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Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup Turns 10: Catching Up with Doug Erickson

Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup Turns 10: Catching Up with Doug Erickson

Doug Erickson is dealing with an ankle injury when Santa Cruz Works catches up with him. The result of a snowboarding accident, the ankle injury seems to be more of an inconvenience to Erickson than a major problem. He laughs about a less-than-efficient medical system and makes jokes about getting a second opinion. As he drives to the doctor appointment to get his ankle set, we talk by phone about one of his favorite topics: tech in Santa Cruz.

Founder of the Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, Erickson has grown the monthly event from a handful of friends to a regular gathering of hundreds of people. In February, Erickson and the local tech community celebrate 10 years of the Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp. Santa Cruz Works chatted with Erickson about the evolution of the tech ecosystem in Santa Cruz, what the 10th anniversary of the MeetUp means to him, and what he’d like to see happen with Santa Cruz tech.

Santa Cruz Works: Congratulations on 10 years of the Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp. What does this milestone mean for you?

Doug Erickson: It’s a great moment because it’s 10 years of hard work and going from knowing virtually nobody in our community to having so many people—it’s amazing. I was surfing about a week ago and this guy paddles up to me and asks if I’m Doug from the New Tech MeetUp. He told me he got a job from going to the SCNT. Once or twice a month someone tells me they got a job because they were at a SCNT.

I got into this because I wanted to meet more people, but the benefit is that this whole tech ecosystem is really coming together and starting to work. It’s not just me, it’s everybody: it’s the university; the city’s Economic Development department; it’s the angels, like Bud Colligan and Central Coast Angels; it’s Santa Cruz Tech Beat with Sara Isenberg; it’s the Santa Cruz Sentinel with Jondi Gumz and others; it’s Santa Cruz Works; it’s the incubators and startups—it’s just amazing how Santa Cruz is flourishing.

How has the Santa Cruz tech scene changed since you launched the MeetUp 10 years ago?

There’s a lot that has changed. At the 10th anniversary MeetUp I’m going to talk about the changes. Some of the key things are: the number of people who live in Santa Cruz and have jobs in Santa Cruz has gone up, and the number of people who are working in tech, versus the number from our first SCNT member survey, has gone up. The people who got jobs here attribute it to the healthy tech ecosystem.

You have a nice party planned to celebrate the 10th anniversary, including talks about the future of AI and a fireside chat with Guy Kawasaki.

It’s going to be a great event. We have Chris Thornberg, founding partner at Beacon Economics, coming in to talk about the state of tech in Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Workforce Development Board hired him to do a study so we’re going to be releasing all that data.

We also have Guy Kawasaki for a fireside chat with Marilyn Walker, a professor at UCSC who won a bunch of awards for AI and speech recognition. She won a huge award recently for AI that can actually detect humor and sarcasm. What a perfect combo with Guy Kawasaki, who has the number one Facebook Live weekly broadcast, called Wise Guy. He’s constantly making cracks and thumbing his nose at the establishment, so we’re going to try to get Marilyn’s AI detection to tell us when Guy’s being serious and when he’s not.

The last segment of the event is about the future of AI. We have Sam Lessin, the CEO of Fin, giving us an overview of the state of AI; Thomas “Elvis” Jones from Amazon will talk about what Amazon is doing with AI; and we have two recent UCSC graduates, Simba Khadder and Ryan Brounley, who have a company called Triton. They built an AI system that anyone can license for product recommendations.

We’ll also have Jonathan Lo from BetterFinds, a company that sells the stuff you have laying around your house and donates proceeds to your favorite charity; and Ryan McVicker from Vocasso, a company that uses AI to provide a voice for the speech impaired.

Looking at the Santa Cruz tech landscape, what are you currently excited about?

I am excited by how far we have progressed in 10 years. We have so many more local tech companies including Buoy, Inboard, Ya Doggie, Evaline, CruzFoam, Joby Aviation, PayStand, CityBlooms, Looker, Amazon, etc. But it is much more than trees in the forest: the tech ecosystem has grown. Some of the significant changes include:

  • UCSC is involved monthly with Santa Cruz New Tech and other community events
  • CruzHacks (formerly HackUCSC) has grown with strong student involvement from high schools, UCSC, Cabrillo, MBSC; increased participation by the UCSC faculty and the Santa Cruz community
  • There have been significant investments by angels and VC into local companies. Leading VC firms from the Silicon Valley and elsewhere are investing into our local companies. $84 billion was invested in US tech startups in 2017, and Santa Cruz got a slice of it.  
  • New accelerators have sprouted. DigitalNest is a huge success. Santa Cruz Works built Santa Cruz Accelerates, the first accelerator in Santa Cruz. Angels by the Sea announced their accelerator.  
  • Local resources like Cosmic, Monarch Media, and ProductOps are being courted by companies from all over the US.  
  • Coworking spaces Cruzio, NextSpace and the Satellite continue to grow and provide a stimulating microcosm for entrepreneurship. Cruzio is leading a vitally important initiative for gigafiber.  
  • City of Santa Cruz Economic Development rebranded Santa Cruz with Choose Santa Cruz showcasing local business successes, and has a functional website for connecting all the dots in our community. In conjunction with Santa Cruz Economic Development, the Santa Cruz New Tech held a “Get Hired” event in June 2017 where 10 local companies offered over 500 tech jobs.

What would you like to see happen with tech in Santa Cruz?

We have all the components for a healthy tech ecosystem: education, city support, coworking spaces, MeetUp events, angels, local tech companies. Now it is time to optimize the flow of entrepreneurism. That starts with educational institutions being the incubators of new ideas — similar to the way Stanford is doing it — connecting directly into community accelerators, connecting local business leadership with those budding entrepreneurs, helping grow new businesses.

It is a symbiotic relationship that benefits the entire community. In essence, I would like to see, One: UCSC build a world class entrepreneur program modeled after Stanford; Two: the ecosystem continue to optimize connections; and three: more venture capital.  

What role do you see Santa Cruz Works playing in the local tech ecosystem?

I see Santa Cruz Works as vitally important to us. Santa Cruz Works is the nexus for a healthy tech ecosystem; connecting all of the components—education, business mentors, funding, the city, local groups such as Event Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, coworking spaces. I see Santa Cruz Works, under the leadership of Matthew Swinnerton, as the glue and the guiding light for connecting the ecosystem.

What’s next for the New Tech MeetUp? What can we expect from the next 10 years?

The tenets of our monthly event are to provide: networking for tech professionals and job seekers; education about new tech solutions to help local companies be more productive; and to spark entrepreneurship. I think Santa Cruz New Tech will continue to provide those values and opportunities.  We will continue to make Santa Cruz New Tech a showcase for local and global companies.

We would like to increase our past themed events such as Students in Tech, Cruz Cares, Blue Tech, and pitch competitions such as those sponsored by Angels by the Sea. We will continue to be different and buck the norm. We don’t want to be San Francisco or the Silicon Valley—we want to be a boutique community that focuses on uniquely Santa Cruz values such as environment, social good, water sports, healthy activities.

I believe we are supporting and creating a new type of business leader that is capable of making extraordinary contributions to our planet, our food and recreation sources, science, health care, transportation, etc. Examples include Buoy for managing water usage, Inboard for electric skateboard and scooter transportation, CruzFoam with biodegradable surfboard foam, Joby Aviation with electric vertical take off aircraft—the Uber of the skies, and Save Our Waves which is preserving the reefs and beaches for future use.

In Santa Cruz, we have always had a spirit of independence; we are non-conformist, or as Keri Waters of Buoy says, we have “a pirate mentality” to do things our way and to be leaders, not me-too followers. Our locally grown gigafiber network by Cruzio will keep us from being handcuffed by those Trump-loving net neutrality opponents. We believe in what Toby Corey calls  Zentreprenership: a socially conscious business spirit and mentality. Or as Dr. Wallace J Nichols describes it, a Blue Mind leader; based on his science demonstrating that people who live near the water are healthier and happier.

The 10th anniversary Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp is Wednesday, February 7 at the Coconut Grove. Information and tickets at  Eventbrite: 10Y Anniversary SCNT MeetUp