San Diego County and the University of San Diego will launch a new incubator focused on supporting small businesses in underserved communities. The program, called “Innovate-Up,” is aimed at starting and growing businesses in Chollas, City Heights, Encanto, Linda Vista, Rolando and Redwood Village.
Entrepreneurs will have access to workshops on the basics of starting a business, scaling up, small business certification, and how to design and patent products. They will also have dedicated mentors to help them build their business.
“I really wanted to launch something where we could go into communities that are historically disadvantaged and provide access,” San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. “I’ve spent a lot of time around entrepreneurs…. I’ve come to the realization that there’s no limit to the number of folks with inspiring ideas, but there is a significant limitation in access to high-quality mentors, legal services, IP lawyers and access to investors.”
Serving Six Neighborhoods
Innovate-Up will open to companies starting August 22. Fletcher said the program will be open to businesses of all sectors, so long as they are located in one of the six neighborhoods in Southeast San Diego County.
Two entrepreneurs have already joined the program: Andre Mattson, who is developing a lower leg-strengthening device to help people recover from sports injuries, and Ruth Young-Loaeza, who has a patent pending for a better fitted bed sheet.
Mattson, of Chollas, said he came up with the idea after studying sports performance and having an internship with the New York Knicks. He noticed one of the players was struggling to recover from an ankle injury, and was trying traditional exercises to strengthen it.
“I was thinking, there has to be a better way to return him to play sooner. I created a device that would use the foot and ankle together simultaneously to strengthen the tissue and lock the joint up,” he said at a press conference.
Mattson worked on his own to design and patent the device. He took out a credit card to help cover the cost of provisional patent fees. Now, he’s looking forward to working with attorneys and engineers to secure a patent.
Young-Loaeza started her business after working as a housekeeper for 24 years. She would make three to seven beds every day, and constantly dealt with fitted sheets that would be too big or too small, or would snap up at the corner.
“I got tired of waiting someone to create a solution. So, I decided to create a better bedsheet,” she said.
Her City Heights-based company, Genius On, currently has a patent pending for sheets with stretchable sides and flaps that prevent them from moving after they are applied to the mattress. She previously took her business through local incubator Stella Labs.
Unlike most incubators, which span the course of a year, Innovate-Up will be available to entrepreneurs for as long as they need it. The Small Business Development Center at USD, the Brink, will run the program and help connect founders to the resources they need. Faculty and staff from USD’s 13 departments will be available to provide tailored support to small businesses.
“We’ll stay with them as long as they’re committed to seeing it through,” Fletcher said. Once you start up, then you have challenges associated with growth and expanding. The dream would be, down the road, we have so many successful companies that we have to figure out how to deal with that.”
Innovate-Up is open to new founders or existing businesses that are looking to expand. The County of San Diego is supporting the program through a $300,000 grant to the Brink.
Innovate-Up isn’t the only program to turn to a public-private partnership to help startups. In May, the City of San Diego set aside $2.5 million to support a program run by Connect All @ the Jacobs Center. The group brought in its first cohort of startups for the six-month program in May.
“No one individual program alone is going to do it. This is something that we as a region have to really take seriously — ensuring everyone in our region has an opportunity for economic success,” Fletcher said. “I’m committed to seeing this through.”