Whether it’s forecasting the value of bitcoin, scoping out the next big startup or reimagining what California would be like if it were divided into multiple states, there’s no denying Tim Draper has a penchant for predicting the future.
In recent months, the San Mateo venture capitalist has made headlines for accurately divining bitcoin would hit $10,000 in value by the end of 2017 and temporarily putting a measure on the California state ballot to divide California into three states.
But for Draper, his decision to open Draper University at 44 E. Third Ave. some six years ago is one investment that may have exceeded even his expectations. With a SoulCycle at 2 E. Third Ave. and sweetgreen restaurant across the street at 1 E. Third Ave., among other businesses that have cropped up next to Draper University and Hero City, a co-working space he opened at 55 E. Third Ave., Draper noted the school of entrepreneurship and the startups and businesses clustered around it have created something of a hot spot.
“We can’t believe it,” he said. “This whole community here has grown quite a bit.”
When he first set his sights on San Mateo, Draper said he saw opportunity in the quiet town just 10 minutes from San Francisco International Airport, a short walk from the train station and in the center of Silicon Valley. Intent on figuring out what he would do with the nine-story former Benjamin Franklin Hotel after he acquired it in 2011, he said plans for the downtown fixture fell into place step by step.
After discussions with his family, Draper settled on creating a school there, later realizing the only thing he could possibly teach is entrepreneurship. He admitted there were times he grew frustrated with the long planning process for the university but later appreciated how big a change the school was for prime downtown spot, especially now that the school has welcomed hundreds of students from dozens of countries and launched more than 350 companies since it was founded in 2012.
For five weeks in the summer and four weeks in the fall, budding entrepreneurs develop their mission as “heroes” and do whatever it takes to be successful, said Draper. And though word about Draper University has spread — becoming part of the curriculum of colleges like Arizona State University offering a “Semester in Silicon Valley” program — he said the synergy between the startups spawned by the university, his venture fund Draper Associates and the accelerator Boost VC his son Adam Draper manages has flourished over the years. He said Draper University students and the network that surrounds them has created a pipeline of projects and startups the incubator and accelerator can consider funding.
Draper admitted it’s easy to think about the ways things turned out from hindsight and see a clear plan to create a school that would become the birthplace of startups aimed at developing technology capable of detecting cancer or improving dairy delivery services in China. And though the project has come a long way since he first conceived of starting a residential school of entrepreneurship, the 60-year-old has a lot more in mind for the city.
“We just try to improve it one step at a time,” he said. “It’s like you’re building something just one brick every day, and it just keeps getting better.”
Draper has pegged mid- to late-October for the launch of a virtual reality arcade at 37 E. Fourth Ave. Dubbed Hero Hangout, the space has served as a lounge where Draper University students could relax or play video games, but will be transformed into a showcase of the latest virtual reality technology, explained Daniel Wiegand, a program director for Draper’s foundation The Hero Institute.
By providing visitors with a pay-to-play experience of virtual reality stations allowing them to use flight, racing and roller-coaster simulators, among other equipment, the space is aimed at providing the general public a chance to test very expensive technologies and better understand their potential, said Wiegand.
Having recently acquired the Peninsula Beauty Supply building at 980 S. Amphlett Blvd. for his foundation, Draper is also just beginning to form plans for new maker space allowing patrons to rent space and equipment like lathes, laser cutters and 3D printers.
“We just want people to be able to create these amazing things,” he said. “We think that that’s going to be another really great addition in San Mateo.”
Ever since his time on the California State Board of Education, Draper said he began thinking about how he could help solve issues he saw percolating throughout the state, a government he felt was delivering low-quality education and crumbling infrastructure. After he unsuccessfully advocated for a statewide initiative he believed would have given parents vouchers for private schools and more choices to pull their children out of failing schools in 2000, Draper turned his attention to an initiative to split California into six states, a movement he felt could give the state a fresh start.
Draper believes the state has fostered a heavily-regulated business climate pushing growing companies, and the jobs they would have created, out of the state. By creating new states and making way for new leadership, governments would have to compete with each other for talent, he said. Though his plan to split the state into six pieces didn’t qualify for past ballots, Draper was successful this year in gathering the hundreds of thousands of signatures required to qualify an effort to split California into three states.
With polls showing more and more residents lending support to the “Three Californias” initiative, Draper was determined to see where the growing momentum behind the “Three Californias” initiative would go. But he said the state Supreme Court’s July ruling in favor of a lawsuit filed against the initiative and backed by unions proved his point that unions are in control of the state government.
“What kind of democracy do we live in?” he said. “We didn’t get to vote.”
But with 50 to 60 buses making stops at Draper University as they bring tourists to Silicon Valley landmarks and several projects he’s started closer to home, Draper has plenty to focus on in San Mateo.
“It’s like they go to the Google campus, they go to Stanford … then they come here,” he said. “It’s a thing.”
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