San Diego: Why America’s Finest City Is Also Its Most Innovative


A recent Inc. Magazine article dated April 1, 2014 ranked San Diego as a top 20 “most innovative” city in America. Inc. Magazine’s ranking system, determined by the number of patents granted since the year 2000, highlights San Diego with a classic beach-and-palm-dotted-cliffs photo, characterizing our city as both a top “wireless hub,” thanks to Qualcomm, and a hot spot for “games using a tangible projectile.” Thinking this was an April Fool’s day joke, since the only phrase I’d ever associated with the word “projectile” had little to do with innovation, I dug deeper and learned that “games using a tangible projectile” was Inc.-code for “golf.” With an inward groan, I realized this article would do little to highlight San Diego’s true strengths, and only further engrain our city’s reputation as a sun-bathed beach town, saving the world one golf club at a time.

Don’t get me wrong, though – given what I’ve seen of winter on the weather channel, I’m happy to wear the “beach babe” designation with pride. San Diego’s perfect weather, pristine beaches, and natural beauty are precisely why so many of us who have the option to live anywhere in the world, choose to live here.

But those characteristics aren’t enough to support a living, and it sure would be nice if someone also took note of the fact that San Diego just so happens to be an entrepreneurial hub of epic proportions. Take, for example, the fact that Illumina, a San Diego-based leader in the field of genomics, was recently ranked as America’s “smartest” company in MIT’s 2014 Technology Review. Or the fact that game-changing research in sustainable technologies like algae-based fuels and solar energy have put San Diego on the map as a top five global clean tech cluster. Or that our defense tech companies help keep America at the top of the geopolitical and military food chains. Or that the promise of cross-border collaboration with Mexico distinguishes San Diego as the region with the greatest potential to help American companies make a major comeback in advanced manufacturing.

The truth is, it’s hard to blame those who go for our lowest-hanging fruit. It’s easy to stop at “pretty enough” and judge San Diego on appearances alone. But those of us who live and work in San Diego’s tech sector know something the folks at Inc. do not: that our city is the nation’s best kept secret when it comes to talent, innovation, and entrepreneurialism, across a broad spectrum of industries – biotech, clean tech, hard tech, mobile tech, defense tech, and online marketplaces. No other metropolitan area can claim to be as good at innovating in as many sectors as we can. Far from being a one-trick pony, San Diego ranks highly in almost every realm of technological prowess – a fact that few outside of San Diego recognize.

As San Diegans, it’s our responsibility to change the narrative. At the risk of invoking yet another (groan-inducing) analogy, it’s high time time we dropped the modest one-piece and went for the string bikini, showing off all the hard work we’ve put into becoming the tech powerhouse we are today. Putting our best foot forward, rather than waiting to be discovered, is precisely what it will take to make the nation’s entrepreneurial elite sit up and take note of San Diego – not only as “America’s Finest City,” but also its most innovative.

Denise Gitsham is a Founder and Principal of 7 Second Strategies, a San Diego-based strategic communications firm. Image credit:

Posted on April 2, 2014 in Blog

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