San Diego has always been recognized for its natural beauty, from its dramatic cliffs to its sparkling beaches. But that merely scratches the surface of this evolving city. Over the past several decades, San Diego has transformed itself into a hub of science and technology innovation, and is considered by many the new wireless capital of the world.
Fueling this transformation is the work of 80 research institutes, located along the four-mile stretch of the Torrey Pines Mesa in La Jolla. You'll find the most concentrated collection of scientists and engineers in the world here, including the largest number of Nobel Laureates.
Sharing Ideas and Assets
When you place such a high concentration of researchers in such a small geographic footprint, collaboration happens. For example, the Mesa is home to the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, which was formed by five of the leading San Diego research institutes to collectively study stem-cell science. (The consortium is comprised of the University of California, San Diego; the Salk Institute; the Scripps Research Institute; the Sanford Burnham Research Institute; and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
The California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at UC San Diego is yet another example of collaboration, in which multidisciplinary teams tackle large-scale societal issues, accelerate innovation, and shorten the time to product development. Calit2 not only collaborates with most of the departments at the University, but also with other research-intensive organizations including, among others, SPAWAR, the Navy research and development center, and San Diego State University.
Gordon, the most powerful high-performance supercomputer in the world when it comes to accessing data, calls the region home as well. It's based in another shared asset of the region, UC San Diego’s San Diego Supercomputer Center, which is considered an international leader in data infrastructure and computational science. Gordon uses massive amounts of flash-based memory, which enables it to compute 10 times faster than other supercomputers.
Innovation in Tech and Beyond
Naturally, all this rich brainpower attracts innovation from a variety of sectors. In fact, more than 6,000 innovative companies employ nearly 140,000 people in the San Diego region.
A world leader in communications, wireless, software, and IT, San Diego hosts more than 3,000 tech companies of all sizes, across a vast array of disciplines—from transportation to electric cars, to mobile health to gaming, and more. Cymer, CareFusion, Provide Commerce, Entropic Communications, Intuit, Qualcomm, Legend3D, and Sony Electronics are just a few of the innovation companies in this space that call San Diego home.
In the biomedical field and life sciences, the region is again recognized as a world leader. More than 600 biotech and medical device companies are located along the Mesa and in neighboring Sorrento Valley. The concentration of researchers and biotechs has attracted major pharmaceutical players to the cluster, including Pfizer, Lilly, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Labs, and Novartis. Several months ago, Merck committed $90 million over seven years to build a new nonprofit drug discovery institute in San Diego called the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr).
San Diego’s defense sector was the region’s first innovation cluster. Many of the large primes, such as Northrup Grumman, General Atomics, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, SAIC, and Cubic, are located in the region along with over 250 small- and medium-size security and defense companies. San Diego’s uniformed military represents the largest regional Pentagon payroll in the nation.
While most know southern California as the home of action sports, few realize the tech connection to this sector. San Diego is home to more than 600 action and sports companies, and they are aggressively incorporating new materials and technologies including wireless electronics and software. Key players include Callaway Golf, TaylorMade-Adidas, Nixon, SKLZ, Rusty, H20 Audio, Hookit, Liquid Force, and Competitor Group.
Finally, over the past four years, the region has catapulted into a leadership position in the cleantech industry. San Diego is a hotbed for electric-car technology, and is also home to leading biofuel and solar companies. There are more than 800 companies focused on cleantech and sustainable solutions in the region. A few of the innovators include Synthetic Genomics, Sapphire Energy, SG Biofuels, Kyocera, and Solar Turbines.
Each of San Diego's sectors is impressive on its own, but together they make for "unparalleled convergence," says Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health. Topol, who was named the Most Influential Physician Executive in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare magazine this year, said recently that San Diego's existing technology clusters collaborate on new solutions to many complex problems. For example, there are more than 50 local companies focused on mobile health. The region is a leader in genomics and bioinformatics with more than 75 companies working in this space. Also, the region’s strengths in IT, software and communications paired with the defense sector have led to a major cluster of more than 75 companies involved in autonomous robotics systems. And energy storage is also a major area of focus in the region.
The Challenges that Lie Ahead
San Diego's innovation economy continues on its trajectory. What could get in its way? Availability of financing is a major concern. With federal cuts in research funding, a radical restructuring of the venture industry, and lack of available bank financing, new models of funding and methods of commercialization will be critical to future competitiveness and job creation in the region. Skilled workers, particularly in the areas of computer science and software coding, are becoming rarer, and must be addressed. Modernizing regulation to keep pace with technology is another important factor for competitiveness. Finally, access to global markets for American innovation products will be necessary to drive San Diego's economic growth.
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author's own.