Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, July 10, 2023
by Neil Senturia
My bride, Ms. Barbara Bry, and I recently had a slice of pizza with the two founders of EvoNexus — technology entrepreneur Rory Moore and Walter Davis, who served in the Navy for more than 30 years, retiring as a vice admiral. Originally started in 1995 as the San Diego Telecom Council, it morphed into a technology incubator in 2008. In the tradition of The Conversation by Gail Collins and Bret Stephens of The New York Times, here’s a snippet.
Barbara: What’s on your mind, Rory?
Rory: Two weeks ago, I was at a fancy, invite-only event in Silicon Valley. Fifty people.
Neil: What was the theme?
Rory: ChatGPT, AI. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Barbara: We went to a Harvard Business School Zoom with one of the professors, and at the end, we were terrified because you can’t regulate bad people using it.
Neil: You need standards and protocols, but the AI game does not lend itself to that. Over a billion dollars has been invested in more than 40 of these companies. They can’t all win.
Rory: Bad actors and powerful technology. And you want to set up some new ground rules? Good luck.
Neil: Atom bomb stuff. Hard to envision tech wanting to be regulated, but it seems like it is coming.
Barbara: Where has regulation worked best?
Rory: It has worked well in the wireless communication space. Without regulation in wireless, the spectrum would be a mess. Consider aviation. Pilots have one common language, English. Imagine if the air traffic controller needed to learn seven different languages. Madness.
Barbara: You fly an airplane. Acrobatics. And you fly upside down a lot.
Neil: Incubator v. accelerator?
Rory:In my mind, an incubator is a program that’s long-term, doing things that take time. Internal incubation at the corporate level is for projects that these large companies start on, and then spend years perfecting. CDMA wasn’t invented overnight at Qualcomm, for example. Illumina, the genomic sequencing company, same story. And if you’re a startup incubator like us, you need to be prepared to be on a longer journey with these early-stage companies. Takes time. You need to be willing to grind. Getting to a real series A is a battle.
Walt: Silicon Valley accelerators were developed with a business plan for profit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when Rory and I founded EvoNexus, we wanted to really kind of give back to the San Diego community, especially back in those dark days of 2008/2009.
Barbara: Are you getting the support you need from our local governments?
Rory: Well, that is a loaded question. City government seems to be highly focused on downtown, with a bit of Chula Vista and City Heights. But the overall assumption seems to be that the innovation economy will take care of itself and it doesn’t need city leadership help. Look, certain mayors in the past have come to visit us in Sorrento Valley or on the Mesa in person. It would be nice to be on someone’s radar without it necessarily being a ribbon-cutting.
Neil: You would like a little one-on-one personal loving?
Rory: Some marketing dollars would be nice, for sure. Look, we say that the innovation economy is critical to San Diego, but every garden needs some fertilizer from time to time. A good example would be Austin, Texas. They have created an amazing cluster. There are 17,600 tech firms in Austin. Think Tesla, Apple, Oracle, Amazon.
Neil:What is the biggest challenge you face with the new CEOs who come to Evo?
Walt: One for sure is raising money.
Rory: And, of course, the granddaddy of them all — are they coachable?
Walt/Rory:They will be when we get done with them.
Neil: Back to AI, just like the cybersecurity companies, there will be consolidation. Place your bets, because, in the end, it is always FOMO (fear of missing out).
Barbara: Last question. What is your next challenge?
Walt/Rory: Finding someone to replace us. We are like the sixth man on a basketball team. You need to be a good cheerleader, can come off the bench, score a quick 12 points and sit back down.
Consider this a condensed, abridged, reasonably close-to-the-truth dialogue, but not a deposition.
Rule No. 712:
He shoots, he scores.