My mission is to create opportunities in the innovation space for folks from nontraditional backgrounds. I have lived a very eclectic life so far, from being a pro athlete and US Navy Veteran to working as a civilian in the government sector to now being an entrepreneur. But I’ve found my life’s purpose in creating something different here in San Diego.
The Pan-African & Latinx community, especially the entrepreneurs, have always been the changemakers and innovators in the United States—yet the mainstream withholds the respect and credit that community deserves. Simultaneously, these communities have not had access to information, resources, and most importantly, CAPITAL to build a company within any startup and innovation space.
San Diego is a unique location for entrepreneurs to start, build, and scale the innovation ecosystem. You have Tijuana, which is a booming hub for entrepreneurs and engineers coming out of the universities in Mexico. That brings an international flavor to the local ecosystem that is vastly different from other tech hubs. San Diego may be known primarily for biotechnology and life science companies, but we are moving towards a more balanced innovation ecosystem outside of those main industries.
Building this specific ecosystem in San Diego is pretty humbling, as I’m pretty sure there were people before me taking on this task. It’s definitely a challenge to change the mindset of so many people who have been limited to expressing their culture through only the church, sports, or entertainment.
We don’t have to ask permission or get validation from anyone to build institutions and corporations where we ourselves can build the culture that mirrors our moral compass.
I’m most excited about the future of San Diego. I envision the city becoming more of a hub in the next 5–7 years for tech and startup companies, as the cost of living in the Bay Area keeps increasing, making it difficult to scale as an early-stage company
At the same time, I predict there will also be a migration of Pan-African and Latinx companies to San Diego as well. Those incoming founders and companies will need a foundation already established to support their journey as entrepreneurs. That’s my mission—and I hope it’s yours, too.
A former pro basketball player, US Navy Veteran, Luis Martinez, MSOL, is Afro-Latino born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, with an MBA in Organizational Leadership. He is also a master networker and ecosystem builder. His company We Tha Plug grew from his volunteering with Startup San Diego and today works with Pan-African and Latinx founders and startup companies at all levels from Ideation Phase to Pre-Seed and Series A phase. Luis is also the Director for Startup Grind San Diego, which has a partnership with Google for Startups that tells the stories of entrepreneurs and contributors throughout the local ecosystem through fireside chats and other variations of programming.
We Tha Plug