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A San Francisco Incubator Blends Foodie and Startup Culture

The Summit SF is helping entrepreneurs brew the next big idea.

Coffeehouses have always been great for doing business. Lloyd's of London insurance market, for instance, was so named for its start in the late 1600s at Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, one of hundreds of "penny universities" where stimulating conversation could be had for the price of a cup of coffee.

Fast-forward a few centuries to The Summit SF, a grand, 5,000-square-foot café housed in the incubation space of venture capital firm i/o Ventures that opened in San Francisco last year. The café-and-tech incubator hybrid offers all the things expected of a legit foodie spot: farm-to-table menu, craft beers, local wines and Blue Bottle coffee. There's even an art gallery featuring, appropriately, a futurism exhibit and QR codes on placards.

Then there's the other half: a co-working space for more than 40 telecommuters and 10-plus startups that each receive seed money and mentorship from tech industry leaders, including i/o. A couple earlier tenants already have closed million-dollar deals, and it's become a popular place for beta testing new services, like an online jukebox and the pilot program for the location-based Meet Gatsby app.

The locals dig it. The café is busy 90 percent of the time, and serves upwards of 300 to 600 people a day. "There's a definite vibe of entrepreneurship at the intersection of foodie and tech culture, because art and food and coffee can spark creative interactions between like minds and get people talking," says Summit founder and managing director Desi Danganan, who is, in true ouroboric fashion, one of i/o Ventures' first incubatees.

Next up, new locations--and possibly new themes, depending on those locations. "We're scouting," Danganan says. "I could see it working anywhere there's creativity. Our co-tenants don't have to be a venture fund or tech entrepreneurs, either. In D.C., it could be an NGO for gathering politicos. In L.A., it could be a small movie studio with writers and producers. In New York, a cutting-edge fashion label."

All tied together by that unifying requirement of innovation: caffeine. 

This story appears in the July 2011 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »