OK, this isn’t really about surfing – it’s about the investment climate in California life science. But there are some interesting parallels – and inverse – relationships to surfing.
And no, I’m not a surfer (real surfers please forgive my linguistic transgressions), but you can’t live in the Bay Area for seven years and San Diego for five without absorbing a little of the surfing culture. Whoa, dude!
Anyway, the Bay Area is famous for the gnarly Mavericks – one of the most awesome big wall surfing spots in the world, with waves as high as 60 feet at times. It is a do-or-die kind of ride, one that only a few are capable of attempting, let alone surviving. It’s difficult to get there, and when you do, it gives intensity a whole new meaning. While there are other places to surf in the Bay Area, such as Santa Cruz, much of the coast is too rugged or the waves too inhospitable.
San Diego, on the other hand, has many more beaches and great places to catch waves, although they’re generally tamer. As you drive up and down the coast you most see “barnies” – the casual surfers who spend more time bobbing up and down on their boards than surfing – with only a few actually catching the curl of a 2-3 foot swell for a few seconds. This is more of a life-style approach to surfing, where your survival is probably not at risk, but then you’re never going to hang 10 down a wall of water at 60 miles an hour, either.
Sound familiar? The Bay Area has the big waves – the major VCs – providing the fuel to drive the intensity major drug development requires. And while all the resources you could want are there, it can be more difficult to gain access to them.
In an inverse relationship to the surfing metaphor, there are more places to invest in Bay Area life science. Some say there are over 1200 biotechs there, vs. San Diego’s 500 or so. While San Diego has fewer, a higher percentage of them are generating real revenue, even profits, again contributing to the life style theme – it’s good to throw off cash to the owners.
But what does it all mean, dude? Well, like, here’s my optimistic prognostication.
Mavericks – It will always be one of the best places on earth to get your thrills, if you’ve got the skills and resources to ride the big one, and are willing to take the risk.
La Jolla – It’s a great place to get up on the board, and the waves are conducive to success, although maybe on a smaller scale. But as there are more and more successes, the attitude of mutual support among San Diegan’s is creating a cycle of succeed, give-back, succeed bigger, a cycle that is attracting more of the Mavericks surfers to come join the beach party. Totally tubular.