starting about seven years ago, is that tech in Santa Cruz came to mean, in addition to these larger companies, we have an entire tech ecosystem. The ecosystem includes web designers, SEO experts, app developers, software developers, game developers, marketers, social media consultants, biotech companies, project managers like myself, and web developers, and other tech-related professionals. We didn’t exist as a connected community before, say, seven years ago. The tech ecosystem changed from being predominantly several big companies to being a combination of some big companies and hundreds of solo practitioners and smaller companies.”
The evolution from a tech scene dominated by a few big businesses to one with hundreds of small businesses and a true sense of community was punctuated by a series of community organized events, and the opening of NextSpace in downtown Santa Cruz, in 2008.
“The birth of Nextspace happened right around an event called Freelance Camp. Freelance Camp and the birth of Nextspace was almost like the big bang of Santa Cruz tech, “ Isenberg said. She recalls during the 2008 Freelance Camp, hosted at the MAH, a group of attendees walked across Cooper Street to Nextspace while it was being remodeled and got their first look at what would become the home of NextSpace, which has since expanded to nine locations.
“All of the sudden we had a location, we had a community, and the Santa Cruz Geeks emerged right around the same time. We had an online community and an in person community that big-banged. You might say everything else was history.”
A Tech Community in Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Tech Big Bang included the emergence of in person and online communities forming around technology in Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz Geeks was created in the fall of 2007, and the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup, which just celebrated its 6th anniversary this month, started a few months later. Next came a barrage of additional meetup groups which helped develop the sense of community in the tech scene that exists today.
This sense of community is evident when speaking with Isenberg. During the interview she refers to her contemporaries by first name, as if it’s understood that this is a tight-knit group, “Margaret, you know Margaret, right? And Andrew…”
Local meetups like the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup, and periodic events such as TechRaising, have helped the community of freelancers and small tech companies band together, but so too have the bustling coworking spaces in downtown Santa Cruz.
With the opening of NextSpace in 2008 the coffee shop entrepreneurs finally had a physical space to work, meet, collaborate, and form a community.
Cruzioworks opened in 2011 in the old Santa Cruz Sentinel building, giving local freelancers and entrepreneurs a second dedicated coworking space downtown.
Isenberg has been a NextSpace member since the beginning, and she isn’t shy about offering praise for the space, “I have to say that in addition to the physical space, being part of the community that’s beyond having a physical office has been so valuable to me. I’m sure the same could be said for Cruzio. The same could be said for the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup and TechRaising groups.
While there seems to be a strong sense of community in the local tech scene, one thing that has been missing is a way to track, and more importantly – promote, all the activity.
Enter Santa Cruz Tech Beat
Santa Cruz Tech Beat is a free weekly news digest for folks who want to know and share what’s up in the Santa Cruz tech community, including UCSC. Not just for Geeks, the digest provides a convenient way for business, community leaders, educators and the general public to stay informed about tech activities and business developments in Santa Cruz County.
Along with the larger tech companies, there are countless small businesses and independent freelancers who shape the current tech ecosystem. Such varied and siloed efforts go largely unnoticed by many of us in the community.
Enter Santa Cruz Tech Beat.
Isenberg says, “Santa Cruz Tech Beat provides a way to share our news and successes. It’s a way to raise awareness of our tech ecosystem to those in and out of Santa Cruz. We have a there there. We’re not just a beautiful surfing town.”
“We have a great variety of small tech businesses and individual tech consultants, and we have UC Santa Cruz with renowned computer science, genomics, and gaming programs, but there hasn’t been a megaphone, and I guess I might be functioning as a megaphone to promote the local tech scene.”
“The original conception for this came from the realization that some city leaders didn’t realize what was going on in the tech community. Not for lack of desire, but from being too busy.”
“I had a conversation with then mayor, Hilary Bryant, and I said something like, I know that you’re too busy to be everywhere, but I’m often in the thick of things at NextSpace, or going to meetups, and I often know what’s new and coming up. How would you like it if I sent you an email once in a while with a bit of news of activity in the tech scene and she said, I’d love it! Here’s my home email address.”
Isenberg had already conceived of Santa Cruz Tech Beat prior to her conversation with Hillary Bryant, but this conversation, and the subsequent emails to Bryant, validated the need for someone to curate the local tech news.
Isenberg mentioned the perceived branding problem that Santa Cruz faces and hopes that Tech Beat can help play a role in positioning Santa Cruz as, “A place with a lot of vibrant and energetic tech activity.”
When asked why she felt this was the right time to start Santa Cruz Tech Beat, Isenberg said it could have started a while ago, “Nothing else has served the function that Tech Beat is now serving. Tech Beat could have been launched sooner. But nobody did it.”
“My son was leaving for college, and I was open to a new baby, so to speak. Santa Cruz Tech Beat became my new baby… and a way to engage more fully in the community. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and how well it would be received, and I’m still doing it because it’s so much fun.”
Sara Isenberg: Founder of Santa Cruz Tech Beat
Sara Isenberg runs a web consulting and project management business out of NextSpace. Prior to starting her own consulting business she spent 20 years in the software industry, including 4 years at HP and 13 years at Santa Cruz Operation.
Her background, including degrees in computer science and sociology, allows her to play a pivotal role in the tech space, “I’ve always played that bridge role between the geek world and the non-geek world.”
For more about Sara, visit saraisenberg.com.
Why Smart Non-Tech Businesses Are Taking Notice (And Why You Should Too)
The growing tech scene in Santa Cruz has implications that reach beyond the tech community.
“Santa Cruz Tech Beat isn’t just for geeks. It isn’t just for the tech community. It’s for the tech community plus the business community, the city leaders, and all these entities that aren’t working at NextSpace or Cruzio or going to the New Tech Meetup but would benefit from knowing that these interesting things are happening in the tech business community each week,” Isenberg says.
“There are a lot of businesses that don’t realize how the tech ecosystem can be of value to them.” Isenberg goes on to mention a commercial realtor who approached her at a recent tech meetup who understood the importance of the tech ecosystem, recalling that he said, “The tech community, they’re the ones I want to promote to.”
But not everyone understands this. This is where savvy businesses outside of the tech community can utilize a resource like Santa Cruz Tech Beat to stay abreast of relevant news and unearth new opportunities.
Emerging From The Shadow Of The Valley
Despite the burgeoning tech scene in Santa Cruz, it is inevitable that comparisons will continue to be drawn to the high tech world over the hill in Silicon Valley.
“By virtue of being geographically close we may continue to be in the shadow of Silicon Valley.”
A common problem with new tech startups in Santa Cruz has been the reluctance of Valley VC’s to invest here. However, this is a trend that could be starting to change, with the formation of Central Coast Angels, and if the pending move from Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz for a new genomics startup is any indication.
Isenberg recently had a discussion with an early stage startup about their upcoming move from the Valley to Santa Cruz, in which she mentioned to them, “There’s all this other genomics work going on…Five3 Genomics and iSentio, and UC Santa Cruz, and they said, “Yeah we know. That hub, that environment, is one of the reasons we want to be here.”
How You Can Get Involved
If you’re interested in learning more about Santa Cruz tech scene, then start by subscribing to Santa Cruz Tech Beat’s weekly email digest (and if you’ve been following us on Twitter then you know we’ve been urging you to sign up since the digest launched in the summer).
The email digest isn’t the only resource though. Isenberg has plenty of other recommendations and resources for anyone looking to learn more about our local tech ecosystem.
Below is a compilation of some of the most helpful resources to get you up to speed on the Santa Cruz tech scene:
- Santa Cruz Tech Beat Email Digest – sign up for the free weekly email digest here.
- Tech in Santa Cruz? Grok! – Isenberg’s compilation of resources specifically designed to inform newcomers who want to learn about the local tech ecosystem.
- Local Tech Resources – A list of local technology related meetups and resources.
- 3 Page PDF about SCTB with Highlights of the Local Tech Community
- SCTB Email Digest Archive – Catch up on previous editions of the SCTB email digest, dating back to the summer of 2013.
Benefits for The Tech Community
Santa Cruz Tech Beat also provides opportunities to get involved in the cause for promoting tech in Santa Cruz:
Santa Cruz Tech Business Catalog
The Santa Cruz Tech Business Catalog is a one-stop resource for a directory of local tech businesses, and supporters of tech business, such as designers, marketers, attorneys, commercial real estate, etc.
Regular pricing for an annual listing in the Santa Cruz Tech Business Catalog is $69/year, but we have partnered with Santa Cruz Tech Beat on a special offer for Santa Cruz Life readers. For you, our readers whom we love so much, an annual listing is only $49/year.
Click here for a special checkout page offered only to Santa Cruz Life readers.
Since inception, Isenberg has been producing Santa Cruz Tech Beat by herself as a volunteer, with support from a small handful of sponsors. Additional sponsors will allow Santa Cruz Tech Beat to continue to provide a consolidated source for promoting the local tech scene.
I asked Isenberg what types of sponsors she was hoping to find. She replied, “I’m hoping for sponsors who care about the future of the tech ecosystem infrastructure in Santa Cruz County. Investment in the promotion of local tech will raise the entire brand awareness of our county and is an investment in the future of the entire business community.”
“For example, Bob Cagle of productOps was generous as an early sponsor because he genuinely cares about the tech community and he wanted to see Santa Cruz Tech Beat get a start. I’d like to see more sponsors like Bob Cagle. It’s an investment in the future of Santa Cruz.”