Communication is Key for WELL Health

WELL Health’s CEO Guillaume de Zwirek first discovered healthcare tech as a patient. During an Ironman triathlon, he landed in the back of an ambulance, suffering from acute heatstroke. In the months after his hospital discharge, he navigated a complex medical system full of antiquated communication practices. Seeing an opportunity, de Zwirek created WELL to solve those challenges.

“WELL enables health systems, private practices, and vendors to conduct seamless conversations with patients across multiple channels, including texting, email, telephone, and live chat,” said Pamela Ellgen, WELL’s health editor.

Through WELL, patients receive all of their healthcare communication from one trusted source—their provider—and service providers can converse with patients in real time.

The first WELL office opened in 2015 in Redwood City, the heart of Silicon Valley. “I quickly realized that wasn’t the right thing for the company, or for our team,” said de Zwirek.

“The Bay Area was overcrowded with way too many people willing to make crazy commutes. Even though our office was right on the train route, some of our team still had to travel more than an hour and a half just to get to work.

And the cost of living was out of control. In addition, turnover is a way of life in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t what I wanted for WELL. I want to build a community of people who are happy to be here and excited to help build this company.”

WELL relocated its headquarters to Santa Barbara in 2017 and now operates on Chapala Street in Invoca’s former headquarters. Listed as number 170 on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing privately held companies in the U.S., WELL employs 102 people, with 62 of them in Santa Barbara.

In March 2020, WELL unveiled its Rapid Release Program, which allows health systems to manage urgent COVID-19 patient communications at scale. A technology that seems tailor-made for our time, it can be deployed by users in just 48 hours, which is far quicker than a typical implementation. Seeking to address the pandemic as effectively as possible, WELL offered the program below cost and was able to serve an additional 2.5 million patients within weeks of launch.  wellapp.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

Virtual Health Care: Right Here at Home

After the July 2020 acquisition of Goleta-based InTouch Health—for approximately $150 million in cash and 4.6 million shares of stock—Teladoc Health is well positioned in the global telehealth market and also a large employer here, with about 230 positions in Santa Barbara County. Joe DeVivo, Teladoc’s president of hospitals and health systems, discussed the technology, ever more important during COVID.

WHAT DOES TELADOC DO? The mission of Teladoc Health is to transform how people access and experience health-care around the world. With virtual care, we are enabling patients to access care on their terms—from general medical issues like cold and flu to chronic conditions, including mental health, and complicated medical issues.

HOW HAS THE COMPANY GROWN? Teladoc Health was established for what has come to be known as virtual urgent care: providing access to board-certified physicians via phone, app, or website for acute health needs like cold, flu, upper respiratory issues, pinkeye, and more.

Through multiple acquisitions, the company not only expanded globally, now operating in 175 countries, but also added clinical capabilities, covering more health conditions across the spectrum of care, including dermatology, mental health, expert medical services, and more.

HOW IS THE PANDEMIC AMPLIFYING THINGS? COVID-19 has exponentially increased the number of hospitals and health systems utilizing virtual-care platforms as well as expanded the use cases for those who had already deployed a virtual-care platform. While we knew in January that the InTouch transaction would play a key role in our growth, we couldn’t have predicted the level of need it’s enabling us to meet for hospital systems now motivated to create comprehensive virtual-care strategies.

Our pipeline with hospitals and health systems remains strong for the rest of 2020 and 2021, set to grow over 35 percent in 2020. Teladoc Health is now partnering with more than 60 of the top 100 hospitals.

WHAT IS INTOUCH FOUNDER YULUN WANG’S CURRENT ROLE? In his capacity as fellow with Teladoc Health, Yulun Wang will now focus on the importance of growing virtual health-care opportunities for underserved populations around the globe with the World Telehealth Initiative. We will continue to foster the Teladoc Health relationship with UCSB, and we also see expanding opportunities for students to participate in Yulun’s work with the World Telehealth Initiative.  intouchhealth.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

The Cutting Edge of Robotic Surgery

Robots are no longer a futuristic notion. In fact, they’re becoming more and more common in nearby operating rooms. Robotic surgery is an advanced form of minimally invasive surgery that makes use of computer-controlled robots to do what humans can’t—and also to do what surgeons can, only better.

Think about how bulky human hands are when compared to a robot’s. “The robotic instruments are articulated at the end of the instrument where the working end is, so the working end can move like a hand would, as if it had a wrist,” explained Dr. Anne Rodriguez, a gynecologic oncologist and breast surgeon who heads up the Cottage Health Robotic Surgery team.

“That gives you the ability to maneuver much more than you would with a straight instrument. And that ability can get you into small spaces, can get you into difficult spaces, and can allow you to do a lot finer technique, so to speak.”

In 2019, the Cottage Robotic Surgery Center performed 574 robotic surgery procedures with the da Vinci XI manufactured by Intuitive. The most common surgery was hysterectomy, with 117 of them performed last year, said Maria Zate, the hospital’s public relations manager, followed by prostatectomy and hernia.

Dr. William Gallivan of the Orthopedic Institute of Santa Barbara is a big proponent of the technology. “In 2005, I started using computer navigation,” said Gallivan. “It was new technology back then, and I haven’t gone back.” He’s performed robotic surgeries on knees since 2014, tallying 350 surgeries as of August 2020, using the NAVIO Surgical System and recently the MAKO Robotic-Arm System.

The precision advantages of robotics for knee surgeries are critical. “When we use robotics, we can actually do a better preservation of bone,” he said. “For young people who want to be active, they will be able to have a very high level of activity. We’ve got this technology that allows better preservation and maintenance of bone and other soft tissues and is very effective.”

Rodriguez also pointed out the advantages of the robots for surgeons themselves. “You’re basically sitting at a console to control the instrument rather than controlling the instrument at the bedside,” she said. “So ergonomically, it’s easier on the surgeon and that gives advantages both short-term and long-term in terms of your ability to continue to do surgery.”

Other advantages include shorter hospital stays and faster recoveries, in part because there is less need for narcotic pain medicine.

“About 95 percent of my patients are wide awake with a spinal anesthetic,” said Gallivan. “It’s the safest way to do it, and the patients have more fun being awake.” Patients can listen to music (“unless it’s something bad,” he laughed) and watch 3D models and cartoon versions of the operation.

Virtually scar-less, single-site surgeries can also be handled by robots, such as single-incision hysterectomies. Rather than making several incisions, the robotic process makes just one incision through the belly button, which decreases blood loss and shortens recovery time.

“Robots have obviously been used for a long time by the aviation, automotive, and military [sectors], and then health care,” said Gallivan. “But the robotic technology has never diminished or exited from an industry that’s adopted it. It’s not going anywhere. I’m a firm believer that this technology we’re using is here to stay.”

THE BIRTHPLACE OF MODERN SURGICAL ROBOTICS

UCSB graduate Dr. Yulun Wang is considered one of the fathers of modern surgical robotics. The founder of both InTouch Health and Computer Motion, Wang developed AESOP, the first FDA-approved surgical robot (1990), and the ZEUS Robotic Surgical System. ZEUS was used in the world’s first tele-surgery procedure, known as the Lindbergh Operation, in 2001. The da Vinci surgical system now used by Cottage Health was developed by Intuitive Surgical following its merger with Computer Motion in 2003.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

A Great Place For Entrepreneurs

John Greathouse, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

John Greathouse, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

From the Santa Barbara tech boom’s earliest successes (Computer Motion, Expertcity, GotoMeeting) to some of the area’s most promising businesses (Invoca, HG Insights) and early investment funds (Entrada Ventures, Rincon Venture Partners) — not to mention teaching at UCSB’s Technology Management Program and writing regularly about entrepreneurs for Forbes — John Greathouse is a veteran of the region’s tech sector, serving as an executive, board member, and investor since the early 1990s.

He recalls a time when there was a belief that building a tech career in Santa Barbara meant compromising on some level. “I never bought that argument, but people made it,” said Greathouse, who recruited many people over the years, some of whom would wonder what would happen if it didn’t work out. “I wouldn’t want to hire the person who is worried about that, though it’s a reasonable concern,” he laughed.

“But there are plenty of places in town, and once you get a great reputation in Santa Barbara, it’s actually easier. You don’t even have to put your résumé out there — people are going to hear about you.”

The concerns evolved into finding spouses jobs, but that stopped about six years ago. “I would hear the opposite,” he said, “‘I can’t believe how much is here.’”

He sees a lot of similarities between people who choose to work in Kauai. “For the most part, they are there because they want to be there, and they’re making it work,” he explained. “It’s a concerted initiative to live in that place. What comes with that is a certain joy. In Hawai‘i, there’s a real aloha, where people are just happy that they’re here and are able to make it work. To some extent, we have that in Santa Barbara.”

That aloha sensibility doesn’t appeal to everyone. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all mentality, and that’s fine,” he admitted. “But I think for the folks it does work with, it feeds off itself, and we’ve been able to create this very collegiate, very congenial community that’s really willing to help each other and is much less sharp elbowed and worried about somebody taking something from them.”

For him, success is all about the people. “Great people can turn a marginal opportunity into a fantastic one,” he explained. “It’s all about making sure you start out with a great core team, and then you’ll deal with the vagaries of the market. If you have the right team, they’ll be the winners.” Concluded Greathouse, “I feel really bullish about Santa Barbara long-term.”  johngreathouse.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

Sprigeo Says Yes to School Safety

Joe Bruzzese of Sprigeo, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Joe Bruzzese of Sprigeo, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

When Joe Bruzzese founded Sprigeo in 2010, he wanted to help schools prevent bullying and provide a safe, anonymous method for students to report things that made them feel unsafe. The service has since evolved into a full-fledged school safety tip line reporting system, with a 24/7 call center accessible by phone, email, text, an app, or the website.

“Everything goes through the call center,” explained Bruzzese. “They triage those tips based on pre-set criteria to determine how serious of a threat the tip is. Some are very serious—‘There’s a planned school attack,’ or ‘I’m planning to take my own life and I’m calling or reporting to get help’—to something that’s far less serious, like, ‘I don’t like what they’re serving in the school cafeteria.’ We get the gamut of reportable tips, not all of which qualify obviously as a school safety threat.”

A virtual company from the get-go, Sprigeo now serves more than 4,000 schools across 28 states as well as administering the statewide tip lines for Oregon and Idaho. They recently signed on to provide the tip line for the state of Illinois, their largest customer so far.

That provides a lot of data to digest. One trend that Bruzzese sees is an uptick in middle-school students “really struggling with cutting and depression and other forms of self-harm.” Vaping is also on the rise, not just in high school but in middle school. Prior to the pandemic, Sprigeo was working on a series of videos featuring high schoolers telling middle schoolers how “uncool” and unhealthy vaping really is.

Unfortunately, that project is on hold at the moment, but one thing the company has been able to move forward on is an online educational conference that will launch on September 14.

“The culture around meetings and professional development really has changed, and people are now very comfortable with sitting in front of a screen and attending a Zoom meeting or a training session,” explained Bruzzese. “Districts still have the same professional development requirements by law, [so this is] helping them in a way that makes sense, which has been great. Everyone is really looking for opportunities for quality online training.”   sprigeo.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

ParentSquare Makes the Grade

Anupama Vaid of ParentSquare, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Anupama Vaid of ParentSquare, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Entrepreneurs follow all kinds of inspirational paths. For Anupama Vaid, it was the halls of Santa Barbara’s Peabody Charter School that inspired her to start ParentSquare, a communication platform connecting parents to teachers and school administrators that is now used by 4,500 K-12 schools across the country.

A former computer engineer for Citrix, Vaid came up with the idea in 2011, when she took a sabbatical to be home with her young children and realized how much more school information was available to stay-at-home parents.

The platform’s development by Vaid and her husband, Sohit Wadhwa, emphasized a simple format that could be accessed via phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops for parents, teachers, and office staff. But making a solid product was only step one.

“Even if you build a good product, there is hindrance in adoption primarily because the education tech industry is a government industry and there are regulations and lots of things to learn,” explained Vaid, who spent almost four years learning the ins and outs of ed tech. “Education really teaches us about technology, but they are not the first ones to adopt technology. Whenever they are buying something, it has to be a collective decision. Plus, it has to be priced correctly because they are buying it with state funds.”

Upon cracking that nut, ParentSquare grew rapidly, but COVID-19 is presenting new challenges. The schools pay a fixed amount per student, but with online education becoming the norm in the spring, their normal usage patterns have gone up tremendously. “But we’re happy to be able to serve the schools during this time,” said Vaid. “It’s very satisfying to be able to do that.”

In addition to consistently delivering helpful tips for better online communication, ParentSquare also added Health Screening Forms to the platform to help schools prevent the spread of COVID.

A more persistent challenge is hiring developers, as ParentSquare uses the same Ruby on Rails web-application framework that’s also used by some of the biggest companies in town, such as AppFolio and Procore. “Obviously, their pockets are much deeper,” she said. But ParentSquare offers a unique advantage. “This is such a soulful company,” she said. “It’s a feel-good experience, and every one of the education industry people is so nice to work with because you know you’re all in it together for the common good. Unlike other industries I’ve been in, this is tech for a social cause, and it’s a different feeling being a part of such a company.”

parentsquare.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

Investor Insight into Tech Trends

John Petote, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

John Petote, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Santa Barbara Angel Alliance Founder John Petote Analyzes the High-Tech Marketplace

Having invested in more than 100 startups (“which means I’ve looked at well over 1,000 of them”), Santa Barbara Angel Alliance founder John Petote shares these insights on today’s tech trends.

Watch the Legislation: “You’ve got the government coming down on the four or five big leaders in technology. That’s going to slow them down in some form. I’ve seen this cycle a number of times, where three to four horses take off and they just start dominating. Then the government gets involved, and that means there’s a new fertile ground opportunity for startups to really address niches that they can exploit in a three- to seven-year period.”

5G Is Next: “The more you increase bandwidth and the cheaper you make it, the more opportunity there is for new technology to exploit it. We’re going to see a lot of startups come up to take advantage of that, and they should. It is going to be a whole new cycle.”

Locals to Watch: “Some of the companies that are starting to mature as startups and getting ready to go to a blast-off phase are Apeel SciencesInvoca, and Impact Radius. You don’t hear about [Impact Radius] much, but they’re doing really well. Some data companies as well, including HG Insights and Carpe Data, are starting to accelerate. They are young enough and nimble enough to keep morphing their product to capitalize on more bandwidth that’s faster and cheaper.”

S.B. on Upswing: “When I started investing in 1997, the VCs would laugh at us and say, ‘It’s just a little beachy tourist town.’ When a billion-dollar company exits like Lynda.com (purchased by LinkedIn, then by Microsoft), Procore is probably $4 billion now, and Apeel is probably hitting $1 billion, and it goes on and on, then they go, ‘Wow.’ They’ve got to take that seriously. Over the last 15 years, the Bay Area is really so crazy, and it’s polluted and it’s so crowded, so they’re saying, ‘We’ve got to get out and come to Santa Barbara.’”

Success as Fertilizer: “When a company exits, these people either get rich or get richer and then they think, ‘Well, I’ll be bored,’ so they want to have fun again and start another company and bring more talent in. Or they become an investor, if you’re like me, and help coddle these companies and sit on boards and really mentor them.”

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

Mentoring, Not Just Money, For Startups

Julie Henley McNamara and Jason Spievak of Entrada Ventures, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Julie Henley McNamara and Jason Spievak of Entrada Ventures, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Founded in 2018 by a who’s who of veteran Santa Barbara tech operators, entrepreneurs, and investors, Entrada Ventures focuses on early investments that help start-ups develop into strong businesses ready for their first round of institutional financing. The firm and its team’s list of affiliations include ACT (Medtronic), Apeel Sciences, Aurrion (Juniper), CallWave, Invoca, Local Market Launch, SmartReceipt (Mobivity), Software.comValueClick (Conversant), and Web Ignite, among others.

Entrada was started under the principle that there was not much investor support in Santa Barbara. “There’s money but not a lot of support about how to navigate fundraising, building a company, operations, financials, marketing, and all of that,” explained Julie Henley McNamara, Entrada’s operating partner and a Cal Poly grad.

“We want to give money but also be helpful to the community with our portfolio of companies. It’s all about the 805.”

When business is not restricted by COVID, the VC fund team holds regular office hours at UCSB, Cal Poly, and the downtown Kiva Cowork space. “Julie is really the inspiration behind some of this,” said managing partner Jason Spievak. “We want to make that capital conversation more accessible to small businesses here in the region.”

They aren’t necessarily looking for proper pitches, just an introduction. “The office hours are also a way to put less pressure on young people if they just want to talk.”

Once Entrada invests, the collaboration is geared to the need. That ranges from becoming part of the board and meeting weekly to a much less active role. “It really kind of depends on the company,” said McNamara. “The way we like to work with them is to be as helpful as we can but not be interfering and not be intrusive.” And if she’s the interface but the need is something she cannot provide, McNamara can call on one of her partners or search through her extensive network to find the right solution.

entradaventures.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

Top Five Things Investors Want (and Need)

Julie Henley McNamara and Jason Spievak of Entrada Ventures, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Julie Henley McNamara and Jason Spievak of Entrada Ventures, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

With a career as an investor and founder spanning three decades and a broad range of technologies from agricultural sciences to virtual reality, Entrada Ventures cofounder Jason Spievak believes these five things are critical for attracting investors.

1 INTEGRITY “There’s some core criteria that we look for, and job one is integrity, far and away. Because if you can’t trust someone, you can’t rely on them and you can’t work with them, so that is absolutely binary. There is no wiggle room on what I call situational ethics.”

2 THE RIGHT FIT “Does this person have the skill and the experience to do the thing that they need to do to succeed in their role? Are they actually the right person for the job, so to speak, in terms of skills, experience, and aptitude?”

3 A WINNING MINDSET “We all, unfortunately, know people who were raised from childhood to believe that success happens to other people and it’s their job to get the ball to the one-yard line and toil away in anonymity while somebody else makes it happen. We really want to invest in folks that believe that they deserve success.”

4 SOMETHING TO PROVE “It’s a little bit esoteric, but do they have something to prove? You want to bet on someone — I don’t care if you’re proving it to your mom, your dad, your teacher who gave you a B, your coach who didn’t start you, your boyfriend who broke up with you. Who feels like they have something to prove? They work really, really hard. And they work hard when no one’s watching.”

5 CHEMISTRY “Would you want to sit next to this person on an airplane for six hours? The only guarantee is you’re going to spend a heck of a lot of time together when you invest in someone’s company, and as a result, you want to enjoy that time. You want to be learning; you want to look forward to that time together and not roll your eyes when you see their name on the phone, so it’s pretty important. People talk about investing in someone’s company as being like a marriage. It’s more than marriage in a way because you can’t get divorced.”

BONUS POINTS: PROVEN TRACK RECORD “There’s absolutely an overwhelming amount of evidence out there that shows that founders who build and successfully exit a company are more likely to do it again. So a proven track record is ideal. However, when you’re doing early-stage investing, as we like to do here in the region, it’s often the case that this is the first company for these founders; otherwise, they would not necessarily be seeking early-stage capital—they would have it already.”

entradaventures.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

Tech Employers Talk Back

HG Insights' Elizabeth Cholawsky, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

HG Insights’ Elizabeth Cholawsky, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

As Santa Barbara’s tech sector continues to grow and evolve, so do the challenges and opportunities presented here. I asked a bunch of industry leaders for their observations, and what follows is a snapshot of what’s going on today.

ATTRACTING TALENT IS EASIER: A common complaint is that it’s hard to attract employees here compared to larger markets like Silicon Valley. “There’s a little bit of truth to that—you generally have a bigger pool—but you also don’t have the extreme competition and somewhat lack of loyalty of employees in that market,” said Elizabeth Cholawsky, president and CEO of HG Insights. “There’s a lot more turnover of employees in the Bay Area.”

As the former CEO of the Sunnyvale-based Support.com, Cholawsky said the challenges of attracting top talent are offset by advantages. “It is a small community, so people that aren’t at the top of their game often don’t survive in Santa Barbara because everybody knows everybody and experiences get shared pretty openly,” she said. “The cream of the crop rises in Santa Barbara because a lot of people want to stay here because it’s such a beautiful place to live. So you do your best to do your best, and if you’re not, it gets weeded out by the fact that we’ve got a tight-knit community.”

Others appreciate that advantage as well. “Santa Barbara is very underrated in terms of its ability to offer a challenging and a healthy tech environment, maybe without some of the rat-race elements that Silicon Valley has become,” said Mike Muench, CEO and president of Seek Thermal, who worked in Silicon Valley while a VP for Apple. “I’ve talked to a number of transplants from Silicon Valley at the executive or professional level, and, almost without exception, they’ve felt the same way: Why didn’t I do this 10 years ago? This still gives me all the technical and professional challenges that I need, but from a lifestyle tradeoff, it’s a lot more balanced and healthy.”

LONGER TENURES: “People who join the company tend to stay in the company longer, which is nice,” said ParentSquare cofounder Anupama Vaid. “In the Bay Area, the churn is so high.”

Having been a VP of the Leaf Group in Santa Monica, Entrada Ventures’ operating partner Julie Henley McNamara agrees. “There’s a real sense of loyalty here,” she said. “You’re not stressed when you get to the office because there wasn’t a lot of rigmarole to get there. From Carpinteria to Goleta, there is traffic, but nothing like the Bay Area or L.A.”

WORK-LIFE BALANCE: “Santa Barbara, especially in the day and age of COVID, offers a great quality of life and a growing, thriving, tight-knit community,” said Amy Meyer, Chief People Officer at AppFolio. “There are a lot of interconnections, just a couple degrees of separation, and the Santa Barbara community has a lot to offer. We also do a lot of work in the community—giving back through our employee driven give-back program.”

ParentSquare’s employees have access to Gold’s Gym just downstairs, explained Vaid, “and our Christmas parties and our annual get-togethers are always something outdoorsy.”

Nathan Ziv of Invoca said that their employees did a lot of team hikes prior to COVID, and that he often will take an employee out for a one-on-one meeting by walking to Stearns Wharf, just a few blocks from their office at the bottom of State Street. “When surf is good, go take a longer lunch and get in the water and then come back,” he said. “After that, you can do meetings and whatnot. I don’t think you can do that as easily in a big city.”

COMMUNITY COLLABORATION: The tech community’s interconnectedness is in part due to its relatively small size, but there’s also a concerted effort on the part of leaders to work together.

As the COVID pandemic began, Meyer from AppFolio helped create a forum for HR leaders in the tri-county area. “There’s about 15 to 20 of us from various tech companies that meet every couple of weeks, specifically to share best practices and what’s working and what’s not in navigating COVID and how to support employees through that,” she said.

Henry Ventura, who manages diversity, inclusion, and equal employment for the County of Santa Barbara, is spearheading a Diversity Roundtable coalition with a diverse group of companies. That includes leaders from Amazon’s Alexa branch on State Street, MarBorg, Deckers Brands, Just Communities, Invoca, Sonos, and Procore, among others, to promote equitable practices in the workplace.

COST OF HOUSING: The cost of living is “definitely a challenge,” said Meyer. “In light of living in a pandemic, people are now more than ever choosing where they want to live and having more flexibility. It’s going to get easier in some respects to recruit and to attract people to Santa Barbara because of that quality of life.”

CONTINUED EVOLUTION: Success will only create more opportunity, as Meyer explained, “Often, companies are headquartered wherever the founder lives.” But she believes the biggest continued growth will be thanks to UCSB’s established tech ecosystem and a growing talent pool from Westmont College.

She explained, “Both will continue to create the space for entrepreneurial, innovative thinkers and draw them.”

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20