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Five Years of Local Tech Storytelling: a Conversation with Santa Cruz Tech Beat Founder Sara Isenberg

Five Years of Local Tech Storytelling: a Conversation with Santa Cruz Tech Beat Founder Sara Isenberg
Sara-Isenberg-photo-Steve-Yatson

In 2013, Margaret Rosas and Sara Isenberg, two local tech insiders, had a conversation about the need for someone to tell the stories of the tech scene in Santa Cruz. The conversation stuck with Isenberg and proved to be the seed idea for Santa Cruz Tech Beat.

Originally a weekly email digest, Tech Beat has grown into a multi-faceted platform for the local tech community and become a core part of the Santa Cruz ecosystem. Few things tech-related escape founder and editor Isenberg’s attention. The publication has grown to include an events calendar, jobs listings, a business catalog and an archive of news, articles and information about tech companies and projects in Santa Cruz—all while remaining true to the original vision.

“I knew Tech Beat was something I could do that would help the community,” says Isenberg. “And it’s not that far from the original idea of a digest, it’s just that there’s more variety: original content, jobs, Q&As and events.”

Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, Tech Beat boasts 242 digests and 1,171 articles. It’s grown from Isenberg’s original vision as a “thing [she] could do on the side,” into an almost full-time job.

As Rosas predicted in that original conversation, there was very much a need for local tech enthusiasts to keep up with news and current events. Tech Beat has proven to be the go-to source for tech enthusiasts, as well as an information library for those with a peripheral interest in tech in Santa Cruz.

Since 2013, Tech Beat has expanded from covering tech news in Santa Cruz County to covering activities in a three-country area that includes San Benito and Monterey County.

In the early days, Isenberg simply focused on publishing Tech Beat as a weekly email digest of tech news in Santa Cruz. She soon realized the potential of the publication, however, and put partnerships and an income model in place so she could expand the project.

Five years in, Isenberg’s heart remains in curating content, publishing the digest and acting as editor and publisher of the content.

“The part about Tech Beat I love is sharing news, finding news, creating the digest, the actual production,” she says, “All that editorial stuff is the fun stuff for me.”

Beyond sharing current news of the local tech scene, Isenberg is archiving the current wave of tech in Santa Cruz.

“It’s an archive of our history,” says Isenberg. “If I need to know when a company launched or left town, or went public, I search Tech Beat and the information is there.”

In looking at the history of tech in Santa Cruz, Isenberg can see beyond the current tech boom in Santa Cruz to the period prior to it—a period she refers to as a “big bang.” At that time, Freelance Camp, NextSpace, the Santa Cruz Geeks and Cruzio all burst onto the scene and accelerated connections, collaboration and a new way of working. But her roots in tech stretch back further than that.

“People say tech is new in Santa Cruz, but it’s not,” she says. “Tech has been around for a long time. But if you go back 20-30 years, it was a few big companies. If you go back 10 or 12 years, the big shift was that people could have a company with just a laptop and a webpage. All over the world, this was happening.”

Isenberg adds that what’s new about tech in Santa Cruz now is the way in which people work and the fact that they can create startups without being part of a big company. When asked what she would like to see happen with tech in Santa Cruz, she points out that funding remains a challenge.

“In order to really get funded, companies have to go outside of Santa Cruz,” she says. “They can get a little funding in Santa Cruz, but in order to get substantial funding, they need to go outside of Santa Cruz.”

She adds, however, that it’s now less important to be geographically close to funders, partners or even teammates.

“It’s a smaller world,” she says.

For some startups, coverage in Tech Beat is their first press—the first thing that gives them some credibility. Isenberg is happy to help young companies move forward. She also finds it gratifying to help people get acclimated to the tech scene, help contributing writers get some experience writing about tech, and help companies connect with VCs or angel investors.

“It’s heartwarming that the community supports this and finds value in it,” she says. “I love hearing that people learned something, or got a job, or found their way around because they found Tech Beat.”

This aspect of Tech Beat circles back to the original conversation between Rosas and Isenberg when Margaret stressed the need for someone to tell the stories of Santa Cruz tech.

“Companies were starting, and going, and no one was keeping track of it,” says Isenberg. “There’s a story here and we need to tell these stories. That’s what started Tech Beat.”

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Cat Johnson is a writer and content strategist focused on brand storytelling and community.

Photo by Steve Yatson