Photo courtesy of San Diego Sport Innovators. 
SDSI hosts a free one-day workshop for aspiring entrepreneurs called SDSI Gateway.

Photo courtesy of San Diego Sport Innovators. SDSI hosts a free one-day workshop for aspiring entrepreneurs called SDSI Gateway.

Many small business owners are being affected by the coronavirus and are seeking guidance from veteran business mentors to identify best practices and ride out what seems like an inevitable recession.

San Diego Sport Innovators (SDSI), a business development organization for sports and active lifestyle startups, is helping early-stage and mid-size companies navigate the uncharted waters of federal assistance.

Founded in 2009, the Solana Beach-based organization was birthed by Connect with San Diego Venture Group, with the mandate to increase the footprint of the local sport and active style business community. 

Now in its 10th year, under the executive chairmanship of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton, SDSI seeks to hit an important milestone of helping “jump-start” 100 companies through its accelerator program, by the end of this year.

Talk about impressive stats, its graduates have raised roughly $90 million in capital funding, have helped add over 5,000 jobs to the sector and 89 percent of the participants are still in business today.

According to SDSI, its success rate is 85 percent with 51 percent of its accelerator companies female-founded or led, consistently maintaining its reputation as a top accelerator program in the country year over year.

In San Diego, the sports and active lifestyle (SAL) industry is huge, with the cluster’s economic impact reaching $3.2B annually, according to a report by the EDC. Specifically, the SDSI represents the 42,000 employees and 1,200 businesses here in the U.S. that focus on the region’s lifestyle industry. 

A necessary community in the local region as more jobs rely on the San Diego Sport and Active Lifestyle industry than Qualcomm, San Diego University Research Centers and the San Diego Zoo combined, according to the organization.  

Sharing Resources 

As companies begin to make difficult and important decisions in the coming weeks, SDSI has assisted its members and local entrepreneurs by creating a centralized location for trusted information from the experts. 

In addition to the compiled resource, the group has been proactive by matching up companies with the appropriate lending institutions so they can receive proper government aid.

SDSI executive director, Bob Rief said “In the last month, we’ve been on interactive Zoom conference calls with around 150 people. We shared our experiences, some contacts, and community banks that have been very responsive to this challenge.”

In terms of practical advice given, the community group is preaching to hoard cash where possible, as well as, collaborating with your space provider or landlord to bring your expenses down and protect cashflow.

Finding Success in Slow Times

SDSI is betting that some companies will come back stronger than before once the pandemic passes. One of the cohort graduates, called Skylz, maker of specialized training devices for professional athletes was a prime example of this back in 2008.

“The company came back stronger than it was before the recession, it serves as a bellwether for the way people are feeling about this current situation,” Rief said.

Rief’s background culminates in serving in both chief executive and president roles for multi-billion dollar sports and lifestyle brands including Nike, Reef Footwear, and Callaway Golf before transitioning to coaching the next generation of founders. 

Last year, the organization announced it partnered with the Qualcomm Foundation, giving startups in its program access to mentoring sessions with senior Qualcomm employees.

Like everyone else, SDSI is taking the necessary steps needed to weather the storm. However, their perspective on what comes next falls on the optimism spectrum. 

“Among our group, the shock and denial have worn off. The balance beam has tipped slightly slowly towards optimism, we’re optimistic people. These are people that are closely connected to the outdoors in some way through their business.” Rief said, “We feel as soon as it is safe, prudent and the government gives us the authority to do so, that our sector will be among the first to come back.”