Regina Bernal
Innovation Beyond Borders
TEDxSanDiego 2016

Today you woke up in the most dynamic border in the world. Some of you might have made your daily commute from Tijuana to be here today while others might only have a vague memory of ever visiting. Perhaps you were not aware that Tijuana is closer in distance than Carlsbad. In fact, it is twice as far to Carlsbad as it is to the border.

Geographically, the CaliBaja MegaRegion extending from San Diego to Baja California has not been replicated anywhere else in the world. It was not too long ago that the border used to look like this. Fast forward to today, and this is what we see. Almost nothing has changed, right?

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this significant shift. The number of people crossing our border on a weekly basis is more than double the population of the city of Miami. With a combined GDP that’s well over $200 billion, this region would rank as one of the top 50 economies in the world.

Not only are we an incredibly lucrative region due to the exchange of ideas, money and products, but we have created a unique DNA that bonds and connects us far beyond our day-to-day economic interactions. As neighbors, or as some of us have come to understand as roommates, we share some of our deepest human loves, like beer.

San Diego is a craft beer leader, not only in the US, but internationally. Beer entrepreneurs are pioneers innovating in an industry that had been untouched for a long time. But beer lovers demanded some hop. The explosive growth of the beer economy in San Diego made Baja California thirsty. Guess who is now the craft beer leader in Mexico? Yes, Tijuana.

Recently, Tecate, one of the world’s oldest beer leaders, proposed building a massive wall along the border. But this border and this wall would not separate people. Instead, it would bring them together.

Not only do we love cold beer, but food has become a bond so deep that the US have even named a day of the week honoring the humble taco. Every San Diegan has a list of top recommendations for Taco Tuesday. If we have a friend visiting from out of town, we insist that they arrive on a Tuesday to enjoy the best $1 taco. Even though everyone has their own opinion of the hottest spot in town, we have to admit that the love for tacos has extended all over the US. Seattle, New York, Boston and even Moscow. Moscow, Idaho, but still. The love for tacos is real.

Beer, tacos and even music has transcended borders. Taylor Guitar, one of San Diego’s most legendary and loved companies, understands the power of collaboration. In 1996, they wanted to continue to innovate and build a new product line. They knew it would not be easy but they decided to build their manufacturing facility in Tecate. They knew that the strategic location of their company would be a game changer. They no longer had to wait for months to receive their products.

They could drive directly to see the quality of what they were creating. This high level of control over the guitars has made these countries allies in scaling this very successful company. They have created a seamless operation between their San Diego and Tecate team and enjoy the pride of belonging to the same company that has been manufacturing some of the world’s most beautiful guitars for the last 42 years.

It has been 20 years since they made this decision, and they have not looked back since. They now realize that this was the best decision for the company as it has created more jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border. They run their business as if they were one big family and even play softball together on Fridays.

Entrepreneurs like Taylor Guitars start their lives as pioneers. At the University of San Diego, we wanted our own chance at being pioneers. Not just pioneers, but cross-border settlers and explorers. Three years ago, we decided to launch the first binational student pitch competition. We invited entrepreneurs from San Diego and entrepreneurs from Baja California to pitch in front of angel investors for an opportunity to win up to $100,000.

That first year, we only had a six-week runway to get some startups involved. We were unsure how it would play out, but we knew that the only way to find out was to actually move and go for it. We were so pleasantly surprised by how welcoming our neighbors were and how quickly they made us feel as part of their team, and as if they had already known us. That first year, we received 10 startup companies coming from South of the Border and 55 from USD. This April, we received 100 companies coming from South of the Border, a tenfold increase in just three years.

What were some of these companies working on? There was a drone company to help the agriculture industry in Mexico and a craft beer designed for the female taste. It was one of my favorites, I have to admit. There was an app to help find home contract repairs.

The V2 Pitch Competition speaks to the power of collaboration. We needed to form an entire binational village of support to make it work. Government, universities, entrepreneurs and investors all had to come together to support the mission. The only reason we were able to succeed and grow in this homegrown miracle is because we shared a common goal.

It is our vision that, one day, we will not have the separate binational track. Instead, we will have entrepreneurs from San Diego and Baja California working together to build and scale successful companies. The V2 Pitch Competition is a spark to create similar success stories, not only in this region, but in the world.

We continue to demonstrate that, by coming together, we become globally relevant. The power of our story lies in the fact that we are two countries yet one giant metropoli. Yes, I just made that word up, because there isn’t a word that accurately captures the power of this binational neighborhood. This year, National Geographic named San Diego-Tijuana as one of the top places to see in the world. They named us the coolest border crossing, and I could not agree more.

As you can see from this Google Earth image, we are one region. The air we share has no borders. Neither does the ocean nor the rich ecology that we inhabit as friends, neighbors and most importantly roommates. I want to challenge you today to envision a world beyond borders.

History has shown us that borders are important and there for a reason. Yet there will always be human qualities that will bond and connect us beyond the limits of walls and fences. In a world that is multicultural and built on the success of those who had an attitude of co-creation, let’s accept that challenge. Let’s be a symbol of collaboration for the world. Thank you very much.