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The Promised Land: Will Entrepreneurial Techies Ever Ditch San Francisco? 

Tuesday, Aug 19 2014
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There's a vaudeville-era joke about a man walking in on his wife and best friend in the sack. "Sam!" the cuckolded husband laments, "I have to. But you?"

For longtime San Franciscans and those with family ties keeping them city-bound, there's a pang of the familiar here. This city is a place that's easy to simultaneously love and be driven mad by; there are other places where one needn't spend lots of money to live in a perpetual state of young adult penury.

So, here's an idea. Why not move elsewhere — and they'll pay you?

That, in a nutshell, is the impetus behind Techstars. The venture capital-backed endeavor selects tech startups to participate in "accelerators" in seven cities: Austin, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, London, New York, and Seattle.

You'll notice what city isn't on that list.

The companies receive $118,000 apiece, participate in a three-month program, and win access to a burgeoning network of funders and mentors. The program takes a 7 to 10 percent cut of participating startups' equity — and, rather sensibly, aims to keep them headquarted nearby (so as to add to that network).

This year a burgeoning number of San Francisco startups thought this would be a good deal. Techstars Seattle announced that, between 2013 and 2014, 67 percent more S.F.-based companies applied to the program. Anders Maul, a Techstars associate, declined to disclose the exact figures; he described the number of applications received as "more than 600." Of that total, 10 companies made the cut to move to Seattle; three hail from the West Bay.

Does this portend a San Francisco exodus or, at least, a slowing of the fire hydrant-like stream of startups headed to our city? Maul wouldn't go that far, noting this is "just one data point." Good call: More data points indicate this city is still lousy with startups.

A perusal of city licensing data indicates 7,374 businesses opened locations here through August, making for a projected 12,300 this year. Last year there were 14,769; the year before that there were 13,644. The San Francisco Business Times recently reported that, of the nearly 3 million square feet of office space being constructed in this city, the proportion pre-leased by tech businesses is an unsubtle 100 percent. A co-workspace operator tells SF Weekly that capacity at his communal tech offices is also always at 100 percent or damn near. The people who opt to move to San Francisco and pay top dollar are less interested in saving money by being elsewhere than by being surrounded by similarly motivated techies here.

When it comes to moving here, in their minds — they have to.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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