Last night I attended an Orange County Tech Startups event on the future of innovation and startups in OC. Shervin Talieh put together great panels and I heard some interesting stats provided by journalist Chris Casacchia of the Orange County Business Journal (we need an infographic!). We heard how there are a number of billion dollar business in OC, but they’re in diverse fields. As most know, hardware, aerospace/defense, biotech, and action sports are more prevalent than software.

Here are my reasons for OC’s failure to launch a big startup culture:

  • First, it’s a county. Much harder to build up momentum and leadership in such a wide, diverse region.
    • You need business, university, and government leadership working together to make this happen. I haven’t heard of one politician interested in the OC startup scene. They tend to care about generic small business or big business.
  • No clear social epicenter. No 3rd St. Promenade, no Old Town Pasadena, almost no walkable neighborhoods.
    • The “Orange Circle” (real name: Plaza Square) is nice, and near Chapman, but Chapman is not a big CS school. Has any tech company chosen to set up offices there?
    • Main Street Huntington Beach is more of a wild crowd than a professional one, which results in a large, intimidating police presence. Not a geek friendly environment.
    • Everything else is a shopping center. Gotta drive.
  • Politically conservative (although Libertarian is a common geek affiliation)
  • Suburbia attracts the post-children crowd, not the pre-marriage crowd. Those people are homeowners, not risk takers. Startups are a risk.
  • Many software jobs in OC are not at software companies. Smart geeks run from companies that are bureaucratic and try to avoid any whose product isn’t software.

Now, if you’re building a startup, do you need young people? If so, why? Are you going to make them work long hours without OT? Easier to convince them to take a little equity and much lower pay?

Or do you just need good tech talent? Because as long as you’re going to pay well, offer a chance to gain new skills in a productive environment, and respect your employees’ time, you’ll be fine. No problem luring them from BigCo. To lure LA devs, add in the quality of life benefits like a bigger house and breathable air, less traffic, proximity to beaches. If you focus on more experienced developers, you should be OK.

What are your thoughts on this? Am I way off base?