April 28, 2020

Startup San Diego, chat with Alexa Navarro executive director.

This time I connected with Alexa Navarro who leads Startup San Diego, the nonprofit that organizes the city's largest annual startup event.

Interview with Alexa Navarro

This time I connected with Alexa Navarro who leads Startup San Diego, the nonprofit that organizes the city's largest annual startup event. She joined StartupSD back in December 2019 and prior to joining worked for seven years at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

FR: What are the biggest challenges for the San Diego Startup Community during this health emergency?

AN: We serve the community through live in-person events and right now we can't do that. We have startup week, first Mondays, 3rd Mondays and virtually all of that is paused. I am also not in my office every day now, I'm working across from my husband which is not a normal thing, juggling a two-and-a-half-year-old running around the house, because my child care isn't normal anymore.

We recently launched a survey to better assess what are the challenges that people are faced with now and how Startup San Diego is positioned to provide support to them. So we just launched it last week and had a little under 300 responders, so far we haven't gotten super deep in analyzing the data, but we asked things like: What are your biggest challenges? and how big of a challenge is it; So far there were three themes that sort of emerged to the top

  1. Securing customers or converting sales 
  2. Scaling product service 
  3. Connecting and networking with the community

Additionally, Downtown San Diego Partnership, Mission Edge and Startup San Diego have teamed up to produce a five-part workshop series for early-stage founders and really focus on the entrepreneurial fundamentals specifically tuned to  Covid-19. We’re starting this Friday (4/24) and it will go on for 5 consecutive weeks. It's kind of our first step into digital workshops and we'll evaluate and see how it goes, but that’s sort of the first way that we're stepping in to help potentially help solve some of the challenges.

Connecting with the community is huge for us - if you look at first Mondays, those were scaling incredibly quick, from December, January, February to March. We were growing every single month, the last one we had in March was over at Ballast Point in Miramar and sold over 200 tickets. So for the events we were seeing a lot of traction and the value of those was meeting new people and understanding what resources and tools are out there, but now we're unable to do that physically.

Actually three of my directors are also co-founders of a startup company called Acai they're in the events marketing space, so they're deeply affected by everything that's going on. However because people are not hosting events anymore, they saw an opportunity based on what they know about the events industry and their experience as volunteer organizers for Startup San Diego. They came up with a solution to solve the issue of lack of connection and created a platform which is essentially a virtual professional networking experience. It's like a chatroulette style networking where you tune-in and engage in multiple conversations with many people depending on who you get matched with during your session.  So we've partnered with them to support virtual events on the platform, there’s one coming up for women in tech next week. 

If you look back at our preliminary data results from our survey, that is one of the primary things that people are challenged with.

FR: As the director of the SD Startup community do you have any recommendations for entrepreneurs and startups out there?

AN: Yes absolutely, first and foremost take a deep breath, everyone is dealing with different situations that require adjustment. You see all these things on social media like: “Now it's the time to be more productive than ever because your office is 5 feet from your bedroom”, or now “it’s the time to learn a new skill like coding, you should be learning code right now,  what are you doing with your time?” All of that noise adds more pressure to what you're already dealing with and so it all adds up, now that may create a false sense of confusion about yourself and your skills, like “I'm not a good leader”, “I'm not a great mom” or “I'm not being productive right now” and the reality is that there's a lot of adjustment going on and everyone goes through it at their own individual pace and I think being aware of that is --- [indistinct chatter - Alexa is interrupted by her daughter] --- So sorry...  but  that's a perfect example of the sort of stress and anxiety. I think it's okay to be overwhelmed, it's okay to not know what day of the week it is, it's okay to feel whatever emotion you're feeling,  it's okay to --- [blows kiss to daughter… love you bye] ---   So sorry [ laughs]  but you need to take the time to really recenter yourself. 

I mentioned before we are starting the workshops with Downtown San Diego partnership and the first topic on Friday is going to be entrepreneurial reset, we're basically going to dive into what that is and touch on some of the items I just talked about like mindfulness, self-awareness, empathy -really talking about intentional leadership to set the foundation before jumping into things like business model canvas or customer journeys. Focusing on those things that are typically talked about as soft-skills, but the reality is that it's like required right now in my opinion, to be a good leader and good founder.

In general I think the way you get through uncertain times is through community,  you know find your tribe - for example join the Startup San Diego slack group we have over 2,000 members. We have a specific channel that's exclusively for covid-19, we also have a channel that's exclusively for virtual events so that we can all keep tabs on webinars that are going on or workshops, virtual conferences, etc. So I think finding a way to connect virtually with the community is really important and positive.

We also started a Spotify playlist, the whole idea is to connect with the community through music and everybody's free to add / remove songs. 

FR: In terms of positive activities, what have you’ve seen across the Startup SD community?

AN: I think fundamentally, community builds collective strength and power to overcome obstacles and recover, I truly believe those are fundamental building blocks for resiliency so a good example is seeing folks coming together and working as a true community.

FR: Aside from the already mentioned tools, what are the plans from StartupSD to support the community?

AN: We're in the process of  evaluating, definitely going to use the data from our survey to help determine what’s relevant. The result should be to find out how we are best positioned to step-in and provide solutions.

Obviously something I personally have been dealing with the last month-and-a-half is Startup Week, which has now been postponed to the Fall and that will be made public sometime later next week. On the positive side, that will allow us to focus on figuring out how to reimagine it all in order to provide our community with a top quality experience. For example we’ve assigned a small task force to focus on figuring out what the new plan will look like for Startup Week.

FR: What’s Startup San Diego’s goal for 2020? And how has Covid-19 made an impact?

AN: So I came-in to Startup SD in December 2019 and SDSW happens in the spring springtime, so around this time last year, I think it was like 30-60 prior to the event we actually lost the original venue as it was scheduled to be held at the Civic Center. What happened was the city needed to turn it into a homeless shelter and so we had to find a new venue right before the event and that was how we landed at the San Diego Convention Center. 

The organization was able to pull it off thanks to our amazing partners and organizers but I think the overall experience left us a lot of great learnings and we were really looking forward to putting them to use. So now we are faced with the opportunity to be innovative and reinvent ourselves and I think we can still bring that magic. Startup Week is normally a 5-day, 3000 person conference, that’s big scale and when you think about what the potentials are for a virtual event or a hybrid, it's really exciting to have this unique opportunity to showcase what we've learned but also to be very creative and introduce new experiences. 

FR: How can the tech community support Startup San Diego?

AN: That's a really good question, thank you. I think sometimes people forget that I am the only full-time staff person for the organization, so we're completely volunteer-driven and that means I have directors and organizers that are volunteering 5-10 hrs a week.

So what that means is that we're always looking for folks who want to contribute and volunteer their time to help the organization and to help drive us towards our  goals. 

I mentioned one of our goals is community, right? So we actually have a Community team that has multiple open positions including Director of Community.  

We also would like to focus on talent and universities, so really working with sort of the next generation tech workforce and the next generation of founders and entrepreneurs.  So I want to foster  a better relationship with the local universities, state schools and community colleges.  So we have an open liaison position for someone to work exclusively with the University ecosystem. And then unfortunately we just lost our marketing director, she joined the organization same time as I did, but unfortunately had to go back home abroad and that's another open position that we need to fill. So if anybody listening is interested, I would love for folks to fill out those applications and apply - [link to volunteer match website for open positions.

About Arkus: Arkus is your local software development consultancy. Servicing Southern California for 17+years, the group assists companies grow their software development capacity and accelerate delivery of software products. Arkus and MIND Hub (owned by Arkus) are ongoing supporters of StartupSD. For more info visit

Case Study from Arkusnexus
Fernando Romano
Fernando is a Business Development executive for Arkus, his focus is on locating tech companies that require fast scaling of their software engineering capacity.
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