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Burnham-Moores Center conference

An innovation ecosystem for business growth

Economic progress comes from the “rainforest recipe,” where an innovation ecosystem allows each person to play an equal and important role, said the managing director of T2 Venture Capital.

Innovation is what happens “when ideas have sex,” Greg Horowitt said. He told the audience Friday at the University of San Diego's Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate 17th annual conference that their role is to “build and manage brothels where innovation happens.”

People apply linear thinking to actions, which creates borders and boundaries that limit connectivity, said Horowitt, who contributed to the book, “The Rainforest: The secret to building the next Silicon Valley.”

He explained that there’s an image of a finite number of goods in the world, including food, people, wine, land and water and “the race is on.”

“It’s a competition to see who can gather the most and do the most with what they have,” Horowitt said.

He showed a picture of a vineyard with neat rows of grapevines and compared that to a cluttered rainforest.

“Very often you don’t look down to see the weeds at your feet,” Horowitt said -- and compared the weeds to the Facebooks and Googles of the world. “They disrupt entire paradigms.”

The environment needs to be engineered with good soil, temperatures and humidity to allow weeds the opportunity to grow and become something important, Horowitt said.

"Ideas need to be shared to grow," Horowitt said.

Another speaker, Irwin Jacobs, founding chairman and CEO emeritus of Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), said new companies are starting in San Diego, but often look for an early exit by selling the company and moving out of the area.

“That’s a problem,” Jacobs said. “I would much prefer to see us continue to encourage startups and then help them mature into middle-size or larger-sized companies.”

“We have really thrived here. What do we need to continue to grow? We need to maintain San Diego as a very attractive community,” Jacobs said.

One problem Qualcomm faces is finding well-trained employees. With limited visas available, hiring foreign-born workers is constrained, which ships out talented San Diego graduates to other countries, Jacobs said.

Economic progress comes from new organization and socialization models that allow disruption, Horowitt said. Instead of focusing on actions that create outcomes, Horowitt suggested focusing n the beliefs and behavior that cause the actions. The millennials in the work force require two things, Horowitt said, authenticity and legitimacy. They want to feel a sense of purpose, belonging and contribution that’s equal to their pay; and they want to be heard, he said.

Innovation occurs when there’s ambiguity and discomfort, Horowitt said.

“But none of us like that. Innovation happens at the edges,” Horowitt said. “It happens when there’s friction and it happens when we don’t know what we don’t know.”

Jacobs said the next great growth industry in San Diego is telemedicine and personalized medicine. He said San Diego has “all of the right ingredients,” with research, a medical center, wireless capabilities and biotech.

To build the “rainforest,” Horowitt said, people need to “learn by doing” and create diversity of thought. There needs to be role models and peer interaction and “tribes of trust.” And “as people are successful, they come back into the system,” he said.

Government can slow down the innovation process with bad policies, Horowitt said. Ernest Rady, executive chairman for American Assets Trust, said government controls and monitors growth in “as healthy a way as possible,” but it’s a “difficult balance.”

“It’s very difficult to get entitlements –when you get them, they’re valuable. The difficulty getting there is an obstacle or regulator on the amount of development that will take place,” Rady said.

Jacobs said one of his biggest disappointments in San Diego has been its lack of focus on “great architecture.”

“One of the things we need to do is focus much more on beautification,” Jacobs said. The idea for the new central library downtown was discussed in the 1970s, Jacobs said. “We started Qualcomm in 1985 and made more progress than the library at that point.”

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American Assets Trust Inc.

Company Website

11455 El Camino Real, 200
San Diego, CA 92130

American Assets Trust Inc. Executive(s):

Ernest Rady

  • Executive Chairman

John Chamberlain

  • Chief Executive Officer

Robert Barton

  • Chief Financial Officer