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The New Tech Nexus

NEWS1 techCommunity leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

Bob Cagle knows all too well what it is like to lose hours of his free time driving to and from Silicon Valley each day. During his son’s early years, he was one of the more than 20,000 Santa Cruz residents outsourcing their skills over the hill.

“When I had a small child, I was spending upwards of four hours—two hours each way—going to Menlo Park,” says Cagle, cofounder of Santa Cruz-based software development company, ProductOps. “Getting up in the morning before my child was awake and coming home after my child was asleep, I didn’t get to see much of him.”

Cagle’s colleague, Frank Humphries, vice president of marketing and strategy at ProductOps, also feels for the commuters on Highway 17, but sees the highway’s congestion from a different perspective. Humphries is a reverse from Los Altos commuter and zooms past the line of headlights each morning on his trip to Santa Cruz.

“My heart goes out to them on a daily basis,” says Humphries. 

Both Cagle and Humphries took notice of the recent swell of local tech companies looking to expand, the growing popularity of tech-related events in town, and the formation of angel investment firms geared toward Santa Cruz and the Central Coast in recent years. Around the dawn of 2014, they began to devise a strategy that could somehow steer commuters away from Silicon Valley. “We want to shine a big bright light on tech companies here because there’s a lot going on,” says Cagle.

His idea quickly gained support from the local tech cognoscenti, and in the time between running local tech company ProductOps, Cagle started to form Santa Cruz Works. After months of preparation, Works is ready to launch its website on Sept. 17. The nonprofit’s site will offer tech companies a forum to display their focuses and culture, provide entrepreneurs with resources for starting and maintaining a business. Most importantly, Works will serve as a tool for techies to network and find local jobs at existing companies.

“There are a lot of new job opportunities here. To some extent, we believe that the commuters are not in a position to be aware, perhaps, of what’s currently going on in Santa Cruz,” says Humphries. “When you do that drive twice a day and you give up those hours of your life, by the time you get home, to go out and network in Santa Cruz and look for opportunities is probably the furthest thing from your mind.”

Santa Cruz Works will feature many of the local startups looking to hire on its website, like Looker, which will soon make the move from into the top floor of the E.C Rittenhouse Building, and will continue to expand once the move is made. Growing tech companies looking to recruit, like Tuul, PredPol, and PayStand, will also be featured on the website.

Once the program is operational, Cagle will serve as the president of Works, and Humphries, the executive director. The nonprofit’s day-to-day operations will be conducted by Works program director, Mark Adams. A recent UCSC graduate, Adams has become a rising star in the local tech community after the success of UCSC’s first hackathon, which he helped to organize and facilitate in April. Adams hopes to strengthen the ties between tech companies in Santa Cruz and UCSC as Works’ program director, and with the next hackathon, which will be held this January.

The university’s vice chancellor of research, Scott Brandt serves on the board of directors of Santa Cruz Works. The nonprofit’s board also includes prominent community members like Steve Benz of Five3 Genomics, Carolyn Hughes of Looker, the City of Santa Cruz’s Economic Development Executive Director, Bonnie Lipscomb, and angel investor, Bud Colligan, whose investing firms, South Swell Ventures and Central Coast Angels, are both sponsoring Santa Cruz Works.

Colligan hopes Santa Cruz Works will bring more attention to small and medium-sized tech companies growing in Santa Cruz, ultimately creating a more diversified small business economy.“Our main pillars are agriculture, tourism, education, healthcare, and government, but we need a strong science and technology community to increase that diversification, and bring more good jobs, clean jobs, and sustainable jobs to the county,” says Colligan. Board member Bonnie Lipscomb will lend the insight of local government to the program, and much like Colligan, hopes Santa Cruz Works will bolster local science and technology sectors.

“Santa Cruz Works is all about increasing the awareness of the burgeoning science and technology ecosystem and building the support infrastructure so these jobs and companies can thrive here in Santa Cruz,” says Lipscomb in an email to GT. “The potential exists for us to expand this model to other industry sectors in our community over time as well. From an economic development perspective, it is about job growth and retention right here in Santa Cruz.”

Although Santa Cruz Works’ primary interface is the website, the small but determined team plans to hold networking functions of its own, as well as promote existing-tech related events like TechRaising and Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp.

Ultimately, Santa Cruz Works is designed to inform commuters that it is possible to live and work locally, and foster a greater sense of community among science and tech professionals in the county. But Cagle points out that the Santa Cruz tech scene could also gain something else from Works in the long-term.

“I think what may be underneath as well is a sense of respect that the tech community deserves. If you think about it, Silicon Valley is chock full of tech companies, and they’re drawing 21,000 people from this community. This is a small county in California and it exports more people than any other county in California, so there must be some talent here,” says Cagle. “I love my town and I think it deserves respect as a working community, as well as a tourist community.” 

Adams feels that Works is the final piece of the puzzle for a thriving local tech economy.

“As I’ve become involved in the tech community, it’s looked more and more like we’re at a tipping point,” Adams says, “and the big highlight for me is that Santa Cruz Works is that last push that puts us in the right direction.”


PHOTO: Recent UCSC grad Mark Adams will handle day-to-day operations for Santa Cruz Works, a new tool to connect local tech companies and workers. KEANA PARKER

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