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Innovate 78 hosted its start-up series on April 7 at CSUSM's Innovation Hub.
Innovate 78 hosted its start-up series on April 7 at CSUSM's Innovation Hub. Courtesy photo

North County start-up event showcases local growth

REGION — North County’s start-up community is becoming a force of its own.

More than 100 entrepreneurs gathered on April 7 at the Innovation Hub on the campus of California State University San Marcos for Innovate 78’s start-up series.

The event featured panelists on topics such as venture capital, investors, supply chains and more, according to Michelle Geller, Oceanside’s economic development manager.

Innovate 78 is a nonprofit collaborative supporting the business ecosystem with the five cities along the state Route 78 corridor.

“(The event) focused on entrepreneurs, investors and the supply chain of start-up businesses,” Geller said. “It was great to just be back in person.”

Among those attending the event was Erik Groset, founder of BetFully in Carlsbad, a sports gambling rebates platform where customers can access online gaming sites and receive up to 10% cashback in return for their marketing data.

Groset served as a panelist speaking about the challenges of startup fundraising.

“It mostly centered around fundraising and the journey of start-ups in general,” Groset said. “It’s great to see so many companies having a fruitful two years given the circumstances.”

Groset’s company recently completed an “unconventional” crowd-funding effort with SeedInvest, an online crowdfunding platform connecting startups with investors, which resulted in 900 investors and brand ambassadors.

Neal Bloom, co-founder of Interlock Capital and host of the event, said North County San Diego is experiencing a boom of venture capital, initial public offerings (IPO) and rapid growth due to startups.

In 2021, Bloom said the region saw venture capital investment grow by three times from $100 million in 2020 to $300 million last year (On a global scale, venture capital increased by 100%, Bloom noted).

Three Carlsbad companies — Pardes Biosciences, Lumos Diagnostics and Tyra Biosciences — went public raising a combined $500 million with a $1.6 billion market cap.

Bloom said while much of the venture capital money was on biotech, other sectors saw big gains. For example, consumer goods were led by Encinitas-based Vuori Clothing, which raised $400 million on a $4 billion valuation last fall.

Carlsbad-based Ionis Pharmaceuticals also had a big year in 2021, while Pardes raised $53 million and tech firm Airspace Technologies raised $38 million.

“It’s cool to see some big raises by non-biotech in the county,” Bloom said. “One thing that’s been interesting in Q1 is the public markets is down, so that’s scaring everyone a little bit. So, valuations are a little bit down. But the venture capitalists have raised so much money that they have to deploy it within two to three years.”

On a national scale, North County, and specifically Carlsbad, is making its own name. Crowdfund Capital Advisors ranked Carlsbad No. 9 in the nation for pre-IPO startups, while the city of San Diego ranked No. 3 behind Texas cities Austin and Houston, which were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

Geller said in recent years, most of the money, resources and events, such as San Diego Startup Week, were focused in downtown San Diego. In 2019, startup week was held one day in Carlsbad, which had 400 people attend on a Sunday morning.

Bloom said North County’s growth is so rapid it is organically calling for its own ecosystem.

“I think it was really telling to see that many people in North County come out on a Sunday,” Geller added. “If you look at the capital coming into the region, it’s definitely a lot more than five years ago.”