So what’s new?
In San Diego, that’s a pertinent question. A lot is always new. Forbes magazine once named San Diego the best city for start-ups, after all.
Little wonder. Innovation is big here. People take risks. They experiment. They hunker down for long slogs. And we’re not just talking about Salk scientists. This is going on in every field, from robotics to medical devices, from nutrition bars to appliance stores.
Oh … and craft beer. Can’t forget craft beer. That would be an epic slight, considering how we’re home to such creations as Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout and Killowatt’s G. Polaris Experimental IPA.
“The innovation community is growing, no question,” said Michael Lawless, who leads entrepreneurship initiatives at the School of Business at University of San Diego.
Universities such as his are helping foster this innovation, he noted. However, people today are apt to create their own opportunities rather than rely on established businesses for long-term employment. That career arc is no longer as prevalent, he noted.
A host of local companies are started and run by ambitious, forward-thinking individuals. Some have grown yet continue to set the tone for innovation as they move forward.
Still other individuals work in the region’s research centers, where they seek new health-care solutions, some of which are so cutting-edge they’ve been honored by the National Institutes of Health.
These people are driven to create unique and dynamic products and enterprises, all of which add to the fabric, flavor and economic well-being of San Diego. Here, we name five of the honorees. To see the full list, subscribe to Our City's print edition by clicking here.
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Blue Bridge Hospitality, David Spatafore, principal
How in the world in the Age of the Foodie was San Diego missing this for so long: a hip, eclectic food hall. A place where all sorts of delectable and fresh offerings are available. You know: cheese, meats, produce, seafood, coffee, sweets … Sure, you can always go to your local grocer and … cry.
Well, the dark days are over, thanks to David Spatafore, who helped launch the Public Market in Liberty Station earlier this year. It’s San Diego’s first food hall. At 22,000 square feet, it offers more than 30 artisan shops, such as Pasta Design and Mastiff Sausage Co.
Spatafore is no stranger to innovation, having developed a number of intriguing restaurant concepts in Coronado, including Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge and MooTime Creamery. Now he’s gone public, so to speak.
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Perfect Bar, Bill Keith CEO
Perfect Bar? Maybe they should have named it the Perfectly Foolish Bar. Because that’s the kind of reaction Bill Keith got when he first peddled his nutrition bar.
Why? Because it needs to be refrigerated.
Keith didn’t give up when he got those puzzled looks from grocers and bankers, though. He felt he had a winner. And the product was close to his heart. His dad developed it.
A nutritionist, his father made the bar from all natural ingredients. It was a snack for Keith and his 12 brothers and sisters. (That’s right, 13 in all.) The family pretty much lived on the road, traveling in a bus, so his dad could lecture on the benefits of natural foods.
His father developed skin cancer and battled it for 15 years — without undergoing traditional medical treatment — before passing in 2009. Bill, the oldest sibling, started the company to provide for the family.
It didn’t exactly go smoothly at first. But he managed to persuade a number of grocers to stock the item. And lo and behold … the bars are now available nationwide, and sales jumped 120 percent in 2014.
The whole family participates in the business. Why, it’s perfect.
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Pirch, Jeffrey Sears and James Stuart, cofounders
Back in the day — and we’re talking ancient history here — Sears was the go-to place for appliances. The family jumped into the station wagon to get a Kenmore washer or refrigerator, or this really novel thing called a dishwasher.
Um, Pirch is not Sears. It is the anti-Sears.
At Pirch, one finds high-end appliances and other household items in a lavish, uber-customer-friendly setting. For instance, are you interested in a granite bathtub? Bring your bathing suit and jump in.
Cooking classes are offered. Complimentary lattes are a matter of course.
Jeffery Sears and James Stuart teamed up to create the upscale concept after being frustrated by what they considered to be less-than-thrilling available offerings. They wanted to create a buying experience unlike any other.
“Our job is to make every guest feel like their time in our store is the best part of their day, whether or not they buy anything,” Sears told Fortune magazine.
In 2015, Sears and Stuart were honored by EY in its annual Entrepreneur of the Year contest, winning in the Lifestyle division. The retailer has eight locations and is opening a new one in New York’s trendy Soho neighborhood this year.
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The Rosie Network, Stephanie Brown, CEO
When they get frustrated, some people punch a wall or eat a quart of ice cream or chug a beer. Stephanie Brown got frustrated and started a nonprofit that helps military-family-owned businesses.
She had home repairs that needed to be done, but she wasn’t happy with traditional search vehicles such as Craigslist and Angie’s List. Why? She’s the wife of a Navy SEAL officer (now retired), and she felt more comfortable having a veteran-owned company do the work.
However, no list of veteran-owned or military-spouse-owned companies existed. Her husband said she should start one. So, with two other SEAL spouses, that’s what she did.
Named after the famed Rosie the Riveter, The Rosie Network is a website that allows these businesses to promote their offerings — free of charge. It can be tough on spouses of active-duty personnel to keep small businesses thriving, because they often have to move or be the sole caregiver to children when the spouse is deployed.
The Rosie Network now features more than 2,000 military-family-owned businesses in the U.S. and overseas.
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Napoleone Ferrara, M.D. UC San Diego Health Sciences
UC San Diego Health Sciences
Fame is weird. Lots of famous people don’t do much besides look pretty. Napoleone Ferrara is famous — but among a much smaller circle of people. He developed a way to kill cancerous tumors and prevent blindness in the elderly.
Yep. He did that.
His target was age-related macular degeneration. Not to get too scientific, but the macula is inside the retina and plays a key role in your vision. Tumors can mess with it, causing blindness. Ferrara developed a way to starve the tumors to death.
Yep. He did that.
His work led to the development of drugs that fight the degeneration. He also won the Lasker Award for it. It’s a big deal, since the award is commonly known as the “the American Nobel.”
His research into degeneration resulted in the creation of the first angiogenesis inhibitor drug approved to treat tumors in the lung, breast, colon, ovary and brain. It’s called Avastin. And it’s a big deal. The World Health Organization has a List of Essential Medicines, and it’s on it.
Ferrara spent much of his career working at Genentech, a biotech in the Bay Area. He’s now doing research at UC San Diego School of Medicine and is senior deputy director of basic science at the Moores Cancer Center.
He still toils in the lab, searching for new drugs. In short, we have a true superstar in our midst.