A UC San Diego alumni and second generation Latina, Alexa-Rae Navarro is the Executive Director of Startup San Diego, the official non-profit supporting the San Diego startup ecosystem. Prior to running Startup San Diego, she spent the last eight years in Los Angeles working at the intersection of tech, corporate, education, non-profit, and public sectors, immersed in supporting the tech and startup ecosystem. Alexa-Rae served as the Sr. Managing Director of the Bixel Exchange, Center for Innovation & Tech at the LA Area Chamber of Commerce, focused on connecting talent to opportunity through entrepreneurship and talent development to ensure an inclusive L.A. technology ecosystem. Her work focused on economic development impact, including building and scaling entrepreneurship and talent development programming. She has a Master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles Luskin School of Public Affairs. In her free time, she enjoys the adventures of motherhood alongside her husband.
Where did the idea for Startup San Diego come from?
Startup San Diego is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serving to connect, educate, and inspire founders and local talent to grow an equitable San Diego startup ecosystem and entrepreneurial community. Startup San Diego was born as a grassroots movement in 2013, started by local San Diego entrepreneurs with the goal of bringing density to the local startup community. The group hosted the very first San Diego Startup Week in 2013 with a series of events hosted throughout Downtown San Diego drawing a few hundred attendees. The conference is now in its eighth year and run produced by the nonprofit’s Executive Director and volunteer Entrepreneurs-in-Residence.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day starts with coffee – there’s no exception! I’m a mom of soon-to-be two little ones, so mama definitely needs her fuel. Running an event- focused and volunteer-driven organization means I wear many different hats and a “typical day” depends on the season or event cycle of that particular time of year. Startup San Diego brings the community together, so my day-to-day revolves around executing this in a variety of capacities, especially during the pandemic. We are committed to keeping our local startup ecosystem going and ensuring its unwavering strength, force, and resiliency.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have a personal two-step process. I start by removing the distractions of the world and day-to-day life by taking a minimum 30-minute long epsom salt soak sans cell-phone and electronics to recenter and then think freely about said idea and the steps/things needed to bring the vision to life. I follow that up with a white board session to put pen to paper so-to-speak to start mapping it out. My favorite virtual whiteboard tool is Mural, hands down,
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m hoping it is more of a new norm vs. trend, but the rapid adoption of remote work due to the pandemic has brought about a culture shift in the normalization of personal life within the workplace, specifically, in regard to children and parental responsibilities. As a working mom, I know firsthand the stressors and anxieties that come with balancing children and work. Before the pandemic, having a toddler make an appearance on a zoom call would have been a complete professional faux pa. Today, it’s welcomed, and I would say this shift has led to significantly less personal stress allowing oneself to focus that energy toward more productive things. The shift has served to humanize us as working professionals and has provided the opportunity for deeper relationship connections with professional colleagues and coworkers.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I always try to give first! Everyone has a superpower; use yours to lift up others or connect folks to peers who can help. Be diligent. Eventually this mindset will spread and turn into innate behavior of your community. You’ll have an ecosystem of entrepreneurs who go through the startup life cycle and turn around every step of the way to pull a fellow entrepreneur up alongside them. Fostering this ethos is what a trusted community is all about. We are absolutely #BetterTogether!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Every decision I’ve made, every moment I’ve experienced, has led to the present. I would not be where I am today or have the perspective I do without experiencing all of those moments and results of the decisions I’ve made. When I think of the challenges I’ve faced along my path, the process of overcoming those challenges have served to teach me the most about both life and leadership. The advice I would give myself rather is trust your intuition – always, always, always.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am a serial problem solver with a passion for continuous learning. I enjoy working with dynamic organizations with a strong mission where I can build, streamline, and optimize operational systems and infrastructure to achieve internal strategic objectives and facilitate unparalleled impact.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I come from a very long line of entrepreneurs, which is absolutely why I’ve gravitated toward startup ecosystem and community building. But if I wasn’t focused on building the community, I’d likely still be part of contributing to it as an entrepreneur myself.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve been sitting on an idea for a few years now that I’ve put in my mental “parking lot” of things to revisit when the time is right. You know, when the “kids go to school” or “when you’ve personally accomplished a, b, and c,” etc. One of my favorite quotes from one of our past Startup Week speakers I often share with entrepreneurs is, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Sounds like I might need to take my own advice.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
There are three pieces of software that are important to the work I do. Spotify, Slack, & Mural. I view music as the ultimate productivity tool. I also think that music has a beautiful capacity to heal and bring people together. Music transcends language. During the early shift to remote work during the pandemic, we created a collaborative playlist called Startup San Diego Sounds to help get our community through COVID-19. It has over 70 songs made up of many different genres and styles of music. Slack really eliminates email and streamlines communication. I have a remote team, so the Slack provides space for asynchronous communication through a very structured and categorized way. Mural is the best virtual whiteboard tool I’ve come across. Whiteboarding and design thinking exercises are critical in my personal workflow, so this tool allows me to continue to do this remotely with my team.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
As a startup community builder, I’d have to say Brad Feld’s Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway actually just released the Startup Communities sequel, The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem that I’m in the middle of – also a definite must read. I also geek out on topics related to building teams and culture, so if this describes you, I often find myself going back to Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord.
- The rapid adoption of remote work due to the pandemic has brought about a culture shift in the normalization of personal life within the workplace, specifically, in regard to children and parental responsibilities.
- Every decision I’ve made, every moment I’ve experienced, has led to the present. I would not be where I am today or have the perspective I do without experiencing all of those moments and results of the decisions I’ve made.
- Startup San Diego is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization serving to connect, educate, and inspire founders and local talent to grow an equitable San Diego startup ecosystem and entrepreneurial community.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.