First Southeastern San Diego Business Accelerator Opens Its Doors

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Public-private partnership between the City of San Diego, the Jacobs Center, and CONNECT with San Diego Venture Group invests $2.5 million to help local early-stage businesses succeed.

Staff Writer
Photos Voice & Viewpoint and bkm Officeworks

Download the CAJC Inaugural Cohort Document (PDF)

On Monday, May 20, Connect All @ the Jacobs Center (CAJC), the San Diego region’s first business accelerator focused on diverse, low-to-moderate income business start ups, celebrated its grand opening at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. Two years in the making, it is the brainchild of Mayor Keven Faulconer, the San Diego City Council and the Economic Development Department’s Stephen Maduli-Williams and Erik Caldwell, who envisioned a greater business ecosystem for San Diego’s underserved communities.

The accelerator is a first of its kind. Most accelerators exclusively seek out a particular type of business to match a specific funding or program model.  Connect All is uniquely designed to seek out and cultivate any startup business type, as long as they are ready and poised to succeed.

“It’s a very different approach,” said Bennet Peji the Jacob Center’s Vice President of Impact & Partnerships. The Connect All model  is “inclusive because we are here to nurture companies and meet them where they are on their entrepreneurial journey,” he said. “One that’s best suited to making sure the companies grow and succeed. We’ve crafted it for this community.” According to Peji, the center is as state-of-the art in design and function as any business accelerator or incubator you’ll find in the country. bkm OfficeWorks donated all the high-end furniture that adds an impressive, high tech feel to the space.

The 4,300 square feet space offers a free, flexible co-working space, complete with office equipment, mentorship and support services tailored to meet the needs of individual participants. 13 local startups made it through the rigorous application process. 66 companies applied. Applicants were chosen for their readiness to meet the next stage of business growth and were required to be at least 51% moderate to low income. All were required to reside in the City of San Diego, have a viable product with sales and customers, and they must be willing to hire low-to-moderate income City residents as well.

“It’s all about opportunity and access. That’s key,” said Alex Waters, CAJC Director, who along with Manager Danea Ramos, oversees the program. Waters, an SDSU graduate, has worked with early stage entrepreneurs startup organizations in and around San Diego for the last 5 years, including the Downtown San Diego Partnership, 1 Million Cups, StartUp Week and StartUp Weekend.

“San Diego is a great spot for opening a business,” Waters said. “It has a collaborative spirit but also a sense of individuality. People are willing to try and be different and be bold but also willing to lend a hand for others doing the same thing.”

The Jacobs Center beat out eight other collaboratives to win the coveted contract with the City. The program is being funded through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program funded by HUD, and administered through the City of San Diego and private partnerships including MUFG Union Bank, and bkm OfficeWorks.

Finding a pathway to sustainable business ownership that creates jobs is the main goal for Connect All. That is the most challenging part for new business owners. “If you’re thinking about starting a business, there are resources out there for you,” Waters said. There is a myth, he said, about hard work leading to automatic success. “Often, people are working really hard, but in the wrong direction. A lot of times people limit themselves as to what they can do, what they qualify to do, what programs they qualify for. We can give them a Pathway and help them figure it.” There is also a Business Resource Center accessible to any local entrepreneurs of all levels to connect and learn about local services and support programs.

To learn more about Connect All visit www.connectallsd.org. The inaugural cohort includes: Access Trax, Butterfly Boutique & Day Spa, Faveo, Hyp3R, Nomad Donuts, The Dojo, Mapigator, Promodrone, Shukor Bella, Smart Guider, Standard Spoon, SurfDurt, Vincii.

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