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Innovate78 helps North County startup businesses thrive

It all began as a hobby in Greg Spence’s garage when he started tinkering with board game pieces and dreaming up ways to organize them.

The Escondido software engineer had developed an affinity for collecting unique and eclectic board games to play with his family and friends. As his collection grew, he began replacing cardboard game pieces with shiny replica coins and detailed miniatures, and crafted organization and storage tools to hold game pieces, protect cards and roll dice.

brokentoken

“When you get into games that are really involved or strategic, there’s a lot of pieces and parts to set up, and it takes a long time,” Spence said. “So once I started optimizing the process for game piece organization, I went to a board gaming website to share what I’d made, and people were saying, ‘I’d totally buy that!’”

That’s how the concept for his small business, The Broken Token, was born. The idea quickly grew beyond a solo hobby in the garage to hiring employees, finding business space and ultimately quitting his day job in 2015. Today, The Broken Token has 40 employees in Escondido and just purchased a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing space in Vista where they will move all operations into this winter.

This move is The Broken Token’s fourth expansion in North County, but given the high costs of doing business in California, Spence considered moving the business out of state. That’s when he was introduced to Innovate78, a hub of free economic development resources that is backed by North San Diego County cities (consisting of Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista) and administered by San Diego Regional EDC.

With Innovate78’s assistance, Spence was able to secure a $150,000 California Competes Tax Credit that will help his business grow, and most importantly, stay in North County. With this support, The Broken Token plans to add 20-30 jobs over the next five years, with an investment of more than $1 million in capital expenditures and machinery. Innovate78 has also created valuable connections with other local businesses and entrepreneurs. His story is a prime example of startup business success this October, which is recognized by the community as ’Startup Month.’

A bright idea

So what is Innovate78, exactly? It is a hub of economic development know-how that is backed by North San Diego County cities to help businesses along the 78 Corridor recover from this economic downturn and grow to be more resilient.

The cities of Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista proactively established Innovate78 in 2014 to advance the economies of the region together. This pioneering partnership has set the region apart – as other cities compete, Innovate78 unites. This allows for growth success stories like The Broken Token’s expansion and move from Escondido to Vista with support, not competition, from both cities.

Think of it as concierge service for businesses to help them grow, thrive and ultimately stay in North County.

“I wish I would have known about Innovate78 earlier,” Spence said. “It wasn’t until we hit that growth wall that we started looking for options. It’s a great way to get a direct line to the cities who are there to help businesses continue to grow.”

Connecting businesses with resources

Innovate78 cities work to support their business communities, while the program facilitates a collective vision for the region’s recovery and prosperity. By promoting North County as a cohesive region – not just a collection of distinct municipalities – Innovate78 encourages business to expand without a need to leave the area.

“We love helping local businesses find resources they may not have even known about, especially in a season of such uncertainty,” said Kierstin Rielly, Program Manager for Innovate78. “We are here to help businesses come out of this pandemic stronger and positioned for growth and we will help connect them to other local business owners along the way.”

 “It can be a scary thing to be a business owner and not have a group you can turn to for advice, especially during a pandemic,” Spence said. “That’s why this is such an incredible resource.”

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