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Start Up San Diego

Teaming up with the International Women’s Hackathon

By Start Up San Diego,, Web and Tech No Comments

International Women's HackathonTakeLessons is proud to be a part of the video, and a supporter of this years International Women’s Hackathon, held at Cal State, San Marcos.

The International Women’s Hackathon is sponsored by Microsoft Research to empower young women leaders (ages 16 and older) in computer science. Teams of 4-6 girls will make a website, game, cloud based service, application, or mobile app to address one of these two world challenges: Disaster Response or Climate Data.

To encourage participation, especially girls from low socioeconomic families, registration will be free for students, including snacks, lunch, dinner, parking, access to state-of-the-art computing facilities at CSUSM, and collaboration with peers and volunteering mentors from the software industry. In addition, bus services are provided for selected local high schools to bring their students on the day of the event.

Why We Support It

Alan Cole, COO TakeLessonsAlan Cole, our COO drove the initiative.

“At, we come to work each way driven by the idea that we can make a positive difference in the lives of everyone we come in contact with. We choose to do that through technology and software engineering. We want to encourage young people in the San Diego area, and around the world, to see the possibilities of using Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math as tools to make positive change in their world as well.” says, Cole.

The International Women’s Hackathon at Cal State San Marcos helps inspire students to follow their passions and make a difference in careers that have historically been underrepresented by women. We know that women who choose these fields not only change the world, they also earn an average of 33% more than women in other fields. As a big fan of San Diego, I believe that giving young women the technological tools to earn more – while changing the world – is an incredible gift to the San Diego Innovation Economy.

Steven interviewed for the IWH video on empowering young women.

Steven interviewed for the IWH video on empowering young women to think about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Tools to Help You Start a Business in San Diego

By Start Up San Diego, Videos No Comments

Here’s a quick video segment we did on KUSI-TV on a few helpful steps on starting your own business here in San Diego. There are a lot of tools and resources out there that can help you.


David Davis: San Diego has a lot of opportunity when it comes to starting your own business. It’s one of the leading cities in the country for that, and joining us this morning are several people that are going to help us kind of put together a toolkit for us to start your own company and get an interest in entrepreneurship. Steven Cox, Stacey Pennington, and John Belmonte.

Steven, you’re with TakeLessons. Tell me what that’s all about, and tell me what your expertise is in helping people.

Steven: Sure. TakeLessons is a marketplace where you can go to find any instructor that you’re looking for in literally about 7,000 different subjects – everything from music to Spanish to voice to parkour to dance. You name it, we’re the place to go to for that. The reason we started our business here in San Diego about six years ago is because we found that San Diego is an extremely collaborative place. One thing that’s important for our viewers to remember is there’s so many of that have ideas. We’re sitting on the couch wondering, “How do I get the business started?” and “Where do I go to get started?” What you’ll find in San Diego, first and foremost, is that there’s a huge, huge community of really collaborative people. So, you can take your idea from simply an idea in your head, all the way out to fruition. Groups such as has graduated over 3,000 companies and helped them get started. Groups like EvoNexus — they’ve had 68 companies that walked through their mentorship program, and they’ve raised over $573 million all through that program. So, there are a ton of programs out there that are available for the young entrepreneur, at universities whether they’re trying to get started there, or for folks who might be retiring and looking for a second income.

David Davis: Stacey’s with Makers Quarters. A lot of these companies are tech companies too that are coming out in San Diego, aren’t they?

Stacey Pennington: Absolutely. At Makers Quarter, we’re doing a bring-your-own work day, every single Wednesday from 1-5, and it’s a free, open collaborative space with free Wi-Fi. We’re about a month into it, and it’s just been amazing how many young entrepreneurs are really from this downtown startup tech community as well as all over the county who are coming out and meeting one another, holding pop-up job fairs, hosting interviews, and just really connecting.

David Davis: Because it can be really intimidating if you’ve got these ideas and never done something like this before. John, you’re with Cedar Ridge Ventures. I guess you see that all of the time—people that have got these ideas, but they just don’t know where to take the next step. (2:22)

John Belmonte: Yeah, one of the key milestones with building a company is raising money and getting the capital to grow your idea out. So, there’s tons of resources here in town to help you figure out how to do that if you’ve never done it before. I’ve got startup leadership programs. You’ve got the founder institute — they’ll train you on honing your pitch and making sure you have a great story on what you need the capital for. Really, in the end, the best thing to do is just get out there and network. Use Angel List. Use LinkedIn. Find folks in town who have done investments or have raised money and offer to take them to coffee. Pick their brain and find out. Whether it’s seed funds like Crescent Ridge Partners here in town; they’re always reaching out. Social Leverage. You know, we’ve got some of the best investors around—very active, and they’re happy to help.

David Davis: Don’t be shy about it. Just get out there and give it a shot if you’ve got something to go on. Thank you so much for being on. We’ll put your companies on our website as well, so people can get more information and go from there. Thank you very much.

The Downtown San Diego Startup Tech Scene

By Start Up San Diego,, Videos No Comments

Here’s a video I’m a part of that talks about what’s going on in the downtown San Diego tech and innovation scene. Happy to be a contributor to helping grow San Diego’s economy.



Craig Sewing: We’re gonna be bringing on a guest here, Steven Cox with TakeLessons, CEO. Tell us about him.

Seth O’Byrne: Well, you know, when you ask the question what is going on downtown, I say “Steven Cox is happening downtown, and TakeLessons is really shaping downtown. As you know, I’m a cheerleader of all entrepreneurs in San Diego. I think the future of our city lies in the hands of the entrepreneurs, and TakeLessons is a company you would normally see in Silicon Valley or downtown San Francisco, so it’s a real asset to have them in San Diego. I think when we talk about what is happening downtown, we always have to frame that conversation in what’s going on in employment, entrepreneurship, and new business, so I think it would be great to have him on and to talk about what is going on downtown.

Craig: Let’s take a look here at TakeLessons with CEO Steven Cox.

[Video Production]

Seth: When I say tech start-up, what’s the first city you think of? Odds are, it’s not San Diego, so that’s why when Steven Cox founded TakeLessons in 2007 in the heart of downtown San Diego, it took everybody by surprise.

TakeLessons is a tech company that puts students together with teachers. You can learn things from film acting to singing, from guitar lessons to Spanish, and it’s all on the same exact website. What’s great for students is they know if they go through TakeLessons, the teachers have been vetted and are fully-qualified. For teachers, they know if they sign up with TakeLessons, they always have business waiting for them.

Over the last seven years, they’ve built so much interest over what they’ve been doing, they raised over $20 million in venture capital. All of those dollars come to San Diego, and specifically, downtown. That trickles down through the local real estate market, and in fact, it impacts the entire Southern California economy. This means real estate sells faster and values climb. So, as the characteristics of the San Diego economy change, TakeLessons is at the heart of that, and what they’re doing is making San Diego home for tech. So, while most people are hoping San Diego has a bright future, Take Lessons is actually making it a reality.

[Back to Show]

Craig: Love it. Steven Cox, welcome to the show!

Steven: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Craig: Very big name downtown. Great reputation. Seth’s been talking about you for a long time, but everybody does really. Let’s talk about TakeLessons, and I’d love to get your opinion on what you’re seeing with the activity, businesses, and job growth. So, tell us about TakeLessons.

Steven: We’ll frame it around the downtown area, which is where we’re located. We started TakeLessons in a spare bedroom on the corner of 5th and K downtown in the trellis building that I believe Seth actually sold me the unit many many years ago. So, he sold me my first property and then I bought that from him. So, I had this idea of how we could democratize earnings and allow people to make a living doing what they love to do. We started the business right there on 5th and K, then kind of got our first office on 6th, then moved to Broadway, then to 4th, then the Diamond View, and kept moving offices as we continued to grow. Right now, we’re in the building on 225 Broadway downtown. We have about 55 employees. Growing like a little weed and being really excited about being part of the downtown community there. In fact, I think the San Diego Business Journal just listed the top 20 business companies downtown in respect to the number of employees down there, and what was amazing was five out of the top fifteen are involved in digital and tech right now. It’s certainly something that if you take a look at what’s happened over the last five years, the explosion of what we call the innovation economy has certainly taken over downtown, and to where we have continued to grow, not just our business but businesses around. I look around and even just right there within our area, I can throw a stone and hit fifteen to twenty different tech start-ups right around there, which is super, super cool to see.

Craig: Innovation economy. It really is interesting now. You have twenty-one-year-olds that are better on Excel, PowerPoint, internet, and social media. It’s like they’re born with a mouse in their hand. That’s the gist of what you guys are doing. Exactly what do you do with TakeLessons.

Steven: If you take a look around, it’s very to find an instructor for whatever that you might do. If you’re a parent looking for your child for tutoring lessons, or you want to learn Spanish or take crochet. I went horseback riding and took horseback riding lessons last weekend. You can find all of these instructors on TakeLessons. You can take lessons in person, such as horseback riding, or you can take lessons online if it’s something better suited for you. As far as the company, we have instructors that are located in over 4,000 cities all across the U.S. Tens of thousands of people are now able to make a better living doing what they love to do on the TakeLessons platform.

Craig: Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Because I have a client for you named Mr. Buster.

Steven: We actually have some dog trainers, if you’re into that. Our oldest student right now is an 85-year-old gentleman. He joined, and he’s learning drums in La Costa actually, and that’s pretty phenomenal.

Craig: So, what do you see as the future of TakeLessons, the downtown economy, and the innovative economy for our market?

Steven: Again, with TakeLessons, we’ve raised about $20 million in venture capital funding. We’re certainly looking to continue our growth spurt forward, expanding out into more cities, opening up more categories, hiring more people, which that obviously helps the overall San Diego economy as well. With respect to what we’re seeing in technology, especially downtown, it’s super cool: there will be 1,500 to 2,000 tech jobs created here in San Diego. The average tech job pays about $103,000. So, when you take a look at how technology and innovation fuels the economy, it’s really interesting to see how that’s growing, specifically in downtown. The San Diego Downtown Partnership recently completed a study in which every tech job that was moved downtown created an additional 1.6 jobs, whether it be restaurants or hotels or these sorts of jobs. So, we’re spurring the overall economy; it’s really super exciting to see. San Diego as a city, we’re really proud of it: it’s number one for telecommunications, it’s the largest in respect to bioinformatics and biotechnology, the second largest clean-tech city in the world. A lot of people don’t realize how big of a hub San Diego is becoming for innovation. What we like to say is that there are the first two big legs of the San Diego economy. The first one being military, the second one then being tourism, and there’s a third one coming. It is here. It’s the innovation economy, and it’s producing a lot of jobs and a lot of folks buying houses.

Craig: It’s really good that we’re growing. In the past, I’ve actually kind of joked a bit about how Governor Rick Perry of Texas is actually running commercials on the radio actually trying to pull jobs from San Diego and that he actually just pulled Toyota and several thousand jobs. It’s good to know we’re being innovative and that we’re growing in the downtown marketplace. There’s certainly a lot big reports we talk about on this show and the radio show, but nothing is more important than getting a real pulse of the market from the people that are in the market. Seth O’Byrne is a top producing realtor in the downtown marketplace, if you’re looking to buy or sell. He’s the guy. Of course, Steven Cox is an entrepreneur growing TakeLessons. I love that people can visit you online; what’s the best website for you?


Craig: Easy enough. Buster and I will be reaching out soon. Thanks for coming in.

Four Ways San Diego Can Continue to Build It’s Startup Ecosystem

By Start Up San Diego, Web and Tech One Comment

From day one, we’ve built TakeLessons right here in the heart of San Diego. Over the past few years, I’ve personally seen an explosion of activity as more and more people become interested in working for themselves, starting a company, and running after their dream. Compared to yesterday, San Diego’s technology and innovation scene has become more organized and started to develop a true community where people are collaborating, celebrating wins, and helping their fellow entrepreneurs through the stumbles.

While we’ve came a long way, we still are young compared to the developed areas of Silicon Valley and New York. As a metaphor, it feels like we’ve planted seeds and we’re starting to see those seeds germinate above the ground. Now, it’s up to the San Diego tech scene to continue to cultivate our community so our seeds turn into strong trees with deep roots.

I wrote an op-ed piece for Xconomy on my thoughts how San Diego can continue to grow it’s innovation community. I’d love to here your thoughts on how we can all work together to build something great.

What we in San Diego need to focus on first and foremost is our attitude. We need to live and breathe a startup mindset. Anything worthwhile is always created twice: First, in our minds; and second, in reality. As members of San Diego’s entrepreneurial community, we must choose whether to focus on the challenges we face, or on actually making it happen by taking advantage of the strengths we have and moving forward, despite our challenges. It is up to us to make this change first. Inner victories always precede outer victories. Only by being in the right frame of mind will we see the manifestations of our city’s true potential emerge.

Read the Article on Xconomy

Steven Cox Pictures of TakeLessons

San Diego – One of America’s Most Innovative Cities

By Start Up San Diego No Comments

Ahhh, San Diego.

I’ve been a resident for over 15 years now and, hands down, the place rocks – both on the quality-of-life spectrum and the boundless opportunity.

Recently, Inc. magazined ranked San Diego as top city for innovation. The city ranked #1 for patents in telecommunications and patents in golf (yes, we work hard and play hard).

Wireless Hub: Sparked by Qualcomm’s founding there in 1985, San Diego now hosts some 800 telecom companies.

On the Green: San Diego is also No. 1 for patents on “games using a tangible projectile,” which typically means golf. More than 30 golf-equipment manufacturers, including TaylorMade and Callaway, have set up shop in the sunny locale, home to Torrey Pines and about 90 other golf courses.

Downtown San Diego

Photo Courtesy of

In addition to the patents in telecom and sports, San Diego also has standout innovation activity in diverse areas such as cyber security, defense technologies, bioinformatics, life sciences, genomics, clean tech, and consumer internet. All of these top industries have aided to increase the number of good jobs in San Diego.

The city’s leaders are also focused on a high quality of life and eco-sustainability, which continues to help San Diego reinvent itself as a hub of innovation. In fact, 5 of the largest 15 companies located in downtown San Diego are now tech companies.

San Diego will always have beautiful beaches and bronzed bodies. Now, we can also add hot startups, really smart talent, and an entrepreneurial ‘can-do’ attitude to that list. San Diego isn’t only “America’s Finest City,” it’s an emerging tech hub.

Steven Cox
Proud San Diego Resident


Startup San Diego: Channel 6 TV News Segment

By Start Up San Diego, Videos No Comments

Marc Bailey: Earlier this month, Forbes magazine ranked San Diego #1 as the best place in the nation to start a small business this year. The publication surveyed 50 big cities and surveyed small businesses. Among the criteria used, those in high growth areas, those with Facebook pages, those with websites, and those that accepted credit cards. The magazine says that the categories demonstrate the community’s engagement and use of relevant resources.

If you’re trying to start a business, that’s why we asked Steven Cox to come in because he knows what he’s talking about. You started You started it here in San Diego?

Steven Cox: Sure did!

M: And it teaches music? Music lessons online?

S: Not only music lessons, but tutoring, sports, fitness, wellness, arts and crafts, and more. if you think of eBay and how they have created a marketplace for both buyers and sellers. What we have is created a marketplace for parents or consumers who are looking for a great instructor. On the other side are instructors who are looking to earn more money and are looking for new students.

M: So, you match these people up? You just combine the two. Most of these ideas, when we break them down, the beauty of them and the commonality is we all look and say, “I should’ve thought of that.”

S: Or, “Man, I did think about that.” Yes, I get that a lot.

M: When did you decide to follow up on that and why? What was the motivation?

S: I’ve been doing tech startups since 1999. I moved down here to San Diego to take a little bit of time off and started wondering what I wanted to do next. I was living downtown in San Diego, and we came up with this idea. I happened to also be in a rock band as a bad lead singer. My drummer was looking for new students and was going to quit music and take an office job in order to pay in his bills. So, we put together this idea of helping him make a living do what he loved to do by helping him find students over the Internet, and that just happened to be my background. It kind of fell along this whole movement of being able to establish a business in a marketplace and then watch it grow here in San Diego, which is where we started, and then immediately start taking on new cities. Now, we’re in about 4,000 cities all across the U.S.

M: So, I’m going to say that’s successful, but it started right here in San Diego.

S: Yep, it started in a downtown office right here.

M: Why San Diego? Now, again, we heard Forbes’ reasons why businesses are successful starting up here in San Diego, but what’s the deal? Why San Diego?

S: Well, first of all, I can say that being in the industry for the past several years, the tech industry and the San Diego startup community is worlds different from where it used to be five and six years ago. One of the factors that Forbes had mentioned was the clustering, which is the ability for a large number of startups to all be in the same area, and we’re starting to see that downtown. There are thirty or forty startups right off the top of my head just within this little radius of where the TakeLessons headquarters is down there, which is a super cool thing to see.

M: That’s good energy, and you can share information.

S: They share information. They collaborate. You kind of feel like you’re not alone.

M: Is that one of the keys? Collaboration?

S: Absolutely. You get that and also just the number of industries that are in kind of a high growth aspect. So, anything from consumer Internet to clean tech to bioinformatics, San Diego has all of those. In addition to a great environment to start a business, there are a ton of smart people, and if you compare it to some of the other cities out there, San Diego has better air quality than L.A. I’m sure that you would know that. It has better traffic. The cost of living is 40% cheaper than it is in Silicon Valley. Finally, San Diego, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we have better weather than Boston and New York.

M: We’ve got to go, but give me the one misstep that people make. You’ve told people all of the positives. What’s the one thing that makes you say, “Don’t do that.”?

S: I’ve got to say that it is don’t believe that is super, super easy just to start an Internet business, and then the next day you’re going to be a success. It takes the exact same amount of work in order to grow a successful business.

M: That meaning you have to be totally committed to it.

S: That’s right.

M: Alright, Steven, thank you so much. Steven Cox, CEO of So, check that website out, especially if you’re trying to match up your learning with a teacher. Great idea!