A recent article published by Aljazeera America took an in-depth look at the tech scene that is developing on both sides of the Tijuana-San Diego border, or the Cali-Baja region as it is known. The article demonstrates how it is very possible that this region may one day become the next Silicon Valley.
The article takes Cali-Baja native drone manufacturer, 3D Robotics, as a prime example of a trend that is quickly advancing. 3D Robotics has an office in San Diego, and a manufacturing facility in Tijuana where the drones are assembled and tested to be later sold online.
While Forbes has named San Diego the top city for start-ups in the nation, it is Baja's (and specifically, Tijuana's) hope that the city can become an ever increasing force in the startup scene. The benefits of tech endeavors in Tijuana goes beyond inexpensive labor and overhead, and ever more importantly includes a large body of well-educated engineers and skilled professionals. The fact that those who live in this region have an international outlook, thanks to daily interactions with a foreign country, is also an added advantage.
Tijuana is pushing for U.S. companies to nearshore in Mexico, instead of offshoring to China. The advantage of being so close means that startups can easily pivot according to product development or market needs and the ability to pivot is of vital importance for startups in the tech sector, and practically impossible when dealing with a
manufacturer thousands of miles away. Not to mention the ability to closely monitor quality control concerns, and visit production sites is facilitated when an entire ocean is not separating you from your manufacturing base.
Case in point is poster-child 3D Robotics, a company that was started by a barely 20-something year old college dropout and has now developed into a multi-million dollar grossing cross-border company in its fifth year of existence. According to the article, where China specializes in mass production, with Mexico the company can specialize in mass customization, producing drones for diverse uses varying from video enthusiasts to farmers interested in getting a bird's eye view of the land.
To foster this environment, and further tech entrepreneurialism, collaborative work-spaces have popped up in the city to cater to growing demand. Hub Stn, for example, has transformed an abandoned bus station on Tijuana's famous Avenida Revolucion into a bustling membership-based work environment, where tenants range from freelance programmers and designers, to office space for endeavors like the revolutionary ride service UBER, which just soft-launched in the city this summer. Other similar concepts include MIND Hub, and OPEN Index Studio. The idea is for entrepreneurs to be able to work outside of their homes and local coffee shops in an area where they can meet other people in the field and collaborate in a more work-friendly environment.
While the bid for a binational Olympics got shot down just last year, other events have realized the potential symbiosis of this cross-border region. In 2016, the World Forum for Foreign Direct Investment will host its first ever binational forum jointly in Tijuana and San Diego. Another event that capitalizes on the cross-border dynamics is the annual Tijuana Innovadora conference, which invites speakers from around Mexico and the world to talk about their entrepreneurial endeavors and further the culture of innovation in the region.
One of the most interesting things about the recent revival that Tijuana has experienced has been the role that young people have played in it. It seems as though behind every interesting new trend taking place in the city be it technology, cuisine, architecture, urban art, or craft beer (just to name a few) there is a twenty-something year old involved. It seems as though the youthful ideas those that see opportunities beyond curio shops and tequila shooter bars are starting to break down the old guard, and are turning this city into something to write home about.