Feature Article: Technology & Innovation at UCSB and Region

The Santa Barbara Independent takes an In-Depth Look at the Region’s Vast High-Tech Industry, from Startups to Success Stories

By Leslie Dinaberg 

There’s no question that technology plays an increasingly critical role in all of our lives. Think about what it would have been like if the global pandemic had hit in 1980 instead of 2020: no cell phones (cordless phones weren’t even mainstream yet!), no internet, and no public email, let alone video calls, instant messaging, texting, and screen-sharing. Home computers, if you even had one, were clunky and slow, and, while ubiquitous, TVs only had four channels, and the whole family would have to agree on what to watch.

Fast-forward to today. With COVID forcing us to move our lives indoors and online, everyone from toddlers to grandparents have been whiplashed into relying on devices for school and business, health and wellness, to learn, communicate, connect, and be entertained. For many of us, the classroom, home, and workplace are headquartered on a single device in a tiny corner of the house.

“Organizations are fundamentally changed now,” explains Kyle Lewis, a UCSB professor and chair of its Technology Management Program. “Working in any type of organization — especially in one that is focusing on innovation, has technology products, or uses technology to do their work — the world has completely shifted.”

The shift is happening in Santa Barbara too. As technology becomes more central to all of our lives, the region’s high-tech sector is enduring big changes and enjoying sustained growth.

Once dominated by the aerospace industry, which is still a prominent player, a wave of significant, broad-ranging tech companies began in this ecosystem, including Citrix Online (formerly Expert City), Software.com, Alias Wavefront, Yardi, Lynda.com, AppFolio, and Sonos, among others. Maturing startups such as Procore and Apeel Sciences continue to grow, as do the wealth of exciting new technologies and companies. Meanwhile, our investment community is on the rise, and the already-critical UCSB just keeps getting better and better, pumping out more and more motivated-to-stay-in-town entrepreneurial energy.

Meanwhile, some of the biggest players in tech — Google, Amazon, Zoom, Apple, Microsoft — now have a presence in Santa Barbara. And then there are the increasing numbers of tech pros who can work from anywhere and have chosen to make Santa Barbara their homes.

The last time the Santa Barbara Independent addressed the tech sector in any depth was a special section called Tech-Topia in 2015, in which author Matt Kettmann described the scene as “quietly booming.” Having talked to more than 30 executives and researched more than 100 tech companies for this issue, I can attest to how much bigger, broader, and more interesting our tech sector is today.

Like a lot of the very best people and things in Santa Barbara, many of these tech companies still operate on the down-low, not interested in tooting their own horns or bragging about their accomplishments. They’d rather just do good work than talk about it.

But success begets success. As Jason Spievak, the managing partner for Entrada Ventures put it, “Some of the biggest names in technology are waking up to Santa Barbara and are establishing themselves here through acquisition and investment.”

Read on for a hefty helping of the Santa Barbara tech scene’s players, history, innovations, and opportunities. Once quietly booming, I’d say Santa Barbara’s tech sector is now awake, ready, and raring to go.