“Why San Francisco?” Why not start a company in a place where the cost of living is lower and real estate prices make you feel like an extra zero was left out. By Dr. Danielle Applestone (CEO, Otherfab)
I love to be in the factory. I love thinking about what can be made via which method, in what quantity, at what cost, and how fast? I am CEO of a hardware company that makes desktop CNC machines, and I am frighteningly close to having a fully staffed and humming production line in the Mission District of San Francisco. My team is amazing, our Kickstarter campaign is going swimmingly, but yesterday I was asked: “Why San Francisco?” Why not start a company in a place where the cost of living is lower and real estate prices make you feel like an extra zero was left out.
I was at City Hall when the question was presented to me. (I’m not entirely sure how I got invited to City Hall, but once I was there, my role became clear.) The Mayor’s roundtable on Advanced Manufacturing included people from non-profits, big San Francisco corporations, a crowdfunding guy, and government officials.
Why was I there? Well, I was the person who runs a company that makes things – something that they all want to see more of. If they can determine why we started a company in San Francisco and help us navigate growing into a larger company, then perhaps we will stay.
Let’s start with why we started here: talent and money. You need to be in a big pond to gather the right team and harness the financial support for big ideas. But what about after we have a team, a product, and enough investment? When we turn our resources from research and development towards manufacturing and shipping, why would we stay in San Francisco? Lately, some friends with successful companies are talking about moving their production a few states over, where taxes and space availability present a compelling narrative. However, I think that the scales can be tipped back.
There are two main things that would keep me here and make me very proud to be a “made in SF” entrepreneur.
1. A culture of mentorship. 2. Support of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“A culture of mentorship” means businesses helping each other make smart decisions and operate more efficiently. Yes, it goes against the competitive mindset, but I feel it’s better for our local economy to have 1000 small businesses than just a handful of large ones. We are in this together, and we should help each other.
Support of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem. This starts with children. It means more public resources for exploration of interests and skills; not just for those who can afford it (think public workshops and studios). It means bringing apprenticeships back into fashion and funding internships in all areas of the economy, not just high tech software. It means fostering closer connections between industry and schools, so that people understand what is possible and what is relevant.
I don’t see these things happening anywhere, but if I did, I would gladly move my business there, no matter what size pond it is.
Women 2.0 readers: Why do you like being a "Made in San Francisco" entrepreneur?
About the guest blogger: Otherfab is Danielle’s fourth company to co-found. Following her PhD in Materials Science at UT Austin, Danielle pursued commercialization of the lithium ion battery technology that she developed during her years there. The technology was subsequently licensed to a large, multi-national corporation. Danielle also remains CEO of a successful software company that she co-founded in 2003, which provides a service to a community of over 10,000 users: SnipeSwipe. She cares deeply about mentorship, education, and entrepreneurship, and she strives to live in service to others.